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BECAUSE OF THE HEAVY MESSAGE burden the film has to deliver there is much that is bogus and inauthentic. The first things are the boys’ personae. They are supposed to be dirt poor, high school dropouts, ignorant, not very bright, inarticulate. One, Ennis, is chronically depressed, the other, Jack, affably sociopathic. Instead of being played by gorgeous, well-built movie stars with perfect teeth and bodies and wearing their $99 cowboy hats, they should be played by actors like Steve Buscemi with his mouth full of rotten teeth and Michael J. Pollard with dirty fingernails and with both wearing old beat-up $19 straw ranch-hand’s hats.
The nature scenes, the bars, the grubby plastic furniture, all contribute to a sense of pseudo-authenticity that masks the phoniness of the extraordinarily attractive and charming movie stars trying to play impoverished, ignorant, inarticulate, rural boobs. In the movie Jack appears smart enough to become a crack salesman demonstrating complex farm equipment; in the story he’s not competent enough to do anything but hold onto a bucking bull.
But most of all, the phoniness is in the character inconsistencies and the lack of understanding of men — their sexuality, their homosexuality — making them act according to some preordained plan instead of like real men or real homosexuals, all in the service of fulfilling the theme of the story — “destructive rural homophobia.”
Although there are inconsistencies and falseness in Ennis’s character (his adolescent schoolgirl reaction to Jack’s return after a four-year absence), the major problem is with Jack Twist. Jack is the instigator of sexual intimacy with Ennis. And the sexual hunger that is shown repeatedly in the story suggests that he has little or no conflict about his intense passive homosexual wishes. A homosexual man with such intense needs as Jack, which are not satisfied by means of his heterosexual relationship, will not usually wait four years or even four weeks to have his sexual needs satisfied. It just doesn’t work that way in real life. He is the kind of homosexual who has no trouble finding ways to satisfy these sexual yearnings. And Proulx shows us nothing in Jack’s behavior that might suggest any conflict about these feelings. The only thing that deters him from visiting Ennis more frequently is Ennis. Why does he put up with this sexual deprivation? Because the author’s agenda demands it. Proulx’s plan requires that the story be touching and tragic. Unless, by the story’s end, the reader/viewer empathizes with Ennis and hates homophobes she will not have achieved her aim. And the key to that is that the two must love each other in an unselfish, non-sexual way.
Proulx tries to establish this in the central literary moment in the story, near the end, meant to explain Jack’s motivation for his strange relationship with Ennis:
What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.
They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire, its burning tossing ruddy chunks of light, the shadow of their bodies a single column against the rock. The minutes ticked by from the round watch in Ennis’s pocket, from the sticks in the fire settling into coals. Stars bit through the wavy heat layers above the fire. Ennis’s breath came slow and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack leaned against the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the humming like faint electricity and, standing, he fell into sleep that was not sleep but something else drowsy and tranced until Ennis, dredging up a rusty but still useable phrase from the childhood time before his mother died, said, “Time to hit the hay, cowboy. I got a go. Come on, you’re sleepin on your feet like a horse,” and gave Jack a shake, a push, and went off in the darkness. Jack heard his spurs tremble as he mounted, the words “see you tomorrow,” and the horse’s shuddering snort, grind of hoof on stone.
Later, that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held. And maybe, he thought, they’d never got much farther than that. Let be, let be.
The excerpt above arouses deep suspicion. It is unique in the story — quite different from the writing in the rest of it. It is deeply emotional and elegiacal, qualitatively different from the cool, dry narrative that surrounds it. It sounds like it came from deep within Proulx’s life experience. “Write what you know!” Having raised two sons it would not be surprising to know that she was able to reconnect with a touching moment in her own life to provide this scene with the necessary feeling.
Why is this scene so important and necessary? Proulx worked on the story for six months, twice the length of time that it usually takes for her to write a novel, she says, having revised the story sixty times. And guess what was the most difficult scene for her to write? The scene above.
This epiphanous moment has power and would explain Jack’s prolonged fixation on Ennis if it were consistent with anything else about Jack — but it is not. So we have only the author’s word for the power of this recollection.
THIS IS ONLY THE LATEST FILM of many plays and films of the past thirty-five years that form part of the gay agenda to create a romance about gayness, just as, at one time, Hollywood created a romance about cowboys — brave, true, shy, handsome, modest, and sober. Today and for the past generation Hollywood and the media portray gays as charming, lovable, vulnerable, and gifted; and as victims — of AIDS (striking out of some indeterminate source), homophobia, or some governmental or religious prejudice.
This romantic model is as phony as the old cowboy model but what is important is that it serves the political aims of gay activists — currently gay marriage.
The realities are more complex, more varied, and more interesting. First, some of the realities about the gay life. Approximately three percent of the population may be homosexual, depending on how it is defined and measured demographically. This group is very varied, by age of onset, race, class, choice of sex-object, mode of gratification, pattern of behavior, etc. About 3 percent of all homosexual males have stable, well-adjusted relationships. These are closed couples held together by strong affectionate bonds and living lives much as heterosexual couples might. The remainder of the population do not have such stable commitments and prefer freedom and independence. It is from this latter group that dangerous sexual behavior may emerge: “bareback riding” (unprotected sex); promiscuity; “gift-giving” (homosexuals infected with HIV virus who want to transmit the virus to those who don’t have it); “bug chasing” (men who do not have AIDS but want to acquire it); as well as other dangerous activities, none of which would fit the romance of gayness.
Now, some of the realities about homophobic crimes — murder and manslaughter — so-called hate crimes. Hate crimes are acts you hear quite a lot about in the homophilic media. The FBI has kept records of such crimes since 1995. If you look into these records, you will find that the number of murders and/or manslaughters against male homosexuals number between two and six in any year between 1995 and 2004. Only one of these occurred in Wyoming — in 1998. Most of them tend to occur in California, New York and Texas. So much for Ms. Proulx’s destructive rural homophobia. Of course even two murders a year against male homosexuals is too much. But strangely enough we hear very little outcry and protest when you look into the number of deaths of male homosexuals caused by AIDS — 10,000 in any year. Such facts do not contribute to the romance of gayness.
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