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Brokeback Mountain: Getting the Message

Why was Heath Ledger (Ennis) nominated for Brokeback Mountain for the Golden Globes, and not Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack)? The Hollywood Foreign Press managed to nominate all the Desparate Housewives! But not the desparate ones from Brokeback Mountain (Michelle Williams, Anne Hatheway), their roles not really fleshed out. If 'love is a force of nature', as the film poster states, why not equal awards to both actors?

Could it be that it is assumed that it is harder to play someone coming to terms with his homosexuality and trying to repress it, then someone who isn't? Could that make it more daring? More demanding? Jake reports in Premiere this month how hard it was to initiate 'the intimacy' in the film with Ledger, but not when they were wrestling. Tackle sports are popular events for participants and observers. But this film is different. It's not about touch football. "If this thing grabs ahold of us at the wrong time and the wrong place, we're dead", warns Ennis. Jack doesn't let that stop him, one of the intrigues of the film that serves as a warning nonetheless to viewers, considering the ending. The nomination of Ledger was for a role of a man who reinforced the fears for not living out a lifestyle as a gay man. Other acting awards for gay and lesbian roles have not been for positive role models, and have recently gone to heterosexual actors such as Hilary Swank who plays a transgender victimized by hate crimes, and Charlize Theron who plays a mentally unstable and substance addicted lesbian who claims she was assaulted and murdered as revenge.

If the film is not about "gay cowboys", perhaps it should be seen as a film about hate crimes against gays that serves as a warning for people from choosing homosexuality as a lifestyle. For example, Ennis' father took him to witness the corpse of a dead man, living with another at a young age. The message: he knew it was wrong to be gay. The film has ample evidence of how folks knew what homosexuality was.

When Jack's wife (Anne Hathaway) explains what has happened to Jack after a period of time in which they haven't met, we see a brief flashback to an assault by two other men in progress near a fence in the countryside. Some interpret this to be Ennis' own interpretation of what actually occurred based upon the corpse he witnessed as a child takenb from a moment in the Annie Proulx short story (1997) this film is based on.

It may have been 'a figment of Ennis' imagination' or even a literary fact of Prouxl' very short story, but its also plausible that that insert in the film jars cultural memory given contemporary history of the murder of Matthew Shepard tied to a a split rail fence by two men in Wyoming in 1998. The screenplay was written long after Shepard's murder. His body strung up like an animal was meant to serve as a warning --just as the body of the man Ennis saw when he was young. At the homecoming parade while Shepard was dying in the hospital students dressed a scarecrow meant to represent him with a sign labeled "I'm gay" and a derogatory message written on his shirt.

Considering the time period of the film beginning in 1963, Stonewall was just six years down the road. All coincidences, perhaps.

The awards to Brokeback Mountain for best motion picture drama, best director (Ang Lee), screenplay (Larry McMurrty and Diana Ossana) and best original song: " A Love that Will Never Grow Old"(Bernie Taupin) obviously testify to Brokeback Mountain's strength as a film with a powerful message. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal will receive nominations for awards to come.

Moira Sullivan, Swedish Film Critic's Association, FIPRESCI


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