Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #10

Re: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Believe it or not, I have finally gotten around to seeing Brokeback Mountain. After viewing it, I searched the web for reviews to see whether anyone else may have interpreted the movie as I. Your review does not, but it came close to addressing what I thought was an important, and overlooked theme.

There is overwhelming focus on homosexuality and marital fidelty in reviews. However, as I viewed the movie I was struck by the portrayal of men versus women. None of the men are terribly likable, being either callous or quasi-violent. The women however are almost always compassionate and forgiving. Despite the commentary of so-called marital fidelity experts, the women in this movie know what is going on. Not only do they know it, they allow it to go on. They are not especially victimized by the infidelity. Why does Innis’ wife, after seeing the post card, fully suspecting its meaning, does not discard it. Most poignantly, in the scene where Innis goes to jack’s parent’s ranch, Jack’s mother lets Innis take the bloodied clothing. Note in that scene how the concerned mother appears with a cross over her left shoulder. Mistake? Or Stabat Mater?

This film is not post-Christian. It is eminently Christian, with the female (Virgin Mary) figures, pained and sacrificing, always displaying love and forgiveness. I was unimpressed with the male characters, and the homosexual theme is incidental. The males characters are an unlikeable lot. The women are divine.

Your observations are intriguing, but I don’t find your construal persuasive. Why should a story of “unlikeable males and divine women” be particularly Christian?

It’s true that Christian tradition venerates the Virgin Mary as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” and that female characters who are in one way or another full of grace (e.g., Galadriel, Lucy Pevensie) may partially reflect this veneration. That doesn’t automatically make a portrayal of women suffering and displaying understanding “eminently Christian.”

For one thing, there is nothing redemptive about the women’s suffering and understanding. Like E.T., whose death and resurrection is a lot like Jesus’ except for not accomplishing anything, the women of Brokeback Mountain suffer and understand to no ultimate vindication or redemption.

Yes, Jack’s mother is a mater dolorosa. Lots of mothers have been bereaved of their sons. The particular character of Mary’s suffering is that she suffered with a son who suffered freely and innocently for the salvation of the world, and was also vindicated with him.

You say the males are an “unlikeable lot.” There can be no truly Marian stabat mater dolorosa without a Christlike salve caput cruentatum — no Marian woman “pierced with a sword” without a Christlike “man of sorrows.” Whatever else he was, Jack wasn’t that, as you acknowledge.

I submit that the meaning of suffering and understanding is inseparable from what it is that is being suffered and understood. In this case, what the women suffer and understand is the men’s infidelity and homosexuality. The suggestion that this theme is incidental is unconvincing. It is why the women suffer and understand.

The real import of the women’s suffering and understanding, I submit, is that they suffer because the men have been pressured by society to take roles that were never right for them, and they understand that it is not ultimately the men’s fault. Society is to blame, for its heteronormativity. That presentation may be many things, but I wouldn’t call it “eminently Christian.”

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