19 Dec 2005

Brokeback Mountain: Getting it Wrong


A non-film review


I don’t intend to see this PC film, but I’ve read the Annie Proulx story, and have seen Frank Rich’s column in the Sunday NY Times, which opines:

Without a single polemical speech, this laconic film dramatizes homosexuality as an inherent and immutable identity, rather than some aberrant and elective “agenda” concocted by conspiratorial “elites” in Chelsea, the Castro and South Beach, as anti-gay proselytizers would have it. Ennis and Jack long for a life together, not for what gay baiters pejoratively label a “lifestyle.”

Perhaps Ang Lee made the film more heavy-handed and conventional than was the original story. Or perhaps Rich sees what suits his own political agenda. I can’t say. I haven’t seen the film.


The short story Brokeback Mountain is one of a series of “the hard reality of life among the simple and poor” stories set in rural Wyoming of which Proulx has recently written enough examples to make up two published collections.

Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist aren’t homosexual “by inherent and immutable identity.” They are

high school dropout country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.

After the accidental sexual encounter, the conversation goes:

Ennis said, “I’m not no queer,” and Jack jumped in with “Me neither. A one-shot thing. Nobody’s business but ours.”

When four years later, they get together again, Ennis says:

“We both have wives and kids, right? I like doin it with women, yeah, but Jesus H., ain’t nothin like this. I never had no thoughts about doin it with another guy… You do it with other guys? Jack?

Jack replies:

“Shit no. You know that, Old Brokeback got us good.”

They are not homosexual. The entire point of the story is the tragic fate of two ordinary uneducated men, who accidentally develop an unaccountable and powerful emotional relationship
(including sex), which does not fit their ideas, circumstances, or possibilities.

The moral of the whole story is not: “Queers can be cowboys too!” Or: “A certain percentage of cowboys were secretly gay.” The moral of the story may be found in the closing sentence:

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.

It seems interesting to note that the Left is treating the film as triumph in the culture wars, entirely on the basis of a 180 degree distortion of the central meaning of the original short story.

Rather than a vindication of “inherent & immutable gay identity,” Brokeback Mountain tells the story of the unhappy fate of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar in the very same vein in which The Half-Skinned Steer tells the story of an octogenerian returning to the family ranch from Massachusetts for his brother’s funeral, who winds up driving off the road in a snowstorm a few miles from his boyhood home and freezing to death.

Annie Proulx isn’t purveying political correctness; she’s chronicling representative examples of strange and cruel accidents in a hard country. In the original story, homosexual love isn’t so much “an inherent and immutable identity,” as it is another example of the weird and miserable things that can sometimes happpen to people under an indifferent Western sky.


Please Leave a Comment!

Please note: Comments may be moderated. It may take a while for them to show on the page.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark