Monday, August 23, 2010

The Significance of Brokeback Mountain- by Ralph Roughton – Self Psychology News – Fall 2007

"Brokeback Mountain" began as a short story of just 31 pages by Annie Proulx, published in The New Yorker in 1997. Her spare and gnarly prose is thoroughly grounded in the gritty, hard-bitten landscape of Wyoming. At the same time, it has an elegance and economy of expression—like a haiku poem, where every word is necessary and no word is superfluous...

…What words could have the impact of simply watching Ennis discover the two shirts nestled lovingly in Jack's closet? The realizations unfold in our minds and stir up our feelings. Jack really did love him and held him in his memory. And Jack's mother knew about the shirts and must have understood what their silent embrace meant. In her own unspoken way, she accepts Ennis as Jack's lover. How? By simply suggesting he go up to visit Jack's room, knowing he will find the shirts. By assuming that he will want to take them, silently getting a paper sack for him to put them in, by nodding to acknowledge his gesture of thanks, and by inviting him to visit again. The message is subtle, but powerful. For the first time, Ennis has met understanding and acceptance of his love for Jack.

We can infer that, having felt this acceptance of his love, Ennis can now put his daughter's happiness ahead of his need to work. In the very next scene, she comes to invite him to her wedding, and initially he begins to make excuses about having to be away at the cattle roundup. But then he stops, realizing her disappointment, and says they can just get themselves another cowboy. His "little girl" getting married is more important. It is the first time that Ennis has not disappointed someone who loved him (Jack, Alma, his daughters, the waitress).

The film ends with another wrenching visual metaphor, as described by critic Stuart Klawans in The Nation (Jan 9/16, 2006):
". . . [T]he closing shot of Brokeback Mountain . . . cuts the screen in half. On the right, glimpsed through a mobile home's window, is a patch of western landscape. On the left is a shadowy closet—a shrine, actually—holding a lover's relic. Nothing could be simpler. Nothing could say more."
This final scene is a visual contrast between the confining space of the closet and the freedom of the landscape; between the life Ennis has lived and what might have been. But, as is always true, there is complexity in the tragedy. While the closet stifles and limits, it also provided the safety for Ennis to survive in a hostile, homophobic environment. This was the lesson his father so brutally instilled in him as a boy. Jack, less encumbered by fear and shame, followed his desires. He chose freedom, with its risks; and its lurking dangers killed him.

The closet also holds the memories of love which sustain Ennis in his loneliness. It's conveyed so beautifully in pictures—as we realize that Ennis has reversed the shirts. Ennis now cradles Jack in his arms, reflecting the flashback that was non-verbal in the film but described here in Annie Proulx's words:
"What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.

"They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire . . . Ennis' breath came slow and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack leaned against the steady heartbeat."
The film closes as Ennis lovingly, tearfully adjusts the shirts and the postcard picture of Brokeback Mountain. He can only murmur, "Jack, I swear"—which is probably as close as he can come to saying, "Jack, "I love you."

But Brokeback Mountain is much more than an artistic success. Most importantly, it evoked a national discussion about gender and sexuality, about love and homophobia. Cowboys are an icon of masculinity, and here we have two cowboys in love, challenging the assumption that being attracted to another man unmans you—that you cannot both want a man and be a man…

…We're looking back on a historical period—and it's not over yet. The story begins in 1963—six years before the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that ignited the gay rights movement; and ten years before the APA decided that homosexuality is not a disorder. We're in the wild, wild west of Wyoming, where men are men; and anyone who acts queer might get worked over with a tire iron. The story covers a 20 year period, up to the mid-1980's. Remember that in 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld a Georgia law that made it a crime for two consenting adult men to have sex with each other in the privacy of their own home. Annie Proulx's story was first published in The New Yorker in 1997, a year before gay college student Matthew Sheppard was brutally tortured and murdered on a fence post—in Wyoming. Despite remarkable progress in many areas, homophobia was alive and flourishing throughout the land.

The film works on different levels for different people. Some will see it as a love story, others as a tragedy. Some will gain a deeper realization of the effects of homophobia, both the kind that killed Jack and the kind that smothered Ennis's emotional life. Some will focus on the effect on the wives and children; others on the thwarted lives of the men. It's also about loneliness and about yearning for what you can't have.

For those of us who lived through the same era as Jack and Ennis, yearning for what we couldn't have, it packs a particular wallop—the loneliness, the longing, the feeling that life has dealt you an unfair blow—and at the same time that it's all your own fault. It's powerful because we feel "recognized" by the film and therefore affirmed.

I agree with critic Daniel Mendelsohn, writing in The New York Review of Books, that to call this a universal love story, or even a story about universal human emotions, is to seriously misconstrue its real achievement. Rather, he says, it is a tragedy about the closet. Jack Twist and Matthew Sheppard were each killed by actual homophobic enemies. Ennis suffocates in the closet of his own internalized homophobia. Society's attitudes became part of the matrix of his developing personality and connected his sexual desire with fear and shame, deeply affecting his ability to love; but even more so it robbed him of the conviction that he had a right to the love he desired. To quote Mendelsohn:
"The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters, but that it tells a distinctly gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it."
Read complete review:

Self Psychology News, Fall 2007

The International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP).

Homophobia- American Psychoanalytic Foundation Public Forum - Ralph Roughton, M.D. 1999

The Psychology of the Closeted Individual and Coming Out – 2007 - by Jack Drescher, M.D.

The Pope Is Not Gay - Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Dish – The Atlantic

Brokeback Mountain
"No sensible person can imagine that the sexes differ in matters of love as they do in matters of clothing. The intelligent lover of beauty will be attracted to beauty in whichever gender he finds it." Plutarch

“Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well considered and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit.”
Erik Erikson

…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6

Important note: No disrespect meant to Pope Benedict XVI or the hierarchy, the one and only concern is the safety and well-being of children.
Kids Are Being Hurt !!!

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