Manual TypewriterEssays, Reviews, and Commentaries

By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Brokeback Mountain

Posted By on June 30, 2009

Brokeback Mountain
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

They say the sign of a really good movie is you can’t stop thinking about it. Brokeback Mountain therefore deserves all the accolades it is receiving. Ennis and Jack stay with you, the way cool mountain air clings to you for days after returning to the big city. Ennis and Jack have become a kind of symbol of the frustration of human love – in the great expanse of the American wilderness, these repressed, trapped cowboys live on the edges of a burdened and strained horror, knowing that all we hold dear in our lives is so shockingly fragile.

I confess, although this movie has haunted me for days, I found it rather slow-moving. My partner, who would likely enjoy the life of cowboy rancher far more than I, was captivated by the dialectic of casual tranquility and mounting tension. I can’t get these men out of my mind (an unusual experience, trust me) – their passion, their silence, their fate. Until I suddenly realize that this is an old familiar story: a modern cowboy remake of Children’s Hour and Torch Song Trilogy: another gay story with a dead hero.

Sadly, this is often the final chapter our stories: especially in Wyoming, but also (still) in Greenwich Village; in the counterculture sixties, and well into this next century: tire irons and gangs of restless boys. This has been the fate of our people so how can we not watch the screen with wide-eyed horror, a reoccurring dream of frozen terror when you want to scream but your throat is constricted. Americans are waking up suddenly, in a sweat, witnessing our collective nightmare. What is it that heterosexual audiences, not just in the Unites States but around the world, are finding so compelling about this story?

Brokeback Mountain is a rare film that is as deep and riveting as the literary short story on which it is based. Ennis and Jack are kin, intimate reflections of all of our fears of coming out. We remember what it was like on that mountain, and which of us queers has not turned away from same-sex love at some point, sure that the path ahead was too painful, too dangerous, too uncharted? Many of us also remember what it was like when we finally arrived in the big city and found gay communities, and suddenly we moved into our bodies, into the fullness of our beings… who could not want that for Ennis and Jack?

A quick Google search will reveal that many have written more positive AU (alternative universe) renditions of the story. In my personal favorite, Ennis and Jack relocate to Vermont and take up farming. I will admit it: I want a happier ending for Ennis and Jack. Not “they lived happily ever after,” but something more satisfying then another dead queer, or perhaps even worse, another lonely gay man living his life in a wilderness with memories he can share with no one….including his children.

Ennis and Jack are, of course, parents. Fathers. Ennis and Jack, for better or worse, are another face of gay fatherhood in this country.

Ennis was, I thought, a “good” dad, given the time and place, and the nature of fatherhood among “real” men. Despite poverty and a taciturn nature, he picked up his babies with familiarity, and put up with their screaming with as much gentleness as any harried, exhausted parent. He prioritized his children, to Jack’s disappointment and confusion, in a way few fathers really do. He loved his girls, even if, he wasn’t always sure what to actually do with them. These children will likely live their whole lives, never knowing about their father’s greatest love, unless of course, Alma tells them one day, in a moment of mother-daughter intimacy. Let us not forget that Ennis, who undoubtedly made many decisions based in fear, also made decisions he thought were best for this children.

Somewhere in Texas there is a young man whose father died in a bizarre accident which no one really talks much about. For that matter, no one talks much about his father at all, and over time his memories have grown dim. But sometimes he looks at his picture, a handsome man with a sparkle in his eyes, who loved the rodeo. And inside something feels a bit empty. Perhaps he reads newspaper articles that condemn the fate of children raised by only their mothers to restlessness and lack of direction and thinks this is his legacy because of his father’s accident. Does he look at his father’s deep and sad eyes and ever wonder about his father’s life, or his death? Does he skip over newspaper articles on hate crimes and bias-related violence never thinking that he too has been a victim?

In this age of queer parenting, let us not forget that far too many gay parents live lives more like Ennis and Jack then Rosie and Kelly. And far too many children have inherited the legacy of silence and shame that homophobia produces, leaving adults with broken fathers they never really had a chance to know – rugged men with tender gay hearts and that cannot speak of the things that matter most.