Produced and distributed by Focus Features
Directed by Ang LeeScreenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from a story by Annie Proulx
An enlightened colleague recently asked me what I thought of director Ang Lee’s film Brokeback Mountain. When I told him I thought it a dreary, sappy soap opera, he smiled pityingly as if he had checkmated me in three moves. “I knew you wouldn’t like it,” he chirped. He, of course, had liked it very much, as any decent, in-step liberal would. Rather than get into a fruitless discussion, I got off the elevator we were sharing a floor earlier than I had intended, thinking, That does it. Brokeback’s off my list of reviewable films. If I say what I think, I’ll be charged with homophobia, the crime that dare not speak its name. Who needs it? Since then, Brokeback has won three Academy Awards and proved itself a veritable American phenomenon. There’s no choice, I decided. It must be addressed.
As I sat down to compose my thoughts, however, I was still hesitant. I have had many homosexual acquaintances and friends, some quite close, over the years. Four have been lost to AIDS, including two cousins, all at piteously young ages. Many of these people were and are highly accomplished individuals, men and women you could and can rely on for their perceptive assessment of current events and their willingness to support you in times of need. I had decided long ago I had no business commenting on what they did in their homes. I had no wish to give offense to people I admired and respected by prattling on moralistically about how inadvisable I found the homosexual lifestyle. Given all this, Brokeback posed a serious difficulty. How could I inoffensively say that I think Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx’s clueless New Yorker short story a sanctimonious bore? Wouldn’t it be unkind to say that I think it panders embarrassingly to the homosexual activism currently shaping America’s attitudes toward sexual deviance? In a word, I was stuck.
Then stage and screen actor Nathan Lane came to my rescue.
Lane has never hidden that he is homosexual, and, when he appeared recently on the Today show, he drew on his personal experience of the homosexual lifestyle to mock Lee’s film for the sentimental twaddle it is. A précis of the movie will put his remarks in context.
The film concerns two young men who take a job herding sheep on a mythical Wyoming mountainside during the summer of 1963. The days are long; the nights, cold; and there is precious little amusement other than boozing. So, after drinking a bit more than usual one night, the aptly named Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) initiates a surprised Ennis Delmar (Heath Ledger) into the mysteries of anal sex in a pup tent, an activity the film graphically displays just in case we were wondering what it looks like.
The next morning, each denies the obvious. “I’m not queer,” says Ennis.
“Neither am I,” Jack replies.
Ennis then concludes, “This is a one-shot thing we got going here.” Soon, however, they are shooting whenever the urge takes them—which is quite of- ten—whether under canvas or al fresco. The one-shot thing turns into a sporadic 20-year affair. Despite being separated by 1,200 miles after they each marry and start families, Jack and Ennis manage to get away once every year for fishing trips during which their reels stay dry while their rods . . . but never mind. While Ennis resigns himself to this periodic arrangement, Jack won’t. Soon, he’s proposing that they leave their wives and play house together permanently. Ennis nixes the idea, citing his responsibilities to his daughters. When, after 19 years, the now-divorced Ennis still rejects Jack’s offer of domestic bliss, his forlorn lover sulks, “I wish I could quit you.” But Ennis is immovable. Proulx has saddled her cowboy, improbably enough, with a paralyzing fear. When he was nine, we’re to understand, his father showed him the mangled body of a man slaughtered for being a homosexual, a sort of well-meaning object lesson. This experience supposedly traumatized Ennis for his entire life, yet Lee gives it a scant five seconds as if he had decided that to dwell on it longer would risk revealing its essential implausibility. At any rate, it is supposed to have left Ennis in dread of being found out. “This thing gets hold of us the wrong time, the wrong place,” he warns Jack, “we’re dead.” It’s just here that Lane came to the rescue. After provoking impolitic giggling among Katie Couric and her crew by mimicking the lovers’ woe-be- gotten lines, he went on to say,
I thought, “What do you mean the wrong time, the wrong place—like the A&P? You’re in the middle of nowhere! Get a ranch with the guy! Stop torturing these two poor women and get a room! What’s the problem?”
In a comically inspired moment, Lane nailed it. Get a room and stop bothering everyone else. You’re not Cathy and Heathcliff, after all. But this admirable, if amoral, solution will not do for Proulx and Lee. They are committed to believing that homosexual relationships are no different from the heterosexual variety. It follows that same-sex unions are just as emotionally and spiritually binding. To suggest otherwise would be to admit that homosexuals are far more likely than heterosexual men to be opportunistically promiscuous. Proulx and Lee prefer the notion that two homosexual gentlemen would pine for each other like lovelorn schoolgirls across two decades of lengthy separations. This strains credulity. Proulx clearly does not understand homosexuality—or male sexuality, for that matter. Lee certainly should, but he has nevertheless followed her lead.
The truth is that sex is a supremely unruly force in men, driving them to all manner of reckless disregard of the proprieties. It can be so in women, too, but any impartial observer of the members of the fair sex will have to admit that they are far more likely to value long-term romantic passions, which are quite different from the male’s imperious need for no-frills sex. It is this fundamental difference between the sexes that keeps marriage counselors profitably in business. Despite these obvious facts, Proulx and Lee would have us believe in two men narrowly channeling their sexual desire for 20 years rather than finding other means of satisfaction. Such self-discipline is, of course, possible under the compulsion of a higher ideal: Marriage and family or religious vocation would be two obvious instances. Even at that, men all too frequently stray from their commitments. And homosexual men, being already outside the norms for traditional sexual behavior, are all but licensed for promiscuity. Surely, this is one reason that homosexuals have agreed to call themselves gay, a word that once meant a state of carefree, unrestrained spontaneity. Have an impulse, act on it seems almost their creed. Of course, Jack and Ennis are not typical homosexuals; they both have taken wives and sired children. If, however, they are already willing to step out- side the bounds of their marital commitments once a year, why would they stop at one homosexual partner? In fact, Jack does not. But, as he is portrayed, the poor man only resorts to consolation in other arms because he is thwarted from seeing Ennis as often as he would like. Needless to say, the intimate relations they enjoy— or endure—with their wives do not count at all in their calculus of desire. Only Jack and Ennis can satisfy each other’s erotic bottom lines. No wonder Lane and other homosexuals snicker at this movie.
Proulx and Lee have toed the party line regarding homosexuality. They are committed to the preposterous doctrine that homosexuals have been victimized for wanting to carry on relationships that are not essentially different from those of heterosexuals. You would think that only the hopelessly gullible or willfully ignorant could believe this. And yet, today, untold millions of Americans have been bullied into accepting this fantastic gospel. They have let themselves be cowed by the remarkably powerful propaganda campaign mounted by homosexual activists over the past 40 years. Anyone who really knows homosexuals recognizes this propaganda for the lie it is. Certainly, honest homosexuals, such as Lane and those of my acquaintance, do.
At the same time, there is no denying that homosexuals have suffered unwarranted discrimination and worse in different times and places, including America’s recent past. But to distort the facts and exaggerate the urgency will ultimately undermine their cause. The propagandists have latched on to the strategy of victimology. They contend that homosexuals are constantly put at risk by an omnipresent homophobia. Discrimination against homosexuals exists, of course, but it is not anywhere near as widespread as the activists and their unquestioning chorus in the media would have us believe. Nor is violence against homosexuals. How many Matthew Shepards have you read about? If violence against homosexuals were as common as activists say, it would not make front-page news when it occurs. Furthermore, the “homophobic” label has been irresponsibly stretched to cover anyone who takes a dim view of homosexuality. Parents who raise concerns about homosexual teachers, scoutmasters, priests, or rabbis, find themselves instantly branded. But is it a crime not to want your children exposed to homosexual influence? Are we to be compelled to fall in line with those who argue that homosexuality is every bit as acceptable as heterosexuality—and perhaps an even more admirable choice, given its embattled place in our supposedly sexually benighted society?
Am I exaggerating the propagandists’ pushiness? I don’t think so. Yesterday, an announcement of a scholarship arrived from my son’s high school, offering “money to openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students who have made significant contributions to furthering LGBT rights and/or HIV/AIDS awareness.” “Openly,” indeed. Adolescence is a period fraught with sexual confusion, yet we are supposed to accept quietly that 15-year-olds can definitively decide that they are homosexual for life. So powerful is the influence of homosexual activism that the school’s administrators thought this fit to send home.
Oscar Wilde famously called homosexual activity the love that dare not speak its name. Today, it is the other way round. Disapprove of homosexual behavior, suggest that anal intercourse may be a practice for which the human body is not suitably designed, and you are straightaway designated a moralistic troglodyte, if not a hate criminal. Never mind that such behavior has been proved to be the ideal route to transmit HIV along with many other diseases, such as hepatitis, mononucleosis, and what is delicately called gay bowel syndrome.
So should we target every homosexual who comes into contact with children and adolescents? Of course not. The great preponderance of homosexuals conduct themselves irreproachably in public, making contributions that would be dearly missed were they somehow banished. All I ask is that there be no obligation to promote homosexuality as just another way of life as desirable as any other. Putting aside, for the moment, religious morality, such a position flies in the face of everything we know about the physical and psychological risks entailed. To demand that parents ignore this knowledge is profoundly immoral. What’s more, it begs a backlash that may erase any gains in understanding homosexuals have achieved.
So what is to be done? Frankly,I haven’t a clue. It’s un-American of me, I know, but I think we will have to accept that this is another human problem insusceptible to legislative or cultural amelioration. At one point in Brokeback, Ennis imparts this counsel to Jack concerning their impossible relationships with each other and their families: “If you can’t fix it, you got to stand it.” The line is meant to be bitterly ironic at Ennis’s expense. We are invited to pity him as a tragic figure trapped within the cruelly joy-denying morality of a homophobic culture. But there is another way to understand the line, however unintended by Proulx. Anyone who has not been taken in by our therapeutic culture of easy fixes knows that standing dissatisfaction is, at times, the only honorable choice and, should we live long enough, the only choice.
As for now, we shall have to prepare ourselves to stand the onslaught of homosexual movies and television shows that Lee’s film will surely unleash. Get ready for big-name male actors bravely smooching and cuddling away. Where have Rock and Doris gone? O tempora, o mores!