Monday, March 06, 2006

More Brokeback Bitterness

Here's my response to a Lesbian who was complaining in the Guardian film blog about Brokeback Mountain slighting women:

Elizabeth, darling, Michelle Williams gave one of the best performances of the year. Yes, her character gets shafted, but that's the point. Ennis's character in Brokeback Mountain is doomed because he marries, and hurts, someone he doesn't love; his wife is a small-town girl from Wyoming, and if she is a bit simple, well, it's because she's a bit simple, ya know, all of which makes her plight even more painful. That this is some kind of "universal insult" to women is silly, in the same way that the fact that Ennis lacks the courage to overcome his fears and childhood tramas and accept the love he is offered is a "universal insult" to gay men. It seems to me that you walked into the theatre with a chip on your shoulder large enough to block the view of the screen.

Maybe the best thing I can say about Brokeback is that I grew up in the part of the country where it is set, in Utah, a few miles from the Wyoming border. The characters in the movie are probably the most realistic small-town working-class Westerners I've seen since The Last Picture Show (also written by Larry McMurtry). If they seem a bit backwards or slow, well, that was the time and place. Everything plays out a little slower under that wide sky.

In a way, I've lived both the stories in these two films; growing up gay in a small Western town in the Seventies, and living in a racially diverse present-day L.A. Brokeback is a genuine movie that actually knows its characters in the context of their larger world, and treats them realistically, good and bad together. It's a movie that reaches for a universal theme as well, in that the pain and destruction come as the cost of living a lie (a theme that has nothing to do with your sense of being slighted as a lesbian in a gay man's world). Crash, on the other hand, is a silly melodrama that trades on cliches. I can't decide which was my favorite moment of hysteria: Sandra Bullock in the kitchen screaming, or Thandie Newton on the road screaming, while being heroically rescued by the cop who once molested her, if you didn't see that coming in the first fifteen minutes. Maybe the worst part of Crash was watching the excellent Terrance Howard trying to maintain his dignity through the whole affair. As to why it won, my guess is that the movie's 4,382 cast members all voted for it to win. No one will even remember Crash in a couple of years. DVD's (or whatever format replaces them) of Brokeback will grace the shelves of people for a long time coming. It'll wear well.

In the end, though, it comes down to two images. I've no doubt which I prefer:


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