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Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Gay Cowboy Movie
J.T. was right, Brokeback Mountain is excellent. But you may not be surprised to know that (unlike J.T.) I have allowed myself a single misgiving about the movie: the casting. Don't mistake me, both Donnie Darko and Heath Ledger are beyond good in their roles, but the movie really struggles to portray the passage of almost 20 years with actors who never look older than 29. It isn't limited to the leads, either -- both Dawson's girlfriend and the Princess Diaries have precisely the same problem.

I'd really hate to lose any of these actors, but credibility was definitely strained.

Other than that, I'll just say that it's both a very enjoyable movie and a very interesting cultural moment. The best and most perceptive review of the movie that I've seen is the one I've already linked to, from The New York Review of Books. There's semi-spoilers here, so click the [+/-] to read one insightful excerpt.
Both narratively and visually, Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the "closet"—about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it. What love story there is occurs early on in the film, and briefly: a summer's idyll herding sheep on a Wyoming mountain, during which two lonely youths, taciturn Ennis and high-spirited Jack, fall into bed, and then in love, with each other. The sole visual representation of their happiness in love is a single brief shot of the two shirtless youths horsing around in the grass. That shot is eerily—and significantly—silent, voiceless: it turns out that what we are seeing is what the boys' boss is seeing through his binoculars as he spies on them.

After that—because their love for each other can't be fitted into the lives they think they must lead—misery pursues and finally destroys the two men and everyone with whom they come in contact with the relentless thoroughness you associate with Greek tragedy. By the end of the drama, indeed, whole families have been laid waste. Ennis's marriage to a conventional, sweet-natured girl disintegrates, savaging her simple illusions and spoiling the home life of his two daughters; Jack's nervy young wife, Lureen, devolves into a brittle shrew, her increasingly elaborate and artificial hairstyles serving as a visual marker of the ever-growing mendacity that underlies the couple's relationship. Even an appealing young waitress, with whom Ennis after his divorce has a flirtation (an episode much amplified from a bare mention in the original story), is made miserable by her brief contact with a man who is as enigmatic to himself as he is to her. If Jack and Ennis are tainted, it's not because they're gay, but because they pretend not to be; it's the lie that poisons everyone they touch.
For the time being, anyway, you can read the Annie Proulx story via Google's cache here. Watching the movie I tried to imagine which parts of the movie composed the original story; it turns out damn near all of it.

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