Witness, won’t you, the confluent forces, the twin streams of conflicting culture represented by the amazing “Brokeback Mountain” movie phenomenon, a spare and sad and highly controversial little indie-style flick that is shaking up the homophobic community and raking in the Golden Globes and which now seems a shoo-in to win an Oscar or four, as compared and contrasted with, say, the humorless, depressing, dry-as-death Samuel Alito Supreme Court nomination. Oh yes, we have a match. Do you see it?
Look closer. On the one hand, here is the astounding reach and power of this rare and striking little film, an emotional tinderbox of a movie that, in the wrong hands or with the wrong marketing or if it had been off pitch by just this much, could have very easily been trashed and quickly dismissed, would have hobbled the careers of two up-and-coming hunk actors, been mocked across the board and demonized by the religious right as revolting gay propaganda, the source of all ills, proof of the existence of the devil himself.
Of course, the latter is still happening (isn’t it always?), but the amazing thing is, no one seems to care. The screech of the right’s homophobes is being easily drowned out by the fact that this astonishing, pitch-perfect film is now considered a movie that, quite literally, changes minds. Shifts perceptions. That moves the human experiment forward and makes people truly think about sex and gender and love and not in the way that, say, “Pride & Prejudice” makes you think because that kind of thinking is merely sweet and harmless, whereas “Brokeback” slaps bigotry and intolerance upside its knobby little head and induces heated discussions of the film’s dynamics and politics and ideas of love over a bottle of wine and some deep curious sighing.
Ange Lee, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
ANG LEE: Usually I think it’s the ingredients. It’s not even story or characters. Just the taste of the film. What kind of emotion that I could get from it and show all the people my response that I found through that, I make a connection with people. Which is like this movie. That’s what it’s about. It’s a private connection that we all dream of, that we can make with another person, it’s our Brokeback.
Annie Proulx interviewed by Planet Jackson Hole, Inc.
PJH: I think it’s clear to anyone who reads “Brokeback Mountain” that above all it’s a wrenching, starcrossed love story. It is about two cowboys, but it seems inaccurate to call it gay literature. How do you feel about the film being assailed as gay agitprop emerging from liberal Hollywood? Did you ever intend for the story to be controversial?
AP: Excuse me, but it is NOT a story about “two cowboys.” It is a story about two inarticulate, confused Wyoming ranch kids in 1963 who have left home and who find themselves in a personal sexual situation they did not expect, understand nor can manage. The only work they find is herding sheep for a summer some cowboys!
Yet both are beguiled by the cowboy myth, as are most people who live in the state, and
Ennis tries to be one but never gets beyond ranch hand work; Jack settles on rodeo as an expression of the Western ideal. It more or less works for him until he becomes a tractor salesman.
Their relationship endures for 20 years, never resolved, never faced up to, always haunted by fear and confusion. How different readers take the story is a reflection of their own personal values, attitudes, hang-ups.
It is my feeling that a story is not finished until it is read, and that the reader finishes it through his or her life experience, prejudices, world view and thoughts. Far from being “liberal,” Hollywood was afraid of the script as were many actors and agents.
Of course I knew the story would be seen as controversial. I doubted it would even be published, and was pleased when The New Yorker very quickly accepted it. In the years since the story was published in 1997 I have received many letters from gay and straight men, not a few Wyoming-born. Some said, “You told my story,” some said “That is why I left Wyoming,” and a number, from fathers, said “Now I understand the hell my son went through.”
I still get these heart breaking letters.