Monday, December 19, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

I took off work a little early on Friday to see Brokeback Mountain, which opened in exactly ONE theatre in Atlanta that day. I bought my ticket in advance online, which is good since the movie sold out all showings on Friday. The line in the theatre snaked across the lobby, down a hallway, past the bathrooms, and back into the lobby before they let us in to sit down.

The crowd was mostly gay, but there were quite a few straight people there too. I wasn't sure what to expect. The nominations of the Golden Globes (7 in all) surprised me, as did the reactions I've read online about the movie. Some people love it, and others thought it missed the mark. But this was a movie with two up-and-coming Hollywood stars (directed by the phenominal Ang Lee) in the lead roles as gay cowboy lovers in the late 20th century. Such a movie has never been made before with this caliber of cast and crew.

The movie is raw and powerful, and in the end it will break your heart. Everyone who's ever come out of the closet will recognize themselves in Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhall, who is the more out of the two cowboys. Out in that you can see the longing in his eyes, his ferverant desire to share a life with another man, another rancher cowboy like him. He doesn't feel there's anything wrong with his desire, although he knows that living it would be dangerous. He accepts the closet that 1963 Wyoming would nail him in. Ennis Del Mar is the more closeted of the two, and is played brilliantly by Heath Ledger. It wasn't until the last half of the movie that I really bought his love for Jack, mostly b/c his eyes wouldn't betray it before, although his actions did. When he sees Jack for the first time in 4 years, he's about to jump out of his skin, he's so excited, and he takes a risk in pulling Jack into one of the most desperately longing kisses I've ever seen on screen.

Unfortunately, Ennis's wife sees this kiss, although she keeps that news to herself. She has to say goodbye to her husband as he goes off with his "fishing buddy" knowing very well they are more than friends after seeing that kiss. The raw pain in her face, and the panic of "What do I do?" is evident in her performance. The pain of being married to a man she knows doesn't love her like he does his "fishing buddy" eats away at her soul, until she pulls away from Ennis and demands divorce. Ennis and his daughters aren't that close either, and it's all a result of his closet. He had kids because that was what he was supposed to do, and his heart really isn't in the family he has with his wife. There's a cool scene at the end when Ennis' daughter announces she is to marry, and you can see Ennis wondering if this boy is like him and won't be able to love his daughter as she deserves to be loved.

Jack's closet is of a different sort. He's been aware of his attraction to men longer than Ennis, as evidenced by his actions. He marries and has exactly one child and no more. He desperately lives to see Ennis on thier fishing trips every 3-6 months. Let's say the way their lives proceed does not lead to a happy ending. Yet, the trajectory of the story is heartfelt, honest, and real.
Watching it made me want to reevaluate my life and ponder the meaning of life, love and relationships. Watching the struggle of the Jack and Ennis should make today's gay people stop and think, "I really have it easy. Given this freedom, have I lived true to myself and opened myself to the possibility of love?" Jack and Ennis do not live true to themselves, and they are not the only ones hurt by it, but so are their wives and children. So many lives are destroyed by the closet they are forced to live in that you have to wonder what the point is. After all, Ennis and Jack did the "right thing" by marrying a woman, and having a child or two. Yet, their love could not be denied, and the closet ended up destroying them all.

The last scenes of the movie were the most wrenching when you watch the lies being spread, and the quiet truth that dare not speak its name. I left the movie stunned and quite speechless. But as I got into my car, I started to cry and I became angry. Angry because the expression of what it's like to be gay in a society where you are forbidden from "being gay" on pain of death was real, and it hit home. I was born in Kentucky, and could easily have been a country boy on some tobacco farm, as I have many cousins who did live that life. It was an accident of birth that I was born into my family in the city of Lexington, KY. How different would my life be were I a ranching boy from Wyoming like Jack?

That closet is something that is crumbling in this nation, especially in the large cities. Sodomy is no longer a crime, and states cannot restrict gay civil rights just because the population doesn't like us. Yet, as Matthew Shepherd showed us, it's still not safe to be gay in most of the country. The world of 1963 Wyoming is not too far removed from the reality of rural gays in 2005. This is a closet that the Religious Right, and the GOP, wants to re-establish nationwide from the most remote holler to the most densely populated city. Sadie Fields and her "Christian" Taliban brethern hate us, and want us to go away. They want us to live the lives that the characters of Brokeback Mountain live. It was so senseless to see so many lives ruined. Jack and Ennis would have hurt no one by owning a ranch and living it on it in peace and quiet. Their wives would have found men to love them as they deserved to be loved, and no one's life would have been ruined. It was the closet that ruined lives and nothing else. It's the closet that the GOP and it's base want us to return. That's why I became angry and why I cried not only for the characters in the movie, but for every gay person who is living his/her version of Brokeback Mountain today.

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