Film on Spotlight: Brokeback Mountain

Scenarios USA By Scenarios USA, June 12, 2013

By: Anna Blum

Brokeback Mountain is a pretty iconic film. Although I get more than a little frustrated when people refer to it as “That Gay Cowboy Movie,” I will admit that it was the first and one of the only movies to come to mind that is centered around LGBTQ topics—especially one so acclaimed and of such big production.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie (or read the equally brilliant short story that it’s based off of, from Annie Proulx’s 1999 collection, ‘Close Range: Wyoming Stories’), it tells the story of two young men, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), who spend a summer working atop Brokeback Mountain together. The two become friends, and slowly, after some initiation from Jack, the two form an intimate physical relationship. By the end of the summer, the two agree to go their separate ways, but somehow their lives continue to intertwine romantically despite each of them marrying and having children with wives.
Like I said, it was definitely the first movie that comes to mind when I think of films that discuss sexual orientation. And I think if I were to ask a large number of others, I would get a similar reaction. And, for as much as like the film as a piece of art, I think that’s pretty upsetting. Why? Because to have the first massively important film that comes to mind when thinking of the theme of sexual orientation be one in which homosexuality is not celebrated but instead serves as a reason to persecuted, that is where I have a problem.

There are many instances in the film in which homosexuality is portrayed as something to be ashamed of: Ennis, for one thing, never is willing to embrace his sexuality openly. He lives his life in fear of abuse and discrimination, and therefore instead chooses to keep his relationship with Jack a secret, despite the fact that he loves him enormously. And while I would love to declare the character of Ennis as ridiculous, the one who is more open about his sexual orientation, Jack, does end up facing abuse and discrimination because of it.

So, why is this so bad? It’s just a movie. Well—for me, anyway—movies are by far the most important aspect of the media. I watch them with friends, for research, to learn about historical events and constantly just for enjoyment. And when I sit down to watch a movie, like it or not, I am consuming a whole load of other messages as well. So when I sit down to watch something like ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ watching it for it’s entertainment value, I am observing and absorbing upsetting and homophobic messages.

Movies are a chance for someone to feel represented in a massive part of the media. They are a chance for people to feel understood, not alone, somehow better. However, when a community who has been traditionally disenfranchised is portrayed as both abused and forced to stay hidden about their identity in such a massive blockbuster, I find it to be disconcerting.

Ways to avoid this are by being an active viewer, and learning how to separate a film’s core meaning from the troubling messages scattered throughout, and by consuming more proactive, useful films that discuss LGBTQ-issues in a more positive and ultimately helpful way.
The point here was not to hate on Brokeback Mountain—I love, love, love that movie. What I am trying to say is that, especially now that Obama has declared June as Pride Month, that we have more films, especially films as prominent as Brokeback Mountain, made in which sexual orientation is discussed without taboo, without repercussion, without fear. Where identifying as LGBTQ is celebrated as a character trait rather than disgraced. And there’s no doubt—we’re moving in the right direction.

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