There’s something deeply comical about the tangle Hollywood has got into over Brokeback Mountain, the so-called “gay cowboy” movie. Basically, the problem is that the awkward fact of homosexual love at the heart of the story has to be somehow finessed so that it becomes Motherhood and Apple Pie. Daniel Mendelsohn has a lovely piece about it in the New York Review of Books. He notes:
The reluctance to be explicit about the film’s themes and content was evident at the Golden Globes, where the film took the major awards—for best movie drama, best director, and best screenplay. When a short montage of clips from the film was screened, it was described as “a story of monumental conflict”; later, the actor reading the names of nominees for best actor in a movie drama described Heath Ledger’s character as “a cowboy caught up in a complicated love.” After Ang Lee received the award he was quoted as saying, “This is a universal story. I just wanted to make a love story.”
What’s going on, Mendelsohn maintains, is a concerted attempt to situate the story in a well-understood and respectable genre — the Romeo and Juliet story: lovers doomed to be destroyed by horrid families, tribal jealousies, race or whatever. The difficulty is that Brokeback Mountain is about two boys who happened to love one another but whose lives were destroyed not by traditional scapegoats but by the hostility of their society (US mainstream society, that is) to their sexuality.
It will be interesting to see how the Oscars ceremony handles this delicate problem.