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Brokeback Mountain was a movie that I was actually looking forward to seeing. To see it on the weekend of the HJAG along with Chris Utley and Elisabeth Leitch, fellow reviewers from Hollywood Jesus, was almost a moment of euphoria— after all, we had the nice little meal from Bill's Bar and Pub across the street and everything was almost perfect. I should have seen the foreshadowing that lay ahead when a seagull resting on the eaves of the Egyptian Theater in Seattle decided to use my shirt sleeve as a toilet.
I was as drawn in to the movie prehype as much as any movie I have seen. I have already received criticism from the religious right, condemning my perspective that The Crying Game is my favorite love story ever filmed. So from my respect of that particular movie, I knew that as a follower of Jesus—often times criticized by the religious right, and a male married to a loving wife with children—I didn’t have the preconceived stereotypes and prejudices as many would have seeing this movie. I had heard from friends who are gay, and others who weren’t (along with reviews), to be ready for the heart tugging ending and great story. I actually wanted that movie, I desired, longed for, and hungered for the ending that would cause many who don’t understand homosexuality to have a better understanding, a deeper love, and a compassionate understanding to see gay people as just that, people first, with a different sexual persuasion. I cringe every time I see the Bible Thumping Televangelist blasting homosexuals along with every perverted word imaginable. Truth is I never felt compelled to throw the first stone at anyone. I also don’t quite understand the need to emphasize certain aspects of life or preconceived “sin” more than others. Seems to me that many could equally look at pride, greed, gluttony, and other things that are in the views of many, “sin.” Truth is, virtually all movies with actors involve people that the Bible says are in “sin.” The need to pick on any particular group is a question that has caused me more than one headache, trying to figure out the rationalization of some.
I wanted Brokeback Mountain to address issues in a real way that would cause a better understanding of the homosexual community. I wanted it to provide characters that the Homosexual community could look up to, respect, learn from and admire to some extent. I wanted that because we all deserve some measure of hope and understanding. For years, this medium has given the issue far too little mainstream exposure and not enough real questions and issues have been asked as a result of the movies being made. With the exception of Philadelphia, staring Tom Hanks and the controversial Crying Game, not many movies with primarily gay characters has received mainstream recognition. The press this year, for whatever reason, has resoundingly praised Brokeback Mountain. With all of the hoopla I was expecting great things.
The acting in the movie is quite good; in many regards I would personally consider it exceptional, especially Michelle Williams who wonderfully plays the part of Ennis Del Mar’s wife. I was also impressed with the character Jack Twist played beautifully by Jake Gyllenhall. While at times the character of Ennis Del Mar is wonderful, I was detracted by the mumbling of Heath Ledger in playing of the part. I don’t personally blame Ledger but Ang Lee who, in my opinion provides poor direction, and shows in the inability to fully understand the characters he is presenting. For example, it is typical for cowboys to mumble; I know this because of living in Kansas, and in the past in Oklahoma. Those places are unique in that while they may be metropolitan areas, it don’t take long to find a “real cowboy.” The real cowboys often mumble because of the fact that they are speaking with a dip of snuff. Yet, while you see no cowboys dipping tobacco in this movie, you do see them often times smoking. At this point I draw the conclusion that Lee or someone on staff has likely heard cowboys speak, just never figured out why they speak the way they do.
There are other issues with the direction of this film that I had problems with. There is little character development with the exception of the two primary lead characters. Even there, the character development leaves one with questions. Some of the press has spoken about the fact that people will be speaking of the movie long after they see it. I believe that assumption true, but they are not speaking on themes as much as they are trying to figure things out. I won’t answer or ask any of those questions here, but rest assured, you will know what I am speaking about when and if you see the movie.
I also had issues with the editing of this movie and the make-up. In critical scenes, on male characters you see make-up blotches on a lead character, especially in close up scenes. Then the editing jumps from one scene to another with little or no continuity or relevant transition. Not just in transitional scenes, but in critical scenes. These things provide a distraction that hindered the enjoyment and educational process of the movie.
There is an abundance of spiritual symbolism that is a primary component for the characters in the film. From discussions on denominational differences, to theological issues, those questions arise. The first sexual encounter of the characters should not be lost in the fact that it occurs when one individual fails to fulfill his responsibilities in looking out for the sheep he is responsible for. There are images of cowboys carrying sheep to safety in the same way that we have seen images of Jesus, or King David carrying sheep. The transitions from religious discussion in the movie, tied in with the responsibility to watch the sheep, and then the failure to do so, leads to the first homosexual act in the movie; I believe that is more than a coincidence.
There are other themes, such as infidelity, commitment, and more that come up in the movie. Those themes are centered around characters who openly admit that at one time they were actively involved in church. While not involved in church for much of the movie, they recognize the need to provide spiritual opportunities for their children, including taking them to, and picking them up from church. This raises questions: Why is faith so critical to the characters and their families? What happened to that faith? Why aren’t the lead characters consistent in that faith? These are all valid questions. One can even take the concept further; has the church missed the boat on the issue of homosexuality? How do the actions of the church affect those who are gay? How does the church address the struggles of faith that are asked in the Gay Community? All questions worthy of discussion—and all questions largely not addressed with any conclusion, or even editorial comment provided, in the movie where the themes are evident and a part of the lives of the characters.
There are other questions that one could ask, especially questions those in the church could ask themselves. I have to admit, that I am not as troubled with acts of sex between a male and female in a movie as I am acts of sex between two partners of the same sex. Why? I will give Brokeback Mountain credit for causing me to reflect on my own views and reflections in a way that I haven’t before. Why we view some issues as being wrong, or even more wrong than others, is an appropriate question. Especially in light of a belief system that sees any “sin” or “wrong” as being disobedient to God. In many ways, it seems to drive home a misconstrued, inconsistent God—a God that people have difficulty figuring out. I can't help but believe that God is far more consistent than I am, and doesn’t have the varying areas of “wrong” that I sometimes have in my own life. In that regard, Brokeback Mountain caused me to reflect with positive results.
Unfortunately, reflecting on things not addressed in a movie doesn’t constitute a good movie. I went in with high expectations and left feeling that Brokeback Mountain is the most overhyped, disappointing movie I have seen this year. It is unfortunate because the gay community deserves better. They deserve a film that will give them heroes, lasting love, and hope. They deserve a movie that will cause the public to reflect upon them as people, a movie that will cause open and honest discussion of spiritual things. For me, Brokeback Mountain fell far short of any of those expectations.
On a scale of 1 – 10, for the company of 3 that went to see the movie together, plus the sea gull which left me a little present on my shirt, a very disappointing 3.