“Brokeback Mountain”: the story of the first bisexual star-crossed lovers
“Two households both alike in dignity.” Everyone knows these starting words and the tragedy that follows them. In Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain,” two male workers find a romance emerging amid them and become this generation’s classic story of “star-crossed lovers.” Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar can be seen as today’s Romeo and Juliet; however in such strong opposition, it is hard to see the romance behind so much discourse over a same-sex relationship. While the terms “straight” and “gay” have become common words in language, people still have a difficult time accepting the totality of the term “bisexual.” As the actor set to portray Ennis del Mar, Heath Ledger was quoted as saying, “I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other.” The sex of the two is forgotten; it is their souls that are pulled towards one another, no matter what sex they may be. The controversy behind the story however is proposed here: can two “star-crossed lovers” be men and, even more important, can they be bisexual? “They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state.”
The short story, published in 1997 is a framed sequence over 20 years. How their same-sex relationship develops is portrayed directly and without dramatic or spiritual allusions; it is shown in basic color and language. It is a sequence of conflicts throughout their relationship not only with each other, but with their outer lives as well away from Brokeback Mountain. Proulx, when asked how she got her inspiration for the two main characters, said that after watching a man in a bar that was only watching the men that were playing pool, made her think about the life of a western rancher who just might be gay. Writing a romance story about two men became an impactful scenario when in 2005 screenwriters Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana adapted the short story into a full length film (starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal). Because the film was an adaptation from the book, the director Ang Lee had a very important piece to bring to life. However, with putting a story as strong as this into a film industry, society went on an attack full of controversy over the sexual orientation of love, and if two men can truly love each other, all while being bisexual.
Jack Twist is a basic rancher, longing for a life in rodeo. When he meets Ennis del Mar he takes it upon himself to be open and try to learn about his partner. Jack is definitely the more open of the two, whether it is about his life, his dreams, or his sexuality. Jack originally initiates masturbation with Ennis, which at first leads to a rejection by Ennis, and then turns into anal sex between the two. As their relationship grows, Jack is eager to spend more time together, in which he eventually proposes the idea of living together. Jack never once shies away from the idea of the two staying together, even when he has a family in Texas years down the road. Sex researcher Fritz Klein analyzed that Jack is more “toward the gay side of bisexuality.” Because of the different levels of bisexual, according the sex analysts, these two men can be attracted to both men and women, just with different intensities. Bisexual activist Amy Andre expressed the media and their avoidance of the word “bisexual” in an article in American Sexuality Magazine by stating, “Brokeback Mountain is not a movie about gay people, and there are no gay people in it… I am unaware of a single review of Brokeback calling the leads what they are – a sad statement on the invisibility of bisexual experience and the level of biphobia in both mainstream and gay media.”
While people became uneasy about the word “bisexual‟ in describing the love between these two characters, it is never determined in strong detail as to what the actual characters believe they are. Ennis Del Mar was more toward the “straight side of being sexual” according to Fritz Klein. As for the author herself, Annie Proulx has said, “How different readers take the story is a reflection of their own personal values, attitudes, and hang-ups.”
The romance between the two has the same depleting fate as any other strong romance novel, short story, or movie. No matter the issue of gay, bisexual or straight, the love story between the two men is impactful. This “Romeo” and his “Juliet” go on a search within themselves and each other to find what they want in life. They show the darker side of controversy with bisexuality, yet juxtapose this by sending the brightest light into a tragedy. Yet, like all star-crossed lovers, a “happily ever after‟ ending is torn from the pages. The story takes a tragic pull when Jack Twist dies suddenly by a tire explosion. This simple explanation of death by his wife to Ennis sends him reeling back to his childhood of seeing a gay man dead after being beat to death by a tire iron because of his sexuality. A forewarning moment in the story is given in the passage, “…the can of beans with the spoon handle jutting out and balanced on the log was there as well…. the spoon handle was the kind that could be used as a tire iron.” Ennis saw their possible future of being abused for their love on the horizon while sitting on the mountain during their first moments together, in privacy. While in the book, Ennis believes that Jack was possibly killed by men because of his openness about being gay instead of simply having an accident with an explosive tire, in the movie it is shown as to what Ennis believes happened. Because of cinema, the audience is given such a clear picture as to what each character is feeling. Jack’s actual fate is said to be left “deliberately ambiguous.”
When people grew to openly accepting the truth and romance behind the story for what it truly was, people realized that it was not just a story about gay cowboys, it was so much more than that. It is a story about intensity, attraction, and honesty. According to Entertainment Weekly, “Everyone called it ‘The Gay Cowboy Movie.’ Until they saw it. In the end, Ang Lee’s 2005 love story wasn’t gay or straight, just human.” A love story hits on heartstrings of its audience no matter the orientation. The connection between the lovers is what exudes into the minds of those viewing. There is always that one moment, that one item, that one look that makes the audience realize just how delicious the love between these people tastes.
The biggest symbolism that resounds in the story is the two men‟s shirts, found by Ennis after Jack’s death. After an accidental knee to the nose during an intimate time between the two, Jack kept the two bloodied shirts without telling Ennis. The fact that he kept the shirts was not the beautiful moment between the two. As Ennis looks at the shirts he realizes that his shirt is tucked perfectly inside of Jack’s – his sexuality is hidden away by Jack’s love for him. Jack was always covering Ennis and wanting to be the protector, despite Ennis being the more masculine of the two away from Brokeback. As the story continues onto years later, Ennis is seen in his trailer talking to his daughter about her future marriage. Ennis shows that all he cares about is that his daughter’s new boy truly loves her, because to him true love was all that mattered; this can be taken as either about Jack, or his ex-wife, or even both. He walks over to his closet and residing on the inner door are the two shirts, only this time Ennis’ shirt is on the outside with Jack’s tucked inside of it. Ennis is only able to mutter a few words, “Jack, I swear.” These words show Ennis’ breakthrough moment. This is his choice to accept that Jack is the person that made him whole, the person who he loved more than anyone else on earth. His and Jack’s shirts went up for sale after filming the movie and sold for $101,100.51 (U.S. dollars). The buyer called the shirts “the ruby slippers of our time” and intends to never have them separated.
A classic love story of our time should be seen as such; whether it is gay, straight, or truly and beautifully bisexual makes no difference in the journey. No matter where a person resides in their mind and heart about love of a man, or woman, the point to the story is that love is a human emotion; it is strong and powerful and when the stars are aligned (or sadly crossed) there is nothing that can be done to freeze time and stop fate from happening. Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are an epitome of love; a picture of a brutal fate. Each person is created to be exactly who they are; no two people are alike. This includes their weight, status, age, religion, and especially sexual preference. As Johann van Goethe once said, “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have made me otherwise.”
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