Them Cowboys

Brokeback MountainAs planned, I went to see Brokeback Mountain with Stephanie and BeeGoddessM on Christmas night. I have to agree with Steph that it was a good movie — better than average — but certainly not the best ever. However, from what I’ve been hearing and reading, I’d have to say my reservations aren’t the same as most people who have reservations with this film.

Of course, some of the comments from naysayers at imdb.com are completely laughable and irrelevant. Some of them suggest that the fact the main characters were heterosexually married serves as evidence that homosexuality is a choice. Others say that it’s a “lust story,” not a real love story. One goes so far as saying that Brokeback is the work of Satan himself. These people went with their preconceived notions and prejudices, and were hell-bent on despising this film no matter what.

However, and conversely, I believe there’s pressure for fags, dykes, and open-minded “liberals” to love this film unequivocally and to reserve criticism on minor points like how the aging of the characters is unconvincing. I think the pressure is so great that it’s easy to be accused of harbouring inward or outward homophobia for not raving about the greatness or ground-breaking nature of this film. But I have to agree that this film, while good, should go down as the most overhyped of 2005. Films like Don’t Tell Anyone (Peru [1998], see my Dec. 29, 2002 blog entry and the imdb.com description) and the light-hearted Mambo Italiano (Canada [2003], see the imdb.com description) which was aired last night in French on Radio-Canada, managed as well if not better at addressing how it can be difficult, even impossible, to live in peace as a gay person or, more aptly in the case of Brokeback, someone who just happens to love someone of the same sex. Except that because Brokeback is a big Hollywood production, it’s as though the genre and storyline have just been invented.

Many of the sane detractors of Brokeback speak of being unconvinced of the love relationship between the main characters. But I, for one, think that’s the most successful part of the movie. One has to view this film in all its contexts. For instance, not too long ago, my mother reported having seen C.R.A.Z.Y., which I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see but have heard a lot about. She claimed not liking the storyline, in large part because she didn’t like the father’s treatment of or reaction to his son’s homosexuality. Undoubtedly she was thinking about her own reaction when she found out that her son was gay, back in the summer of 1982. I pointed out to her that C.R.A.Z.Y. was set in the ’60s and ’70s, so while it wasn’t that far from 1982, there were already huge differences in how homosexuality and homosexuals were perceived — differences which are almost as great as if we were to compare those perceptions in 1982 and 2002. She admitted that she hadn’t thought of that, that she hadn’t viewed the film in its temporal context (not that she actually said “temporal context”). But thinking back to the film with that notion in mind, she agreed that it altered her view and understanding.

The love between Brokeback‘s main characters is not only a love that dared not speak its name among cowboys from 1963 to 1982; it was a love for which they hadn’t the emotional vocabulary to express. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is the quintessential strong silent type who’d be unable to express love demonstratively even if he didn’t have this attraction to Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Ennis’s stoic nature (and resistence to taking his love for Jack beyond occasional rendez-vous on the mountain) can be infuriating when viewed through presentist lens, but he could not view things any other way given his context. This is what makes Brokeback such an authentic story; this is the heartbreak everyone speaks about, although I posit that heartbreak is more the viewers’ as a result of witnessing the story of Ennis and Jack. They say that after any couple’s (straight or gay) period of heavy passion, what sets in (or not) for the remainder is true love. I have no trouble seeing circumstances having turned Ennis and Jack as a “old couple,” perhaps more quickly than we’d expect under less stiffling circumstances. As such, it’s not such a stretch for me to comprehend Ennis’s outward reaction upon his first separation from Jack and his final separation, a point that seems to be a bit of a stumbling block for many who have viewed this movie.

So, if I’m so convinced that the storyline works, why do I not consider Brokeback a great film? Well, while I understand the effect that the pacing of the film is supposed to achieve and I agree that the cinematography is excellent, I think 15 to 20 minutes could easily be shaved off and still carry the story well. Also, while Ennis’s marbled speech provides valuable insight on his personality, it could be a little less marbled so that one doesn’t have to strain so much to understand what he’s saying. But I guess because this film has been hyped by many as nearly the Most!Revolutionary!Ever!, my expectations weren’t met, although I’m not sure what exactly my expectations were.

Maybe I expected something new, but once I took some distance from the specifics of the plot, I realized I’d already heard and seen it all before. So, I end up saying that it’s a good film and I would definitely recommend to anyone to go see it while it’s on the big screen. But I don’t think that in 2019, it will have risen to become a cult classic à la Thelma and Louise; rather, it will be remembered as a film that was talked much about in its time for having nudged the mainstream into an uncomfortable area. Yet the former legacy is what one would have expected if this film were really the Most!Revolutionary!Ever!

An Exhausted Cliché

In my Christmas day blog entry, I reflected on how the year that’s coming to an end will probably not go down as a good one for most people. If you viewed the Queen’s Christmas message — and never mind the debate about the relevance of the Queen — you were probably as struck as I was by its bleakness. Certainly, for it to have been cheery would have been callous, but I have to say it effectively echoed my sentiment that we’re going through tough times, and we can only hope that we have nowhere else to go but up from here.

As if to reinforce this feeling of sadness, there was a late-afternoon shooting on Boxing Day on Toronto’s Yonge Street, which injured six people and killed one teenaged girl. Gun violence in Toronto has reached unprecedented heights this year, one killing not too long ago occurring at the funeral of another young man who had also been shot a few days prior. There have been well over 50 gunshot deaths in 2005 in Toronto, a city which, despite its size, is unaccustomed to this level of violence.

That said, however, I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing the same old clichés whenever something like this happens. By far the most meaningless is the claim of loss of innocence, which one Toronto detective has dished out when remarking on the Boxing Day shootings.

A comment like that makes for a great headline, but it’s been so overused that it’s long been devoid of meaning. In Canada, it was used — although maybe not in those exact words — as far back as World War I, with this country’s brave involvement in the trenches of Europe. In the States, it was used most memorably when JFK was assassinated, but also after Pearl Harbour and, in some case, post 9/11. To me, the notion of “losing innocence” implies going suddenly from a care-free, idyllic existance to one of fear, sadness and mayhem. But I don’t think that we were (or Toronto was) anywhere near that starting point when those shocking and senseless shootings happened yesterday. This event has certainly further eroded Torontonians’ assumptions and sense of safety, which is both sad and disturbing. However, it’s not like there was a child-like innocence to lose to begin with, given all that’s been happening all year in Toronto’s north side.