Homophobia on The Range

Brad Altfest Jan 13, 2006

Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll is nowhere to be found in the 1960s pastoral setting of Brokeback Mountain, Hollywood’s latest depiction of homosexuality. While it’s good to see gay men depicted as something other than promiscuous, panty-wearing party-boys, an exploration of self-loathing men who happen to have sex with other men is hardly a “groundbreaking” movie about gay life, as some have described it. Brokeback is really more of a feminist deconstruction of the male ego.

What explains the “intimacy” between the two main characters, Ennis and Jack, is the silence that surrounds the landscape. This movie suggests that both of these men’s emotional and conversational distance (and by extension, their homosexuality) was created by poor relationships with their parents. Stuck in a lifelong isolation and longing for that one person, presumed to be a woman, more devoted to her man than her career and who can touch that damaged portion of his ego, each of these men lives a life broken and bare.

The sexual relationship between the men begins in a jerky and unrealistic manner that borders on rape. It plays on stereotypes: the unbridled sexual aggression of men, sex as the core of homosexuality, and the act of anal sex as THE behavior of homosexuality. We see this in Ennis flipping his wife over and having her anally in the one sex scene we see them complete.

Gay sex is seen at first to have nothing to do with intimacy with other men, which may or may not come later and is clearly secondary to sex. Brokeback Mountain mirrors the timeframe from Stonewall and the birth of the gay rights movement to the beginning of the AIDS era, but we see none of these larger social changes seep into Ennis and Jack’s world. This is one of many reasons why Brokeback is not really a gay movie at all.

Jack “Twist” is the bigger risk-taker of the two, dreaming of a “radical” life with another man, essentially as a married heterosexual couple, while Ennis sees his urges as primarily physical in an otherwise empty life. This is a classic example of straight women’s “slash” fantasy, in which an ideal heterosexual like Heath Ledger becomes emotionally available through the proxy of his “homosexuality.”

In this context, homosexuality functions as a metaphor, and the audience becomes the voyeur to a man’s hidden emotional life as the invisible third partner in this pseudo-gay relationship.

The fact that it was another man who touched Ennis’s gut-wrenching isolation is treated as incidental. At one point, he even blames Jack for having “those feelings.” Jack is punished for his desires with a brutal gay-bashing. Ennis chooses the facade of a happy family life over his own sexual desires and is rewarded by continued life and the ultimate prize of a daughter who intends to marry a man.

Gays are yet again being fooled by the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” sensibility that any depiction is good, regardless of context, realism or semantics Brokeback Mountain is a Hollywood minstrel show in which heterosexual actors play gay characters so they’re “acceptable” to the mainstream.

The film could have used the talents of actors like Danny Pinatauro or Jonathan Taylor Thomas, whose careers evaporated after they came out. Their real-life experiences would have added a dimension to these men struggling with sexual identity. Such nuances were lacking, but will be likely interpreted by the audience as a realistic portrayal of the “traditional” non-expressive male ego. Ultimately, Brokeback Mountain is a condescending liberal version of the same self-loathing and fear that killed another gay man from Wyoming named Matthew Shepard.

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