A week ago Friday I joined friends for the opening of Brokeback Mountain at the Lake Theatre. For those of you who have not recently opened a paper or turned on the television, this film has generated praise from the majority of movie critics and its share of controversy. The movie has already been pulled from screens in three states, and I am confident, considering the amount of wingnuts, it will probably be pulled from several more screens before the end of its run.
The film, based on the 1997 short story by E. Anne Proulx, tells the story of two young Wyoming sheepherders, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film begins in 1963 when the two cowboys meet and, well, fall deeply in love. Considering the time and place, the two men are confused, frightened and, well, deeply in love. It brought to my mind Oscar Wilde and Victorian England: "the love that we dare not speak its name."
The story of this love affair stretches over a 20-year period. After a four-year absence, Jack (now married) appears at Ennis' (also now married) door. At first sight the two hug and kiss passionately. Every year they return to Brokeback Mountain to continue their relationship. All Jack wants in his future is for the two of them to live on a small ranch in Wyoming, to spend their life together. Of course, considering the attitudes of the time, we all know this is just a wonderful dream.
Enough of the story?#34;-I want to encourage you to see the film so I certainly do not want to give too much of the story line. However, come Oscar time, I'm sure the film will receive nominations for Best Movie, Best Actor (Heath Ledger) and Best Director (Ang Lee). The scenery is spectacular, the acting tremendous and some of the background music haunting. Of course, considering my activity in Oak Park with OPALGA, I freely admit I am not the most objective person to comment on this film.
Upon entering the nearly packed house, I noticed the majority of the audience were straight young couples. What would the reaction be when the two cowboys kiss? What would my reaction be to the audience reaction? The cowboys kissed?#34;-absolute silence in the theater. As the film progressed I could hear muffled sobs.
I should point out that, yes, there is nudity and, yes, there are "sex scenes" although they're left much more to one's imagination than many scenes I've witnessed in the mainstream straight cowboy movies.
Brokeback Mountain is not a "gay cowboy movie." It is a love story?#34;-regardless of sexual orientation.
Have, in 40 years, attitudes changed? Almost exactly one year to the date of the release of the short story in '97, college student Matthew Shepard was fatally gay-bashed. Ironically, he was severely beaten, tied to a fence and died?#34;-in rural Wyoming.
All Jack Twist wanted in 1963 was for himself and Ennis to own a small ranch and live as partners. Switch to the present: Several states have recently passed state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.
All Jack Twist wanted was to share their love and their lives together without harassment, without publicity, without harm. Switch to the present: Right-wing religious zealots and their legislative allies fight against comprehensive hate crime laws. Not only do they fight against same-sex marriage, they fight against any civil protections for same-sex couples.
Have we made progress? Of course we have?#34;-especially in the protection of our little "bubbles" across the U.S., such as our own wonderful community of Oak Park.
Upon leaving the Lake I intentionally eavesdropped on people's conversations. I did not hear a negative comment. I left the theater a bit watery-eyed but smiling?#34;smiling that a movie of two men deeply in love is showing on the big screen in movie theaters across our country. A movie of two men deeply in love may possibly receive the Oscar for Best Movie. Please go see the movie?#34;-you will not be disappointed.
I know there are many like "Ennis" and "Jack" out there in rural and urban America. May they see this story and decide to "come out" and not be afraid or confused about their deep and abiding love.
The movie is about a love that could have been. I would have wanted it to be about a love that should have been.
Alan Amato is public policy chair of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association.