a little east of reality

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

movie review: brokeback mountain

I've always liked Heath and Jake. 10 Things I Hate About You & Donnie Darko are two of my favourite movies. But I have to say I couldn't quite imagine them as cowboys. Well, not that wiry, hard-edged type that can sleep on a mountain living on coffee and beans for a whole summer anyway. Jake looked more like the cowboys you see at square dances in movies, a good ole boy (not that there's anything wrong with that). ;) Heath, however, really surprised me. While he was silent, it was just the same old Heath, but once his character started to talk more, I was seriously impressed. His voice, his facial expressions, the way he stood and walked ~ everything ~ it was as if he was completely transformed into another person. I've never seen him acting more convincingly, and if Philip Seymour Hoffman had not done such an incredible transformation himself in Capote, I'm sure that Heath would have picked up the Oscar for Best Actor.

His character, Ennis Del Mar, was a very closed man, shy and secretive. He'd had a hard childhood, and it seemed like he spent his entire adult life hiding his real self ~ not just his homosexuality, but because of that, his need for love, contact, connection. Yet no matter how hard he hid from the world, he still felt like everyone was watching him and could see through his pretense. The very valid reasons for his ever-present fears are made clear in the movie.

This is a sad movie overall. I felt like it was a good reminder of how violently (literally) some people react to those who are different to them in a way they can't understand. Lately it seems like we're in the middle of a gay culture explosion. Gay is new black, and our screens are filled with gay shows (QAF, The L Word, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), gay characters on other TV shows (Will & Grace's Will & Jack) and a host of new movies featuring gay culture or characters. People change slowly and I sometimes fear that this inundation is going to bring a reaction ~ some kind of ugly backlash from people not ready for the world as they know it to change quite so fundamentally. For that reason, I thought this movie had come at a good time to ask us if we want to be the kind of world where we respond to difference with hatred and violence. It wasn't a pretty sight. For fear of his life, Ennis lived a lie. And in doing so he deeply hurt his wife, the man he loved, and kept hurtfully distant from his children, though he loved them.

Whether or not you have an opinion on homosexuality, I think this movie is worth seeing. The philosophy behind it applies to other differences that people try to hide from others for fear of their hateful reaction. I know for example that one of my students in Japan was ostracised and ridiculed by not just children but adult neighbours, too, after her parents got divorced. I knew that divorce still carried a much heavier stigma in Japan than it does here in Australia, but it wasn't until I got to know her that I realised this extended even to the children affected by the divorce. It was an ugly thing to witness how hard this child's life was made just because people had found out that her mother was raising her and her sister alone. Another student revealed to me (only after he was living in Australia and I had returned there) that he was of Korean heritage, another difference to the norm that is socially punished in Japanese society. His parents had never told him to keep it a secret, yet he knew, by listening to others talk in elementary school, and later by seeing the mistreatment of his more open cousins, that this was something he must never reveal. Now, in Australia, he's learned to accept and even love this difference in himself. Yet even now he's still asked me not to tell anyone in Japan who knows him. He's not strong enough yet to handle the reaction he's been watching other people suffer for years.

Worth seeing, and worth talking about afterwards: 4 stars