The Cultural Significance of Brokeback Mountain

This NY Times article takes a look at the significance Brokeback Mountain will have not only on the movie industry but on American Culture as well. No matter your personal opinion on this film, you cannnot deny that it will have a major cultural impact.

There is a companion article to this op-ed piece from the LA Times (it is mentioned in this column) that I will post an excerpt from tomorrow.

Two Gay Cowboys Hit a Home Run
By Frank Rich

What if they held a culture war and no one fired a shot? That’s the compelling tale of Brokeback Mountain. Here is a heavily promoted American movie depicting two men having sex – the precise sex act that was still a crime in some states until the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws just two and a half years ago – but there is no controversy, no Fox News tar and feathering, no roar from the religious right. Brokeback Mountain has instead become the unlikely Oscar favorite, propelled by its bicoastal sweep of critics’ awards, by its unexpected dominance of the far less highfalutin Golden Globes and, perhaps most of all, by the lure of a gold rush. Last weekend it opened to the highest per-screen average of any movie this year.

Those screens were in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco – hardly national bellwethers. But I’ll rashly predict that the big Hollywood question posed on the front page of The Los Angeles Times after those stunning weekend grosses – “Can ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Move the Heartland?” – will be answered with a resounding yes. All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present, from an instant parody on “Saturday Night Live” to the report that a multiplex in Plano, Tex., sold more advance tickets for the so-called “gay cowboy picture” than for King Kong. “The culture is finding us,” James Schamus, the Brokeback Mountain producer, told USA Today. “Grown-up movies have never had that kind of per-screen average. You only get those numbers when you’re vacuuming up enormous interest from all walks of life.”

In the packed theater where I caught Brokeback Mountain, the trailers included a National Guard recruitment spiel, and the audience was demographically all over the map. The culture is seeking out this movie not just because it is a powerful, four-hankie account of a doomed love affair and is beautifully acted by everyone, starting with the riveting Heath Ledger. The X factor is that the film delivers a story previously untold by A-list Hollywood. It’s a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base.

By coincidence, Brokeback Mountain, a movie that is all the more subversive for having no overt politics, is a rebuke and antidote to that sordid episode. Whether it proves a movie for the ages or as transient as Love Story, it is a landmark in the troubled history of America’s relationship to homosexuality. It brings something different to the pop culture marketplace at just the pivotal moment to catch a wave.

Heaven knows there has been no shortage of gay-themed entertainment in recent years. To the tedious point of ubiquity, gay characters, many of them updated reincarnations of the stereotypical fops and fussbudgets of 1930’s studio comedies,  are at least as well represented as other minorities in prime-time television. Entertainment Weekly has tallied nine movies, including Capote and Rent, with major gay characters this year. But Brokeback Mountain, besides being more sexually candid than the norm, is not set in urban America, is not comic or camp, and, unlike the breakout dramas Philadelphia and Angels in America, is pre-AIDS.

Its heroes are neither midnight cowboys, drugstore cowboys nor Village People cowboys. As Annie Proulx writes in the brilliant short story from which the movie has been adapted, the two ranch hands, Ennis Del Mar (Mr. Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), are instead simply “high school dropout country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.”

The article continues here.

What is your take on this subject? What is the significance of Brokeback Mountain? Sound off below.

One thought on “The Cultural Significance of Brokeback Mountain”

  1. Am even more interested in seein git after this review.I can imagine the derision when it comes to cinemas in my island.Homophobia is alive and well so I’d probably watch on dvd

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