Blog Template Theology of the Body: Brokeback Mountain

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Sometimes love is a force of nature

I went to see this movie about two homosexual men- awkwardly expecting the whole thing to be boycotted here in the SAT Bible belt, I was surprised to find a full theater. Not surprisingly, the theater was full of gay couples of all ages, some well into their eighties, and it was indeed a tender sight to watch their faces during this heartbreaking film; it was more touching still to watch two frail old men assisting each other out of the theater afterwards. The whole experience is testament to how actually showing up to see and hear the persons engaged in Controversial Matter can provide so much more of the grace of charity in one’s evaluation. But my conclusion remains- contrary to this film’s byline, love is no force of nature.

First of all: as the daughter of a Real Cowboy, a man made of 3 AM roundup calls, bitter cold, runaway horses, and violent cattle, I am generally intrigued by Hollywood’s depiction of that standard American icon, the Marlboro Man. Will they get it right, I ask? Will they do justice to my dad’s rigorous, hard work? This daughter, raised in a barn, becomes indignant. In that regard, as J-Tron points out so well, the directors of Brokeback have got it right; the rugged, smelly life of the Wyoming cattle herd which the film depicts is conveyed to the senses vividly, and without a hint of sentimentality ("Brokeback Mountain is stark and sensory oriented. You feel the wind and the rain. You can almost taste the coffee in the small metal cups, feel the campfire against your bootheels. You start from the outside, moving inside of these characters slowly, almost without realizing you’re doing it"). The technique is wonderful. And after all, it is the performance of Heath Ledger’s career.

Secondly: I was armed and ready to encounter a manipulative and over-the top onslaught of a Hollywood agenda; after all, how blatant to take our American icon and present him with a twist- he is now gay- such that disordered sexual disposition must be a thing so natural, so inevitable, so frequent, that it finds itself in anyone- in the Marlboro Man as much as in the Manhattan hairdresser really, it could be YOU…. so we would need to accept, endorse, promote! homosexuality, the subtext would seem to run. But this movie is not manipulative. I am prone to think that the film is realistic. Lust is, indeed, a force so natural, so inevitable, and so frequent that it occurs in anyone and everyone. But it is not love.

Which brings me to my point. I cannot help but think of a story which my father brought home a few weeks ago. Dad was tired, cold, covered as he often is, in blood from a tangle with barbed wire or horses or very large cows. The months have been dry in Texas; the plains are “blonde,” parched without rain, and the cattle grow tired and thin without food. On that day Dad had discovered a lone heifer, too weak to continue, having settled down on the ground to die, suffering from a diseased joint that could not heal while she remained malnourished. Dad called in our veterinarian to assist her; but the next day, before the vet arrived, my father found her dead, her spine having been snapped and her back broken where she lay helpless. There were ladies present, so my dad described it thus: “there was a bull who found her, and she was in season. He rode her. She was already so broken down. So she died.” (You will forgive the rather earthy scenario, I’m hoping- this thing is about sex, after all.)

My father, like the cowboys in the Brokeback film, knows that forces of nature are as strong and sudden and driving as wind and rain and the procreative instincts of animals, and that they can be just as deadly. Nature can break the back of the weak and leave it for dead. And it is not love.

So here it is. Obviously it is a poor analogy to compare animal instincts to the emotional/ physical interaction which occurs between human persons. And that’s just it. Human love is not the activity of a natural force; rather, it is the gift of self, governed and guided by regard for the other’s benefit- and here I mean CHASTITY, that unique prerogative of the human person, that glorious, healing, life-giving thing which recognizes the valid duty of sexual self-expression only in conjugal union tending towards the human family. On the other hand: sheer natural force let loose on the other can only take the form of predatory feeding, and without the discipline of love, expends the vulnerability of the other for the sake of a cancerous parody of gratification.

Oddly enough, Brokeback Mountain does not end with a happy “alternative family” or with sex which tends to mutual benefit and life; rather it ends with violent death, degradation, and heartache. Left alone to nature, without discipline, without renunciation, without the stricture of chastity, the weak are crushed. And that is no “love” at all.