In a new piece on Brokeback Mountain, Daniel Mendelsohn challenges the idea that it’s a universal love story first, and a gay story second.
Because I am as admiring as almost everyone else of the film’s many excellences, it seems to me necessary to counter this special emphasis in the way the film is being promoted and received. For to see Brokeback Mountain as a love story, or even as a film about universal human emotions, is to misconstrue it very seriously – and in so doing inevitably to diminish its real achievement.
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.
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 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. …
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.
For the author’s view, give a listen to her warm interview on Bookworm.