I rarely go to movies. If enough people tell me a movie is worth seeing I'll eventually go see it, or watch it on DVD. I do skim the weekly film reviews in the newspaper. So it was last winter that I ran across reviews of an obscure new film showing in a small theater in my area. This movie was said to be "a love-story which shatters the last of the old taboos." The New Yorker review which soon followed make more sense, so after some prayer and with trepidation I recently took in this 2 hour 20 minute film on a Saturday afternoon accompanied by a good friend of mine.
BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN: In the summer of 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) herd the sheep on Brokeback Mountain, in Wyoming, and fall in love. Ang Lee's movie traces the ups and downs of that love over many years, making it clear that the downs are fared to outnumber the ups. The film has a curious motion to begin with, managing to seem at once hectic and sluggish; once the heroes start to grow up, however, and thus to struggle against their feelings, the story comes painfully alive, and the performances stretch toward the tragic. There is fine support from Anne Hathaway and Michelle Wilhams as the baffled wives of the two men, but the picture belongs to Ledger, whose downcast gaze and chewed-up words bear almost unbearable testimony to a heart under siege. Any attempt to promote this as an issue movie, gripped by an agenda, feels badly misplaced; the only issue here is the oldest and most sorrowful one of all. -- Anthony Lane, 12/05/05.
The scenery is gripping--the setting in Wyoming 1963 is not culturally very far from my own growing-up years in Idaho. I know what cowboys are like. We Idahoans don't open up and share our feelings or our fears. It just isn't done. Many people I grew up among endured bad marriages, their kids grow up alone having been told that little children are "to be seen but not heard." Life was tough and could be incredibly boring. Idaho culture as I remember it as a boy was flat. For me, I seemed to always be desperately lonely.
Right near the end of the film it suddenly occurred to me that this film was not about love in any legitimate form. It was about a total absence of real love in a culture--from start to finish. Could this movie have inadvertently portrayed our current American society more closely than I had dared to imagine?
I was overcome with pain and sadness before the movie ended--and soon in tears. Everyone in this film was lost--hopelessly so. I knew what the answer was. All the characters in the film, not just the lead cowboys, need massive doses of the love that comes only from Jesus. Agape is the kind of self-giving compassionate love God designed societies to operate on. But no one in this film had any real connection to God, apparently. I got the feeling the tacit assumption that lovelessness was the normal state of affairs--the way things have always been and always will be. Ennis and Ledger had grown up without fathers and had never known a real friendship. Had raw eros not seized them and taken them captive--surely it was a strong demon--they could have become life-long friends and the whole movie would have been a different story. As it was, Ennis and Jack did not know how to love each other as brothers, they knew nothing about loving their wives nor their children. Having never really felt acceptance and unconditional love, how could they be expected to know how to love anyone?
My movie companion, Matt, counted six subtle messages to Jesus during the film, surely not intended by the producers, but nevertheless the answer was there for those with ears to hear. I immediately knew that Jesus was in this film but not in the way anyone intended.
My greatest pain in the movie was seeing Ennis' and Jack's children growing up on their own, unguided and unloved, just the same way their parents had grown up, only worse. Obviously the wives had suffered the devastating loss of husbands who should have been responsible fathers and husbands--rooted enough in God to love their own wives as their own selves--the ground rules for marriage as spelled out in Ephesians.
I can not imagine anyone using this film to legitimize the acting out of homosexual desires. God's abiding anger--commonly called His wrath--"rests" on all who do not know Him. God hates hypocrisy. He hates divorce. Homosexual acts are personally unspeakably repugnant to Him. Yet, our Lord Jesus is kind and patient and merciful hoping that a few will be willing to receive His love and be made whole. "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.
I could see that life's consequence engine was running full tilt through this all too real film of our great American tragedy. Sexual sin devastates individuals and families and wrecks a society. With regard to sex, love, marriage, and friendship I think our American society is just about Dead Broke right now. I wish someone would prove me wrong.
I am certain the writer of the original New Yorker (very) short story, Annie Proulx, the Screen Player writers, Larry McCurty and Dianna Ossana, the very fine director Ang Lee, the actors, the producers, all intended for the movie to convey a different set of values to their audience than what I saw in this powerful motion picture. (The sound track is very well done. I bought the CD but I can only play it when I am alone because when I listen to it, the tears all come flooding back all over again--many weeks later).
Some years ago I remember a remark by Ray Stedman about modern movies. Ray said he felt God often used totally secular films to prepare the world for what would soon we coming down the pike in real life. Ray and I were talking about Science Fiction films at the time, but Brokeback Mountain hit me dead center. I think we all live in Brokeback Nation. This film may not have been intended to be a warning message from God of impending judgment on us all--but that is what it said to me.
It is painful to live in a society full of likable people one can easily identify with. It is painful to be unable to affect a change in all these lost people who bear the image of God and whose sins have already been paid for in full. If only they knew that! If only someone could go and convince them. Each would blossom and be fulfilled if only they could be put in touch with Jesus. (God is not a respecter of persons--as far as I could tell everyone depicted in this movie was desperately in need of God's compassionate love and mercy).
I thought about the actors and actresses in this film as well. The fame and financial reward of notable actors these days makes it even less likely they will ever come to know God. The parts the cast members played were well-played, but so what? Well-known actors and "stars" never seem to be able to live lives of their own. Who are they as real people? We can never know. We treat them like gods and goddesses and deities--and so they need no redemption. Will any of them ever find the fulfillment that knowing Jesus brings? "God does not desire than anyone should perish"
Jerusalem 586 BC
There was a time in history past when God wiped out most of his chosen people Israel in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was God judging His own people--those who professed to know Him--not the pagans. Dealing with the pagans would come later.
Jeremiah the prophet was chosen to represent God for more than 40 years while living in Jerusalem through the whole ordeal. Daniel and Ezekiel with a tiny few survivors--a remnant--were safely carted off to Babylon in advance.
While he was in detainment camp outside Babylon, teaching and shepherding the few thousand exiled people in his care, Ezekiel was visited by The Angel of the Lord (a theophany, most likely the preincarnate Son of God). The Angel took Ezekiel in a great vision for a personal tour of the temple and the city. The time was September 592, six years before the actual Fall of the city. After showing Ezekiel the idolatrous conditions in Solomon's once great Temple, the Angel of the Lord called for a recording angel to travel throughout Jerusalem and mark on the forehead every person who "sighed and groaned" over all the abominations going on there. These who wept were the protected few who would survive the coming judgment on the city.
Next the Lord called for six destroying angels who were instructed, "Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary."
Josephus described the subsequent 18-month siege by Nebuchadnezzar when the city was indeed leveled and everyone slain except the few who had been invisibly marked by God's recording angel. (See http://ldolphin.org/ezekiel/ezekiel4.html for details)
God must judge sin. He allows no nation, no people, to go on living generation after generation in life styles that openly defy Him. We are all house guests on a great Estate owned by an absent Landlord who is also the Heir of everything. That the Landlord will be returning very soon to claim His inheritance, should be evident to all who will open their eyes and see.
Notice from the example of Jerusalem that God judges His own people first--then He judges those who refuse His grace and mercy. The Apostle Peter wrote,
"For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17-19)
Christians, in my opinion, really have no business heaping condemnation and scorn and ridicule on the sinners of this world! God does not expect moral behavior out of people who do not have the inner spiritual resources to meet His standards. People who are lost don't even know they are lost until someone in mercy wakes them up.
"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38)
Words failed me after watching Brokeback Mountain. It was a time of tears and sorrow for the lost of my generation. I love my country and I remember the good things about life in the United States half a century ago. These better days are all almost gone now. By this film I was deeply shaken at the realization once more of the lavish doses of the unmerited, undeserved grace of God I have been given. But, it is very painful to see so many around me being left behind.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Should we not weep over our land and people?
Web site for Brokeback Mountain
Good Book: Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish, Harper Collins, 2005.
Lambert Dolphin, March 11, 2006.
The Brokeback Mountain film is difficult for me to write about. On one hand, I want to critique the authors' ethics, on the other critique my own. I do this kind of thing. I read or watch something, find an understanding of the author's intention, and relate the message to what I am thinking, feeling, or contemplating -- regardless of intention. Brokeback Mountain, however, gave me no sense of idea or inspiration, it said nothing in the end: there was no conclusion, and no direction -- just sadness, desperation, and the open, desolate, plains of obloquy one might find, by the way, in a spiritually self-centered life.
Brokeback Mountain is centered around the lives of two characters, Ennis DelMar and Jack Twist. Ennis is a somewhat awkward loner who finds himself herding sheep in the back country of Wyoming with Jack, a much more talkative Type-A, manipulative personality. Ennis eventually becomes comfortable with Jack enough to open up and talk, more so than he has ever, they become friends, and the friends become lovers. The relationship takes many turns as their lives unfold in a culture that does not accept, nor tolerate their homosexual lifestyle which results in a very bleak horror for them both.
The story is told in a mild, palatable format. The telling was slow and careful. One bite I might add is the mere dabbling of other, apparently extraneous events: families are ripped apart, children are emotionally neglected, and the results are left untold. (It is my opinion that one character may have infected his wife with a VD, whereupon she asked questions, had already suspected his surreptitious affairs, and made him pay mortally for her infection and embarrassment. Pure conjecture, though). The film, however, was not pornographic - like so many 'R' films - and there was no sense of an epitere de bourgeois. But it does not go down easy like most films, and there is something uneasy to be left with.
If to a sexual relationship between man and man be added superlative joy and gratification, let the story be told. Apparently, that audience does exist. The reality would be inconsequential, the story titillating (in a careful manner), and the subject risque. Why is it not produced? It sounds like a money maker. I think because the story is too expensive to risk bombing at the box office. Brokeback Mountain is an honest story, a tragic story, and one that is believable. If it were anything else, I believe it would tank. The authors take us through the hardship of a decision, a very bad, licentious decision that plagues the lives of these two men the rest of their lives, and that we can handle.
There is something curious, however, in the direction of the story. It reveals the pain and guilt of the very "free" lifestyle our culture is promoting right now. In other words, I don't see it excusing the problems of the homosexual lifestyle, or defending it (excepting the film was produced at all). Does that not strike you? All the press covering this "Unmissable" film (Rolling Stone) that lauds the so called "love story" of "denied feelings" for all its nuance and honesty (Ebert), they miss the moral burden: rock bottom misery, abject fear, guilt, isolation, outsider complex.
If this homosexuality is biological, let that biology follow passion, and passion follow madness. Plato talks about this. I think if you allow the interpretation you may see the connection I am making between madness and lust, as Plato puts to the intellectual instead of lust:
Such a one, as soon as he beholds the beauty of this world,
is reminded of true beauty,
and his wings begin to grow;
then he is fain to lift his wings and fly upward;
yet he has not the power,
but inasmuch as he gazes upward like a bird,
and cares nothing for the world beneath,
men charge it upon him that he is demented. --Phaedrus 249a
These cowboys do not lift themselves upward like birds, instead they spiral downward. The correlation holds up only to the madness-lust idea: eros. Even the OED explains Eros as a "god of love who brings peril." The "disinterested" quality is one that attracts me, and for this reason the film resonates, however desolate. The mad passion only serves to pique my interest.
Mad passion is what is portrayed, but this is what the press is calling love. There is something misdirecting in this: "Love is a Force of Nature," the film subtitle states. Were the term "love" more understood, even in a hetro-context, we could be made to understand that "lust" is a force to be reckoned with, indeed, and "love" is a necessity. Maybe that is why it is considered with such high marks? The authors obviate the moral line neutralizing the decision these characters make toward homosexuality and lust. The "love" subject is never breached and the moral ambiguity is left untouched -- a contemporary trend in our telling tales: they do not offend!
A side note, I want to mention some mis en scene ironies I thought were funny. For one, "Brokeback" is a fictitious Rocky, actually the Grand Tetons. My how we have either grown or degenerated, I don't know, from what the trappers of old named for us "Big Breasts," to what we are now calling a 'broken back.' Are we really that broken? And there is one other.
Classical iconography and myth depict the equestrian as a source of power and strength, usually recognized by the feminine. I could not help notice, in a scene where the two men are having a spat, the symbols staged quite pitifully and useless in the background. In another scene, much earlier, the horse gets away from Ennis, Ennis a man of stifled masculinity.
There was the religious aspect, too. The Judeo-Christian God is mentioned six different times. Were this propaganda, the admission adds little to a Christian solution. It does seem apparent, if there were a solution, it would be a human one: to suffer through it and live. Self-gratification, self-loathing, self-absorption, self-suffering -- the film is rife with this self-abasement, a by product of the humanist philosophy to be sure.
The only thing I have left to say is my own reaction and internalization of the film. It speaks to my own history of isolation, outsider complex, and guilt load. I relate to the Ennis character on certain uncommunicative levels. I relate to the (Dickensonian) Jack Twist character on certain lonely levels. I relate to the emptiness strung throughout the entire film, especially the final scene: something that reminds me of a Truffaut film I saw a long time ago, the 400 Blows. I must say, the landscape seems to be an important topic, but may I ask: did you notice landscape in The Edge, Legend of the Falls, or even further back, Jeremiah Johnson? I mention these films because they follow the coming-of-masculine or coming-of-age genre: the wilderness years, anon. Anyway, could it be the film is so empty and dissolute that landscape is the one thing that brings us hope. Personally I felt removed, as if admiring from across the aisle.
Thank you Lambert for inviting me to this film. I would not have attended otherwise. The film was sad for me. In one sense, I am like these men. I am alone. I am guilty. I am ashamed. This is why I know now more than ever in my life the supreme importance of a relationship with Christ in my life. The load these men carry is more prurient than my own, but what is the difference in the diversity of sin?
The reason I have not replied to the suggestion of writing this long ago (I did hear you) is because of my own rut. I am here in the countryside with limited options. I have my limitations, which I count as good; but I know they must not last. I ask for your prayers. (March 11, 2006)
Updated January 15, 2020
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