Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Brokeback Mountain" vs. "Big Eden"

I’ve read of the controversy over “Brokeback Mountain,” and find that many who oppose the movie on moral grounds (including many who haven’t seen it) do so partly because they feel it glosses over the men’s infidelity to their wives in order to focus on their love story. Most of them are missing something. This isn’t the “great, gay romantic love story” some on the right make it out to be. It's a tragic love story where no one ends up happy.

First of all, the movie gives the clear message that the shirking of responsibility has grave consequences. The first time Jake and Heath go at it in the tent, they leave the flock of sheep (which they have been hired to watch over) unattended and several are killed by wolves, foreshadowing the larger, human tragedies to come -- all of which are shown on screen.

The point of the movie isn't "look at how much these two men love each other," the point of the movie is "look how many people get hurt when you try to deny the true nature of humanity." If Jack and Ennis could have been with each other openly, everyone -- including their wives -- would have been a lot happier. The message is not that it's OK to cheat if you can’t be with the one you love, but that cheating has terrible consequences, and if we could all feel free to love whomever love leads us to, we'd all be a lot better off.

At least one Christian web site, PluggedIn, an entertainment watchdog that is part of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, got part of the message right: “You're left with the idea that these cowboy-lovers would have experienced none of this pain if only social and moral norms had allowed them to pursue their passion from the get-go.” Uh, exactly.

If you want to see a film that has parallels to “Brokeback Mountain,” but is in one way its polar opposite, check out “Big Eden.” It takes place in Montana, a setting not unlike Wyoming. Its characters move through small towns, and live life close to the outdoors. But in “Big Eden,” no one cares that the lead character is gay. Like many romantic comedies, all his friends want is to make sure he ends up with the right person. Jack and Ennis would love the place.

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