Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Banned" Together -- Brokeback Mountain

Have you read the book?  Seen the movie?


Elizabeth Starr said...

Today in class, we wrapped up our class discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" (the story by Annie Proulx and Brokeback Mountain (the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana). Sarah gave a presentation to the class comparing the ending of the two versions.

One question we didn't explicitly discuss, but which I am curious about, has to do with Ennis's final words (in both versions): "Jack, I swear--." He says this while shedding a tear in front of the shrine he keeps inside his closet door of the two shirts and the postcard of Brokeback Mountain (the mountain).

Any thoughts about what Ennis is swearing here--or why he has waited until Jack is dead to swear anything?

In class, we also discussed the wonderful symbolism of the closet, since this is a story of closeted gay love and, as Annie Proulx herself has said, "rural homophobia." Do you agree or disagree that the effects of rural homophobia are the main theme of the story/movie?

John Ford said...

When reading Brokeback Mountain, the ideas of homosexuality versus homophobia and “being in the closet” really stood out to me. Compared to how things are today, historically, homosexuality seems like something unique to our time period. But, I don’t believe that is the case. I mean, my knowledge of the history of homosexuality isn’t very extensive, but when I had been taught American ad World history those things weren’t talked about. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. I realized as I grew up, that homosexuality was, then, as much of a part of society as it is today. The difference between these times and now comes down to the way the population treated homosexuality. In the time of Brokeback Mountain, homosexuality was something a man could be killed for. So for those in the population who were in fact homosexual, the choice became living a lie, or dying. This choice led to a group of the population living “in the closet.” Jack and Ennis display these traits and the moral dilemma that comes with it. Jack and Ennis are both homosexual, yet they both have wives and children. They live these “normal” lives to mask their homosexuality and their love for each other. Jack comes closer to accepting and embracing his homosexuality than Ennis, and wants to live his life happy, no matter what that means. The homophobia that lies within Ennis does not allow him to live that way. That is what makes Ennis such a complex character. I couldn’t begin to understand the struggle that Ennis experiences throughout his life, with an ingrained hatred for himself. But I can see how it hurts him. Ennis will never admit it, but the reader can see his lonely life, and the reader can see his love for Jack, and the reader also understands why Ennis has to deny the way he is. I think that’s what I liked most about this book. It gave us a window as to what it might have been like for homosexuals and their partners for generations before us. I mean, why shouldn’t Jack and Ennis be able to live happily together? I’m glad that we’re trying to fight for equality with homosexuality, because the laws we have, and the ways some people view homosexuality, just seem so wrong to me.

Elizabeth Starr said...

This is in response to John Ford's comment on "Brokeback Mountain."

John wrote: "I think that’s what I liked most about this book. It gave us a window as to what it might have been like for homosexuals and their partners for generations before us."

I really appreciated this comment. We talked in class about how so many people saw the movie, in particular, as "the gay cowboy movie," or just a love story. But you really stress here how the story works to help us see and imagine what life might have been like for generations of people before us. It helps us understand another piece of the human condition. Thanks for stating this so well!

Matthew said...

Matthew here…
Even though the subject matter of Brokeback Mountain is what many would call very controversial, the story received little negative attention, since it was critically and popularly lauded upon its 1997 publication in The New Yorker. The “Brokeback Mountain” film, however, was received very differently. The onscreen depiction of homosexual intercourse, though not pornographic in nature, and the real, complicated human love shared by two men, as played by popular heart-throb movie stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, proved to be too much for offended audiences and mass protests were organized. Banning of screenings of the film were common. It came to be known as “the gay cowboy movie” and this fueled controversial interest. The film did very well, financially, and it was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (which it won), Best Actor (for Mr. Ledger), and Best Director for Ang Lee (which he won).
My personal reactions to this story, and subsequently the screenplay/film, are that I loved them. It was a great romance, inhabited by one of the most well drawn, complex, and heartbreaking characters in contemporary literature and cinema. But it also happens to be a great homosexual romance, inhabited by one of the most well drawn, complex, and heartbreaking characters in contemporary literature and cinema. Why, one might ask, is the distinction necessary? Truth be told, from my perspective, it really isn’t necessary. It is a beautiful story that I was truly moved by, but I am not a homosexual, and much like Ennis Del Mar might have been, reading the descriptions of homosexual love filtered through the rural, country boy mentality that I was brought up in, made me a little uncomfortable. Logically, I can look passed that, which I willingly and happily do, as I have transcended the perspective of the status quo mentality of the vast majority of the inhabitants of my rural childhood community. And in looking past it, I see a story, and in particular, a character that I wish that I had written. I am jealous of Annie Proulx ‘s brilliance, and presence of mind as a writer. Ennis Del Mar is a character on par with Raskolnikov of Crime & Punishment, he is the stuff of literary and cinematic legends.
So, no, I do not agree that this book, or movie, be banned in the least. I have talked about this in previous blogs, and I keep coming back to it, but it seems to me that the majority of books or films that are challenged or banned are treated in this way by people that refuse to empathize with the characters or the situations depicted within them. They can’t look past what they view as right or wrong, and understand that there are 7 billion people on this planet that all deserve to be understood. Empathy is so important. Love of our fellow humans is so important, and banning the stories of the ones that go outside the lines in the great coloring book of life, is not only unjust and tyrannical, but it is just plain cruel.
It is with this in mind that people ought to read/watch and study this story and film.

Sarah Bynum said...

Brokeback Mountain has been my favorite book/screenplay to read this semester. I was blown away at how good the story was and how well it was adapted into a screenplay. I had never seen the movie and I had no idea that it was even a short story before this class. I understand why some people might have thought that it would be inappropriate for students to read in school, but really it is not.
I was reading the story at work one day and one of my co-workers literally said, “it is just another romance”, simple as that. She did not even mention the aspect of homosexuality. It never even crossed my mind to forget that they were guys. The house I was raised in was one of very strict Christian beliefs, so homosexuality was usually not even mentioned. After my coworker put this story on the same ground as any other story, it opened my eyes. I started seeing it for more than the two males. It is a story about two people who happen to fall in love at an unexpected time and then they try to live with their feelings in the best way they can when society frowns upon them because they love each other.
Who cares that they are male? They love each other! This is literally just another romance story. Plain as that. It should not be banned because it is not the romance people are used to. People have the right to love who they want, and I think Brokeback Mountain addresses that in a roundabout way. This story shows how culture does not want these two men to be together, so they are not out of the fear of being hurt or killed. This is a story of people just wanting to be accepted and be with the person they love.

John Boyken said...

In response to Matthew's comment "Even though the subject matter of Brokeback Mountain is what many would call very controversial, the story received little negative attention"

I took this class, and had to read this story and screenplay as well as watch the movie. I was not looking forward to it for a couple of reasons.

1. Because I had already seen the movie, and didn't really care about it nor had any desire to watch it again.
2. Because of my strong Christian faith, I believe, and think that it is wrong when a man has intercourse with another man (or a woman having intercourse with another woman).

I was surprised that when I did the research for my presentation on this book (which I chose to do, because I wanted to do and focus on aspects other than just the "gay cowboy loving") I was surprised that there was little to no complaints about the content of the book until the movie came out. The story was praised, not because of the content, but because of the writing.

Annie Proulx was praised for her ability to tell such a rich story that expanded years in such a small amount of pages. The tale is a rich one, that makes the reader think about the effects of homophobia and the meaning of love. While all anyone focused on with this story, when the movie came out was the homosexual intercourse displayed by the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think there is a difference between being "in the closet" and homophobia. While there may be a correlation, I dont think that being homophobic makes you a closet homosexual. I have always thought that homosexuality is gross. I dont want to see it in public and i would never watch this or read this book. Its not natural. The book shouldnt be banned but i obviously find the content distasteful.

Ellie said...

I have to disagree with Sarah’s assertion that Brokeback Mountain is “just another romance.” A romance isn’t just about two people who fall in love; a characteristic of the genre is that they live happily ever after, which does not happen in Brokeback Mountain. I think homophobia and how it ruins people’s lives is the main theme of this story. As readers, we instinctively feel that Brokeback Mountain should be a romance, Jack and Ennis should live happily ever after. But it’s not and they don’t. The main characters live behind miserable lies because of the homophobia society has forced on them. Ultimately, society enforces its homophobia by killing Jack. By pulling us into the characters and their love, Proulx delivers a powerful message about how homophobia destroys the lives of real people.

Alexander Manchester said...

I personally don't see why Brokeback Mountain needs to be listed on the Banned Books list. I feel like our society is now open enough that a film/book about homosexual cowboys should be able to be accepted, if not, tolerated.

Sarah Bynum said...

I am responding to Ellie:
I agree with you that the theme of the story is about homophobia and how it can ruin people’s lives. That is completely clear in “Brokeback Mountain.” I do not agree with your view as to what makes a story a romance. Romance is not defined by the couple living “happily ever after”—those are fairy tales. A romance can be tragic and have a sad ending where the couple does not end up together. “Romeo and Juliet”, for example, is one of the most famous romances of all time, and yet, they both died. Just because Jack died does not take away from the love he and Ennis shard, if anything it shows how their love was stronger because Ennis kept on loving him. That love is what makes Brokeback Mountain a romance. In my original post, I did not say “just another romance” to take away from the issues addressed or to diminish the story. I said that because that is how I had to look at it so I would not get hung up on the fact that Ennis and Jack were homosexuals. Seeing it as a normal story allowed me to see the issue of homophobia more clearly.