The Real Heartbreak About “Brokeback”
Think this Oscar favorite is too “political”? Unfortunately, the love between real gay and lesbian couples is politicized everyday.
By Katherine E. Willis Pershey
My husband and I finally saw “Brokeback Mountain” last weekend. I had been avoiding it primarily because I knew it would make me terribly sad. I am quite susceptible to tragic romances; I've wept over “Titanic,” fretted over “Romeo and Juliet,” pined for Sydney Carton and his valiant sacrificial love. I had read enough about “Brokeback Mountain” to know that despite the politicized hysteria surrounding it, the film is a story about love and heartbreak, with a greater emphasis on heartbreak. It channels the familiar pain of lovers separated; the story of Ennis and Jack is the most recent chapter in the ongoing literary tradition of ill-fated love.
The other reason why I avoided seeing it is because I knew I wouldn't be able to drown out the hoopla surrounding the movie. Figuratively, and as it turns out, literally: the woman in the row ahead of us selected one of the tenderest scenes to loudly proclaim that she "hated it." The story itself saddens me, but the buzz surrounding the movie angers me. This gorgeous, honest, raw, and passionate movie is boiled down to the crass reduction, "The Gay Cowboy Movie." The film depicts not only the central romantic relationship and the suffocating, violent homophobia of 20th-century rural America. It also portrays, without a single coat of sugar, how painful the relationship was for Ennis' wife, Alma.
In the Los Angeles Times editorial section yesterday, the Time film critic Richard Schickel has the nerve to argue that the Oscars are too dominated by "political" movies, and that the Oscars need "something romantic." And interestingly, he characterizes “Brokeback Mountain” as politicized because "Homosexuals [are] treated with tender respect and understanding." You know what? It sucks that treating any human being with tender respect and understanding is "political," a word that is apparently used in this case to mean "leftist propaganda."
And a word to the conservative and fundamentalist Christian reactionaries who have been ringing their hands about the film's treatment of a homosexual relationship: if you opt to critique this film from a biblical literalist point of view, please do so with integrity. A literalist interpretation of the Bible will categorize homosexuality as a sin, but it will also reveal the sinfulness of adultery (one of the Ten Commandments!) and premarital sex. A literalist interpretation of the Bible could also condemn violence as a sin. So, if you're going to point fingers at “Brokeback Mountain” from a literalist point of view, please afford equal opportunity judgment to the comprehensive sinfulness of the movie, not just the culturally taboo sin of homosexuality.
I knew that if I saw “Brokeback Mountain” I would end up on a soapbox. And here I am. And it's just too beautiful, too good of a movie to be paraded around on a million different soapboxes. At the same time, it's just a movie, just a story. The real tragedy is that the love between gay and lesbian couples in real life is politicized, day in and day out. The Oscars buzz will disintegrate and “Brokeback Mountain” will fade into a muted memory of Movies that Ticked People Off (alongside “The Last Temptation of Christ”). In real life, gay and lesbian persons still won't be treated with tender respect and understanding.
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Don’t miss Scott La Counte’s SoMA essay, “I’ll Be Having a Gay Old Time Watching the Oscars,” here.
Katherine E. Willis Pershey is a pastor ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Her sermons have been included in the lectionary resources at The Text This Week. She contributed an essay to "A Light Blazes in the Darkness," a collection of Advent reflections written by the members of the RevGalBlogPals webring, and will also appear in the ring's forthcoming "Ordinary Time" devotional. She blogs at any day a beautiful change and may be reached at email@example.com.
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