Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brokeback Mountain, my thoughts...

[NOTE: There are some spoilers, so you've been warned!]

So I've been thinking about Brokeback Mountain, and my feelings about it, and how everyone around me loves it and raves about it and talks about its "daring concept" of showing love between two men as something normal.

When I saw it with the husband last month, I thought it was...good. Almost great, but not quite. And I really felt guilty for feeling like it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, but I can see why people have responded to it--it's a movie about two men who fall in love with each other, outside of the expectations of gay society, and the oppressiveness that results because of it. It shows a very deft and subtle touch in portraying the lives of these men who believe that society has no room for people who are not interested in heterosexual relationships, and the lengths they will go to maintain their relationship. Perhaps that's why it doesn't surprise me that much and why I didn't feel as moved as I thought I would be. To people who've experienced that sort of love and can feel that pressure of conforming, on pain of either social or actual death, it feels familiar, regardless of one's orientation.

What really struck me the most was how class was portrayed and (excuse me for my Marxist analysis) how that, more than anything, confines where the characters are and what they can do, and why they feel so constrained. As Jack's character moves up in socioeconomic class, and because he already is of higher class to begin with that Ennis, he realizes that it's possible to express his sexual urges, as long as he complies with his traditional roles of being a husband and father, and as long as he doesn't get caught. Ennis, because he doesn't have the money, also doesn't have the ability to see beyond Wyoming, and can't fathom the possibility of living the life that Jack wants, nor can he afford to express his desire for other men, financially or socially. For Ennis, it's better for him to be portrayed as a loner and simply be seen as cold towards women rather than being homosexual. And because they are both of relatively working class status, have the most to lose if they refuse to conform. With wealth comes the ability to transgress, and neither Jack nor Ennis truly have the capability to do so.

I think many people fail to see that the LGBT movement has largely been one of class, and that it was the richer white men who were able to move to cities here gay subcultures exist who established identity around sexual orientation, and who were the ones who could actually publicize it. And perhaps that's why it alienates so many people who aren't rich, male and white, and perhaps that's why Brokeback Mountain is so shocking--to see homosexual love that isn't "gay", that has no knowledge of mainstream rich, gay, white subculture, and that it hasn't really been portrayed at all in the media (and it also helps that the protagonists are also white), which is probably also why it's being banned in so many Asian countries, because it would resonate even more there, where the nascent queer movements are again, based around class.

So the main reasons why Brokeback Mountain was good was that it was an excellent character study; a precise analysis of homosexuality outside of mainstream gay culture; and the cast does everything it's supposed to, though Heath Ledger does the best of aging 20 years, while all the other actors don't quite make it. The pace was a bit too glacial for me, and everything else about the movie seemed a little too majestic and muscular. I guess the one thing that confused me the most was I couldn't really see how their first instance of having sex turned into a relationship, and what was the definite turning point that turned that night into a relationship. It really didn't become clear to me. As many people know, hot sex doesn't really establish a relationship, especially if the initial sex is less than a minute! :)

So those are the thoughts that have been brewing around in my head--and while it's something that I've glad I saw, I'm not sure I would see it again.


uffington said...

I found it a very powerful film and could identify with many aspects of it having come from the west country plains in the uk I agree that the initial scene in the tent was somewhat abrupt and less than satisfactory. I think it was a wasted opportunity not to have focused on the special intimacy between two people that was invited when jack places his friends arm across himself. there is alot of potential in that initial scene to explore the dawning of a physical and emotional relationship and i felt it was a shame to have turned that down in favour of a somewhat cliche act. An opportnity missed I felt. Well having said all that I kept my emotions in check in the cinema but wept all the way back home in the car so I guess mr lee hit the spot. And It certainly bears a second viewing.

Steve Middleton said...

Really interested in the class thing. I think what made me so sad (now I come to think about it) was Ennis being in the trailer on his own (with nothing) at the end - and never really thought he deserved anything. His ex-wife had a nice home and he was alone (with the shirts and the postcards!). In the UK we've just started Civil Partnerships - and most are being taken up by 'middle class' gays/lesbians. The working class gay men/lesbians are still largely in the closet - still dangerous to come out in working class housing estates in London or Manchester or Glasgow - unless you're very tough.

Steve Middleton said...

Uffington - the bit that did it for me was the song whilst the credits rolled - He Was a Friend of Mine

AiYahh said...

Love at first sight.

nuff said

ronn said...

While I think there can be love at first fuck... er, sight, I am mos def feeling you on that night in the tent. If anything, I'd expect nothing more to come of such an act. And when you couple in the class difference -- at least in the years to come -- I find it a bit difficult to see what sustains them all those years.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie. The pacing was fine with me. I hate rushed storylines and action for action's sake.