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Monday, December 11, 2023

The real lessons of Brokeback Mountain

Having lassoed eight Academy Award nominations, millions more Americans likely will see director Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain." Social conservatives should be among those who catch this widely lauded motion picture.

Having lassoed eight Academy Award nominations, millions more
Americans likely will see director Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
Social conservatives should be among those who catch this widely lauded
motion picture.

Socio-cons probably have sidestepped this so-called gay cowboy movie.
Too bad. While it hardly screams, “family values,” “Brokeback” engages
profound issues that merit consideration by those who think seriously
about the challenges that families face.

socio-cons need not fear “Brokeback” as a didactic, in-your-face, gay
screed. “We’re here. We’re queer” it is not. Nor is this film a
flamboyant camp-fest, like the flighty but hilarious “The Birdcage” or
much of “The Producers,” both coincidentally starring Nathan Lane.

Indeed, as a romance between two thoroughly masculine ranch hands,
“Brokeback” begins to reverse the damage caused by “Queer Eye for the
Straight Guy” and similar offerings that reinforce the stereotype that
gay men are indispensable when one needs to select fabulous neckties or
striking pastels for stunning interiors. How sad that such
entertainment still elicits laughs, even as most Americans would be
justifiably outraged at any show titled “Jewish Guy with a Banker’s
Eye” or “The Mexican Gardening Hour.”

Beyond equating same-sex
affection with manliness, “Brokeback” addresses important matters on
the political agenda. It is impossible to discuss these themes without
revealing key plot points. So, if you have yet to see “Brokeback,”
please do so soon, then finish this column after the credits roll.

Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, movingly portrayed by Academy Award
nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, respectively, find
themselves inexplicably drawn to each other one booze-filled evening in
1963. While huddling in a tent from Wyoming’s bracing winds, a
spontaneous moment of intimacy triggers for Jack and Ennis a long
summer that combines hectic days of tending sheep with tranquil nights
of tending to each other.

As the young men depart the mountain
pastures when their gig ends, they split up and do what society expects
of them. Jack competes in the Southwestern rodeo circuit where he
meets, marries, and has a son with Lureen (Anne Hathaway), herself an
equestrian. Ennis weds Alma (Ledger’s real-life girlfriend, Oscar
nominee Michelle Williams), a quiet, loyal woman who raises their two

After four years apart, Jack returns to Ennis’ small
town of Riverton, Wyo. Their still-smoldering passion flares like a
zephyr-swept campfire. They stoke these flames during periodic fishing

Jack’s and Ennis’ marriages grow increasingly cold,
leading to a loveless union for the Twists and divorce and a broken
home for the Del Mars.

As this adulterous relationship spreads
pain all around, one need not hark back to the Rockies of the 1960s and
’70s to find parallels to Jack’s and Ennis’ situation. Former New
Jersey governor Jim McGreevey’s wife, Dina, bore him a baby girl before
his clandestine affair with an Israeli man named Golan Cipel erupted
into view in 2004. The McGreeveys split, and their daughter’s live-in
dad is now just a visitor.

Similarly, J.L. King’s book, “On the
Down Low,” discusses seemingly heterosexual black husbands who cheat on
their spouses with other men. The luckier wives land in divorce court;
the most unlucky unwittingly become HIV-positive.

Mountain” should prompt social conservatives to ponder whether it is
good family policy to encourage gay men to live lives that are
traditional yet untrue. Would honest gay marriages be less destructive
than deceitful straight ones? I think so. Many disagree. Even if they
oppose it, however, seeing this film may give heterosexual marriage
proponents a better insight into why so many Americans advocate
homosexual marriage.

“Brokeback” also concerns homophobic
violence. The October 1998 beating death of gay college student Matthew
Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., the July 1999 fatal baseball-bat attack on
gay Army Pvt. Barry Winchell, and the non-lethal assault on gay soldier
Kyle Lawson last October, among other incidents, should remind
filmgoers that this grave matter was not buried on the Great Plains
decades ago.

Beautifully acted, photographed, written, and
directed, “Brokeback Mountain” quietly but powerfully asks questions
that are relevant today. Americans left, middle and right should see
this touching, haunting love story, then give it the thorough mulling
over it deserves.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is
a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow
with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)