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7 February 2006

Brokeback’s Closet

Excellent point from the NYTimes Blog “Opinionator”:

Citing Roger Ebert and other critics who have proclaimed “Brokeback Mountain” to be a “universal” love story, Daniel Mendelsohn writes in the New York Review of Books that such critics are “well-meaning but seriously misguided” when they ignore the movie’s status as “a specifically gay tragedy.” He writes:

For to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’ as a love story, or even as a film about universal human emotions, is to misconstrue it very seriously—and in so doing inevitably to diminish its real achievement.

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. … 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.

Mendelsohn concludes, “If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they’re not really homosexual — that they’re more like the heart of America than like ‘gay people’ — you’re pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed.”

The Baptized Pagan made a similar point a few weeks ago:

I haven’t seen this in print anywhere yet, so here goes my take on Brokeback’s theological anthropology: Brokeback Mountain, besides being a romantic tragedy set in a beautiful landscape, is also a natural law argument for the acceptance of homosexuality. The not-so-subtle entree into this position is the slogan at the bottom of the ads: “Love is a Force of Nature”. One can notice that all of the bad things that happen in the film — the adultery, the alcohol abuse, the materialism, the dishonesty, the hurt that comes not only to these two men but to those in their lives — comes about not because they’re in a same-sex relationship, but because they’re in a same-sex relationship but trying their dardnest not to be. If, as many gay people, particularly gay men, describe their experience, their homosexuality is something discovered as a part of them, rather than a choice or a deviation from heterosexuality, then a good Thomist, if (and this is a big “if”), if she were open to hearing that first premise and accepted it as probable, then it makes sense to follow one’s nature where it leads into human flourishing.

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