Thursday, February 09, 2006

last brokeback mountain post. ever.

Quick! Mendelsohn at the New York Review of Books trumps the New Yorker film critics, again.

He doesn't cite the NYer review, but faults other papers and reviewers for insisting on the "universal" thing while politely ignoring the political specificity of the film. And he writes like he saw the film, felt the film and then took a few minutes to analyze what was going on . . .

"Both narratively and visually, Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the "closet"—about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it."

"The climax of these visual contrasts [big natural exteriors, cramped interiors] is also the emotional climax of the film, which takes place in two consecutive scenes, both of which prominently feature closets—literal closets." Hey, he's right. There are a lot of very significant closets in the film . . .

And he does this great contrast to Romeo and Juliet.

"But those lovers, however star-crossed, never despise themselves. As Brokeback makes so eloquently clear, the tragedy of gay lovers like Ennis and Jack is only secondarily a social [ie, comparable to forbidden love between lovers of different races, religions, classes] tragedy. Their tragedy, which starts well before the lovers ever meet, is primarily a psychological tragedy, a tragedy of psyches scarred from the very first stirrings of an erotic desire which the world around them—beginning in earliest childhood, in the bosom of their families, as Ennis's grim flashback is meant to remind us—represents as unhealthy, hateful, and deadly. Romeo and Juliet (and we) may hate the outside world, the Capulets and Montagues, may hate Verona; but because they learn to hate homosexuality so early on, young people with homosexual impulses more often than not grow up hating themselves: they believe that there's something wrong with themselves long before they can understand that there's something wrong with society. This is the truth that Heath Ledger, who plays Ennis, clearly understands—"Fear was instilled in him at an early age, and so the way he loved disgusted him," the actor has said—and that is so brilliantly conveyed by his deservedly acclaimed performance." And it is according to these repressive laws of tragedy the queer Mercutio cannot be allowed to live either, which is why I love Romeo+Juliet and so does my dad.

And he closes it with this punch,

"The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual—that they're more like the heart of America than like "gay people"—you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed."

OK, so there is more to life than thinking about how movies work. Look for upcoming posts on the novel The Moonstone, and the new cookbook I'm obsessed with. Serious business.

This was the previous time Mendelsohn took the NYer to task. I think he mentioned Denby by name, but I didn't quote that line.

Categories: , ,


Blogger mzn said...

"the new cookbook I'm obsessed with"
oh boy

I can't believe I missed the closets. I must see it again.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Cosgrove Norstadt and Jeff Foote said...

These men are not "gay"...they are homosexual. Gay is a culture where as homosexual is same sex attraction. This is NOT a gay film.


2:58 PM  
Blogger zp said...

the distinction between gay as a cultural identity and homosexual as in sex acts is a little muddled in mendelsohn's argument, especially in my excerpts.

i've been arguing, in the course of my 5 brokeback mountain posts, i think, that the film is about contemporary gay identity as a political identity . . . so we might not agree about that interpretation of the film, ever . . .

but more later . . .

4:44 PM  
Blogger EL said...

But those lovers, however star-crossed, never despise themselves.

Well-said and important. The reason why everyone is so crazed over the character of Ennis, played by Heath Ledger, is because he truly is a heretofore unseen character, made so by his sense that his emotions are not righteous nor that he deserves societal "accomodations".

And zp, thanks for your thorough reading of Brokeback; much needed.

12:32 PM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

oh, finally, i can stop figuring out how to say what i want to say about this movie and just point people toward this. what a sincere, eloquent, mature, humanistic review. thank you for presenting it to us, zp.

i don't know that the film is about political identity so much as regional identity, though the two are tough to disentangle these days. and i disagree with you, cosgrove and jeff, on i guess similarly regional grounds; the gay culture in montana is probably quite different from the more urban version that comes to mind when one hears the phrase "gay culture." i know gay boys who are just like straight boys in every way other than their sexual preference, but i doubt they'd go out of their way to make a semantic distinction. i'm having a little trouble articulating this exactly, but i feel that you're saying "gay" suggests something less respectable than "homosexual," and in my mind that's tantamount to defending the use of the word "gay" as a slur. it troubles me.

i've decided to close every discussion about this movie by sending a psychic bear hug to annie proulx, and in a way it's especially appropriate here, since the short story was originally published in the new yorker.

8:17 PM  

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