Brokeback Mountain a triumph in portrayal of homosexuals, a failure in portrayal of life’s purpose

Tapeworms and homosexuals.

Someone once said that those two things are the most disgusting things on the planet.

I admit that I laughed at the incredible insensitivity and political incorrectness of the comment, but it was not something I would say myself.

But the truth is I do tend to lean pretty conservative on the issue of homosexuality.

That said, Brokeback Mountain is a great movie. In fact, it may be the best movie I’ve seen all year. The directing, the writing and the acting combined to turn Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story into a nearly perfect film.

The movie begins in the summer of 1963, when country boys Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) begin working as sheep herders in the Wyoming wilderness. A few weeks or so into the summer, the young men have their first sexual encounter with each other.

The transition of Ennis and Jack’s relationship from strangers to coworkers to lovers happens very naturally and is completely believable given the situation of the two. They are bored and lonely, rarely ever seeing any other human beings. Also, it is revealed that both of them, Ennis in particular, have led somewhat troubled lives.

Their relationship grows into love, but the two men part ways at the end of the summer, knowing that their relationship would be unacceptable in society. Both of them get married to women and live what appear to be normal, if not the most enjoyable, lives.

After four years, Jack and Ennis finally meet again. After that, the two get together for “fishing” trips a few times every year.

On the whole, the movie covers about twenty years of the lives of these men, vividly showing the effects their doomed relationship has on their lives and the lives of their families.

The movie is filled with amazing performances, a credit to director Ang Lee and screenwriter Larry McMurtry as well as the actors. All the characters, even the smallest roles, are rounded out and three dimensional. Jack and Ennis are probably the most realistically human homosexuals that I have seen on film. Ledger is perfectly soft-spoken, contemplative and tortured as Ennis, and Gyllenhaal provides a great foil for Ledger as the more impulsive Jack.

What is probably the movie’s greatest accomplishment is its tone. It would have been so easy for the movie to have been either disrespectful to its serious and controversial topic or to have been overly preachy. Somehow Lee was able to avoid both. He works more subtly, and he tells a phenomenal story without being heavy-handed with its theme.

Brokeback Mountain does seem clearly pro-homosexual, but the film was well-made enough that I can still appreciate it despite our differences in opinion.

However, Brokeback’s more general theme, as revealed in the final scene of the movie, is a lot harder for me to ignore.

In the scene, Ennis’ 19 year-old daughter Alma, Jr. visits the now divorced Ennis to invite him to her wedding. Her excitement and his excitement for her contrast with the reactions to Ennis’ relationship with Jack. While Alma will presumably live happily ever after with her husband, Ennis never had any such opportunity to do so with his own true significant other.

In the end, Brokeback Mountain makes the same mistake that pretty much every Hollywood romance does. They elevate romantic love to the point where it becomes the only thing that matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a good love story probably more than many guys would admit. What bothers me is when love is portrayed as the highest good a person can attain.

If Christians believe anything, it is that nothing in this world will fulfill or complete us. No earthly thing, including love, can fill the void that every human being has inside. Frankly, it is impossible to be happy outside of Christ.

At one point in the movie, Jack considers his hopeless relationship with Ennis and says, “This is a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation.”

Jack is absolutely right. Brokeback Mountain’s mistake is suggesting that their lives did not have to be so unsatisfactory, that they would have been perfectly happy if only they were allowed to love each other. This is just wrong.

Granted, all else equal, a homosexual’s life is automatically much more difficult and unhappy than mine is. Yet, we’re still exactly the same. The truth is, outside of Christ, all of existence is a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation, and romantic love, no matter who the parties involved are, offers nothing to change that.

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