Friday, February 17, 2006
Gem Fire Air
Brokeback Mountain: a Rarefied Love Affair
by marty kleva
Today, I went to see the movie Brokeback Mountain — it opened here over a month ago. So the ultimate excuse to see it came earlier this week, after I wrote the review in Monday’s blog, for 9Songs, which I believe to be the ultimate screenplay endeavor portraying a heterosexual love-sex affair.
To complete Valentine’s week, I thought I’d give equal time to a homosexual/gay love-sex affair involving two cowboys who live out west, in ultra-conservative, redneck country.
I really did not know what to expect as for the way this subject would be handled in a mainstream film. This is not some art film that is screened off the beaten path where conventional America could comfortably ignore it.
So I decided to go to a matinee show. There were approximately twenty-five people in the audience; about a third of them men, most of whom came with a woman.
The setting for the movie is in the vast open landscape of the northern Rockies of Wyoming near the Tetons, where the sky is never ending, the stars at night are pillowed on black velvet so real that you feel sure you can literally stretch on tiptoe to reach up and touch them.
The movie takes place in a typical tiny western town where trailers abound, everyone knows everyone else’s business, and where the wind and dust seem to carve out the terrain, all beneath a wide open sky that allows you to paint your dreams on it.
The west, where old pick-up trucks never die, cowboy hats and boots are de rigueur, where people go to church socials and drink in the bars—a place where people try to eke out a living.
The two main characters both are male, young, unmarried, and who have come looking for a job with a local sheep rancher who needs two men to herd sheep up to the high country for the season.
Ennis, is the more up-tight character of the two, the type you can literally feel the repressed anger gnawing away at. Likely he had the crap beat out of him by a strict, God-fearing father.
You almost have to strain to make out what he is saying at first; until your ears adjust to the way his words come out through tightly clenched teeth and barely opened lips.
Like we say back east around salt-water country—he’s as “tight as a she-crab’s ass.”
As for the other character, Rodeo, aka Jack Twist, he’s the complimentary opposite in disposition — easy, fluid, and friendly natured.
So the two of them land the job and off they go into the high country with a couple thousand heads of sheep to graze through the summer on Brokeback Mountain.
At first, talk between them is slow, and self-revelation is non-existent.
Ennis is assigned to the lower camp. He makes the meals, chops the wood and stocks the food, living out of a tent. His task is that of caretaker.
Jack’s job, on the other hand, is to sleep in the high country with the sheep in order to protect the herd from night predators. He arrives every morning back at camp where Ennis has made breakfast. Eventually, the men switch roles, and Ennis becomes the protector, a role he naturally assumes.
The remaining shift between them happens after a night of drinking and sharing stories by the fire, a night where self-revelations abound, trust is established, and Ennis is too drunk to get on his horse, so he stays for the night by the fire. Before too long, his shivering and moaning wakes up Jack, who insists Ennis should sleep in the tent.
It begins as a casual sharing of warmth on the part of Jack, when he reaches around behind him, takes hold of Ennis’s hand and pulls it over his body and around to his chest, so that the two men are spoon-snuggled in this tiny tent.
During the night, Ennis wakes up, realizes the body contact, and is enraged. He hits out at Jack, and the two wrestle into a fight for male dominance. The tent is filled with suppressed desire and before you know it, one of them has the dominant position—Ennis—and the rugged, raw sexual power is unleashed.
The next morning, of the two, Ennis is the one who has trouble with what happened between them. Jack brushes it off as no big deal and as no one else’s business.
Eventually it develops into an intimate emotional relationship as well as sexual.
I won’t reveal the rest of the intricately woven story of the two who after the season, separate and go their own way, where both marry women of their choosing and have children.
But after four years, a postcard from Jack brings the two of them explosively back together again, and they go off alone on Brokeback for two days. Their meetings occur regularly for years after that.
Ennis is the one, who nevertheless, has the most trouble dealing with his bi-sexual nature, which is contrary to his core values. But he cannot help the feelings of deep attachment he has for Jack.
While Jack wants to have them live together, Ennis is continually frozen by a childhood memory of being taken by his father to see the dead body of a man who locally lived together with another man. The town male bullies had dragged the man by his genitals until they were ripped off his body, and he was left to die.
A violent act based in fear.
Ennis never forgot that moment, and literally has flashbacks to it. This is a traumatizing event in a young boy’s life, one that will be ingrained in him, and which will color all his actions forthwith.
Ennis is the most brittle of the two, and has the deepest struggle with his true feelings for Jack. He lives everyday in denial of his repressed sexuality and his life is miserable, foreshadowing the future of his marital relationship.
Our own sexuality is the most creative aspect of our nature. Unfortunately, everywhere we turn, there is doublespeak about the subject. Sex is what sells products from cars to the latest apparel. In Hollywood, you can’t tell if what actresses wear to the Oscars are evening gowns or nightwear to sleep in. It is the fashion for intimate apparel to be worn on the outside.
Everyone has great sex—at least according to the ads and magazine covers at the grocery checkout. I for one have doubts about that.
As one takes a good look at the culture, the message is that heterosexual is right, moral, and where you’d better be, and that homosexual is corruption and sin, regardless of the popularity of TV shows with stars like lesbian, Ellen Degeneres.
For all that heterosexual is the moral high ground, sex education in most schools is either non-existent or it consists of the religiously preached warning that sex is wrong before marriage and that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy.
Speaking for myself and the professional staff I taught with in a public school system, we instructed all forms of co-ed sex education, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and in which at the high school level, we included the application of condoms as well as the choice of abstinence in the curriculum. We were very sensitive to the understanding that every student comes from a different background, and allowed room for their own belief systems to make their personal choices.
However, I have come to see that in essence, our sexuality is not ours unless we claim it. Otherwise, factions of the religious and the legal system own it. They proclaim that sex is for procreation—not pleasure.
In many places in the US, still today, it is illegal to have oral or anal sex with your spouse.
How would anyone find out?
Well the guilt that is projected by the very existence of the “laws” is enough to make the party confess to a friend, minister or priest, especially if one attends a church regularly. This is suppression of our sexual nature at its most invasive to our psyche.
Suppression of this kind robs us of the ability to express freely the nature we have that is closest to God—meaning God in whatever form you and I personally know it as.
And to set the record straight, I have no objections for anyone’s choice to attend church. My consideration is the question of who does the thinking, and who makes the choices?
This movie covers a lot of emotional and psychological territory, both personal and collective, of the way men ought to be—rough, tough, and straight. It conveys the struggle that men go through, like the characters Jack and Ennis, to match the expected rules which society has handed them, a society of regulations that originates from their fathers, who reach out from the grave to future generations with guilt and fear, to decree that you and I will not stray from the flock upon penalty of banishment from society, ejected from our father’s house.
What, I ask, would the world be like were those who have sexual preferences for the same gender, live without the restrictions we now have in this country?
Would there be chaos?
Would there be attacks on those of us who prefer heterosexual relationships?
Would the world go to hell in a hand basket?
Or would it just be that we cannot bear to even think that the core beliefs of those ancestors are being dismantled?
Instead, would there be less heartache like Jack and Ennis lived with, less repression of our creativity, and more expression of our love, which might transfer itself to lives that are more gratifyingly lived?
Might that then correlate to less anger, less aggression in society?
It is as if males cannot live according to their own nature and in the repression of it, there surfaces this outwardly forced aggression toward other men. So we make up male games to play, sports that make it fashionable for men to have body contact and not be considered gay, like football, wrestling, and hockey. Games where men can take that repressed anger and work it out on others.
I am not saying that men or anyone should not play games such as these. That is not the point.
The point of the matter is why we play games like we do, and what we covertly use these games for.
What repressed part of the psyche is not being acknowledged at its source?
What is the ticking time bomb, that if it does not get addressed, will erupt in a fashion beyond repair?
Leaving sports behind, historically, the real games used to be played at with swords and knives.
Then came guns, and then tanks and bombs.
Now let’s add to the arsenal, nuclear weapons, biological germ warfare, weapons of mass destruction.
Finally in present time, let us not wait until the perceived enemy attacks. Let us instead pre-empt their intent to attack, and not allow them access to material that would provide them with the possibility of developing the very same weapons that our friends and we possess.
So the chosen great “men” of the world, who lead nations, get to decide who is allowed to have the biggest dick.
The one or ones, who may likely be the most sexually repressed, are the ones who brag about having the greatest arsenal, and who bully the rest into agreement!
The movie also has a big dick bully who is Jack’s father-in-law. The power struggle between them finally comes to a head in a scene that spans generations of male dynamics, three of which are present in the scene, including Jack’s son; a most interesting lesson on how to handle a bully.
In a system where there is mutual adult consent, and where there is no harm directly done to others, except perhaps to unravel society’s strict and rigid beliefs that are rooted in male dominating power needing to have the absolute say about everything we do, speak, and even think, where is the harm?
Ennis's wife suffered more harm from the repression of his homosexuality than she would have were they never married.
Where is the harm of mutual adult consent, except perhaps to the perceived threat to our own sexuality—something which comes from an authority outside ourselves, that being the “law”, the “moral” upbringing rooted in a patriarchal religious-based society where angry, sexually repressed males have the rule over every quadrant of the lives of the rest of us?
This is not male bashing by any means. I am speaking of the unconscious content in an undeniably male-powered system; male-female alike that destroys the balance of masculine/feminine consciousness in the entire male and female population.
I remember the very period of time when I was confronted with the issue of my personal sexuality. I was taking a self-improvement class of which some members were openly committed homosexuals. This was actually the first time that I was so close to those who were homosexually oriented. What can I say—previously, I had lived a very sheltered life. It was very uncomfortable for me. I did not know how to act with them.
Given that this was a long-term weekly class, I began to examine my feelings about “those people”, and the fear I felt when I was around them in class. Although we acted friendly towards each other with the usual class banter back and forth between us, as time went on, nothing out of the ordinary happened. It wasn’t as if I expected to be approached sexually, but more, that I did not know how to act.
Eventually, I realized that it was not about them, but about the fact that their clear declaration of their personal sex preference forced me to look at myself, and to examine a part of me that I had just taken for granted, simply because there was no other way to be in my world.
I was that way by default, not by choice.
I was hetero because my family, society, the church declared it was the only way to be. In my world, anything else was unthinkable and nonexistent.
So there it was in my face, very scary to look at, because then, who knew what I might find out, were I to look? I was afraid of what I did not truly know about myself.
I had no informed basis for who I portrayed myself to be sexually.
I had no choice!
Instead, some deep repressed part of a societal ingrained belief was choosing.
What constitutes a preference, be it homo, hetero, or bi-sexual?
Is there a real difference that goes beyond the obvious?
Our embedded beliefs would like us to think that there is.
Is there a difference between that choice and the choices we usually allow others to make freely? Choices between chocolate—vanilla—or Jerry Garcia!
I know what my preference is in both cases, and for me, I cannot get enough of JG.
However, I also cannot believe that I have the say over what someone else’s choice is for their sexual preference, anymore than I have for their choosing chocolate over vanilla or JG.
This is what I see as the basis for homophobia—our US culture is overrun by it. I cannot speak for cultures I do not live in.
Homophobia is fear of the highest order, literally being against the very thing we may ourselves be, for it shuts down all creative expression in the members of the culture and shows up as repressed, unexpressed sexuality.
The true expression of our sexuality may be the closest we come to experience God—that God-force within each of us.
I’d say that Brokeback Mountain is loaded with the very complex dilemma of dealing with sexuality, all beneath the cover of the mountain, where it seems in this movie, the mountain represents the one place where the creative expression of genuine sexuality can be freely revealed and declared.
Brokeback Mountain, in this case, provides the folds of the wise, nurturing Feminine, where everything is accepted for itself, without reservation or exclusion.
Meantime, the mountain patiently awaits us all.