Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Tale of Two Movies

I saw two movies with my buddy Brian a few days ago. He has a large widescreen TV, surround sound- everything a tech geek would want in a home entertainment system. We've watched some really good movies (Network), some really boring ones (Memoirs of a Geisha), and some really bad ones (Starship Troopers II).

The first one we watched the other night was Brokeback Mountain. Yeah, the gay cowboy movie. Surely you've heard of it? Some Christians won't go near this movie because of the gay theme. OK, to each his own convictions. I think that there has to be room for a storyteller to tell a story off the beaten path, or have unlikeable characters, without wrapping things up in a happy ending. So I had no problem viewing this movie. Sure, two guys making out bothered me, but I have the same reaction when I rent a movie and there is a lot of gratuitous nudity in it.

This story was very well shot and very well told. My issue with this movie is not homosexuality. My issue is with the selfishness underlying Ennis and Jack's choices. This movie is being promoted as a landmark, a breakthrough, a story that needs to be told. "It's just a love story," supporters of the film tell us. "Simply judge it as a love story." OK, I will. Ennis was seeing his wife when he met Jack, but Jack met a woman at a rodeo, had sex with her, and got married when she got pregnant. Jack and Ennis knew they were gay and got married anyway, basically letting them eat their cake and have it too. (Anyone can have their cake and eat it. To eat it and still have it- that's the challenge.) They met in the mountains numerous times for their trysts and lied to their spouses about it. In the case of Ennis' wife Alma, she knew. She saw Jack and Ennis kissing and waited for her husband to do the right thing and tell her instead of confronting him about it. He never did. Finally, having reached the breaking point, she does confront him and later gets a divorce. As far as I'm concerned, Alma Del Mar is the hero in this movie for being a faithful wife while her husband was cheating on her.

Jack and Ennis end up reaching destructive ends. Jack pursues promiscuous relationships with other men, all the while staying married with his wife unaware, and ends up being beaten to death because of his homosexuality. At the end of the movie they hint that his wife finally found out, and his parents too. As for Ennis, he is left without a home, without a wife, living in a ramshackle house and working cowboy jobs that leave him unable to participate in his daughter's lives. To his credit, he does put one job aside to agree to attend his daughter's wedding. But the last shot sees him not staring at a family picture and regretting what he left behind, but caressing a shirt of Jack's and crying over the man he committed adultery with for 20 years.

Now let's take homosexuality out of the equation for a minute. If Jack and Ennis had been Jacqueline and Ennis, cheating on their spouses for 20 years, would people then consider them admirable characters? Would Brokeback Mountain then be lauded as a story that needed to be told? Absolutely not. So save accusations of homophobia for another man. I didn't care for this movie not because of a homosexual romance, but because the main characters are being shoved down our throats as deserving of our sympathy when in fact they are not so deserving.

The second movie we watched was The Squid and The Whale, an independent film which didn't see wide release but was still nominated for an Oscar for original screenplay, a well deserved nomination. I thought this was a fantastic movie. The plot involves two married writers, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who decide to divorce, and the effect their actions have on their two sons. Daniels is entirely centered on self, so you might think that Linney would be justified in seeking divorce, but not so. We discover later that Laura Linney had been seeing other men behind her husband's back. Just from that short description you would think that my reaction would be the same as the one I had to Brokeback Mountain, but you would be wrong. In this movie we see adultery as an act of selfishness which affects not only the people involved but those around him/her. We are not asked to sympathize with the mother and father, or hate them for that matter; we are simply given a snapshot of the family and allowed to draw our own conclusions.

One of their sons, Owen, withdraws into himself; the other son, Walt, has a girlfriend who cares about him but he won't return the love, instead choosing to "play the field" (on his father's advice). He ends up in therapy.The title of the movie comes from a statue that the older son remembers seeing in a museum of a squid and a whale fighting. He tells his therapist that the statue always scared him as a child and he could never look for long. The squid and the whale fighting can be seen as a symbol of his parents torn relationship and the son not facing the effects on his life head on. The final shot is of Walt returning to the museum and staring at the statue as the screen fades to black; the message being that Walt has finally decided to confront the ugliness of life in a split family.

The Squid and The Whale contains some nudity, profanity and graphic sexual content, so it's not for everyone. But I would easily recommend this movie over Brokeback Mountain.


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