No Breakthrough on 'Brokeback Mountain'

Writer Mark Mobley doesn't think the gay Western Brokeback Mountain is quite the breakthrough some critics say it is. In fact, it may be further proof that we haven't come as far as we think we have.

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This week, "Brokeback Mountain" earned seven nominations for Golden Globe Awards, precursors to the Oscars. Some critics see this movie about gay cowboys as a landmark event for diversity in film. `Not so fast,' says commentator Mark Mobley.


If you're one of those doom and gloom conservatives worried that the gays are taking over and all this talk about "Brokeback Mountain" is giving you fits, well, rest easy. The movie isn't a sign of how far gay men have come; it's further proof there's a long row to hoe. Part of the furor over the movie is shock value at men making out, but the reason it looks so exotic on screen isn't that men don't usually kiss--there are millions of gay men in America and many of them are in loving relationships--it's just that you never see them in the media outside of "Six Feet Under" and the Tony Awards.

So "Brokeback Mountain" would seem to be a watershed moment, but half the PR is tied up in showing how straight Heath Ledger and Jack Gyllenhaal are. We're also told by, for example, Entertainment Weekly that Ledger and Gyllenhaal are risking their careers with this movie. But this film put Ledger on magazine covers and now he's been nominated for the best actor Golden Globe. And you'll remember the A-list actors who risked playing a couple in the film "Philadelphia." Tom Hanks won an Oscar and Antonio Banderas won Melanie Griffith.

Apparently the difference here is that "Brokeback Mountain" includes a bit of sex, and the worry is that the recruiting-age young men who go see Gyllenhaal in "Jarhead" will be freaked. But this generation of young people has seen vastly more out gays and lesbians than their parents did, and I'm not talking about frothy characters like the men of "Will & Grace." I'm talking about openly gay kids in high school or kids who decide they're gay for a while and then not. Without these people, the dance music industry, Friendster and Jerry Springer wouldn't exist.

For all the talk of controversy, the film's actually tame. The most lyrical passages of Annie Proulx's story and key moments of dialogue are gone, replaced by gorgeous long shots of Western scenery that look like outtakes from an IMAX film about clouds. "Brokeback Mountain" will or won't be a box office success, it will or won't win Oscars, but I guarantee you the actors will continue to work. The larger question is whether Hollywood will produce real gay and straight roles for actors from all backgrounds and create a cinema that looks more like life.

HANSEN: Mark Mobley is a writer living in Athens, Georgia.

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