Only weeks after its release in the United States, "Brokeback Mountain" is on the verge of being embalmed in importance. A lightning rod for attention even before it opened, the film has earned plaudits from critics' groups along with predictable sneers, and it has provoked argument over its gay bona fides. That "Brokeback" is a landmark is a matter of empiricism; its merits as a work of art are a matter of taste. What has gone missing is that this is also that rare American film that seamlessly breaches the divide between the political and the personal, the past and the present. Here, against the backdrop of that mythic territory of rugged individualism and the Marlboro Man, is a quietly devastating look at masculinity and its discontents. Jack and Ennis, the lovers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, marry unhappily, but their wives pose far less of a real threat to their happiness and physical well-being than do other men - those overbearing fathers, bullying bosses, leery strangers and lead-pipe-wielding thugs who shadow their affair from start to heartbreaking end. On Brokeback Mountain, away from what Whitman called "the clank of the world," Jack and Ennis are free to follow their own Whitman again "paths untrodden. On Brokeback, the two men are neither straight nor gay; they are lovers, which probably accounts for the category confusion that has greeted the film. That "Brokeback Mountain" quickly and jokingly became known as "the gay cowboy movie" speaks to the unease surrounding the film's subject, but it also reflects an unfamiliarity with both the West and the western. The image of the cowboy looms large in the popular imagination, even if the heyday of the actual cowboy was relatively short.
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In honor of the 10th anniversary of the movie Brokeback Mountain , I share this story of how the film changed my life as a young gay man. The room was stifling. Even with every fan going, the air just crawled from one humid pocket of the house's atmosphere to the other, losing none of its oppressive, southern Mississippi moisture. My father and my stepmother sat together on a love seat, their cigarette smoke -- Marlboro Reds, ironically enough -- a steady stream until it hit the hurricane brewing above us. I watched from the couch as the smoke trailed steadily in the glow of a table side lamp before breaking off in a gust from a fan blade. My father and I lazily agreed, too tired from the day's work of clearing ground around his new house -- pushing over trees with a front-end loader, stacking lumber, exploring an old concrete foundation as a possible workshop.
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