Other voices on “Brokeback” morality

BrokebackTruckSorry for the delay on this one. I have been without a solid Internet connection for two days. Let me note what has already been mentioned in comments, which is a commentary on “Brokeback Mountain” by Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher (who I had lunch with yesterday in Dallas, before flying on to Atlanta with my family in this long, long Christmas tour).

Dreher is a very orthodox, traditional Christian and does not hide that. However, his nuanced evaluation of this movie and the whirlpool around it is getting him some interesting mail over at the Dallas Morning News opinion-page weblog. This is one of those situations that journalists tend to cherish. Rod is managing to tick off people on both sides of the love-hate spectrum on this movie.

The key is that Dreher says this is a good, not great, movie that makes a sincere attempt to capture the art in a gripping short story — a story that is much more honest about this tragic affair (and its roots) than the movie that is being hailed as a political landmark. Thus, Dreher writes:

It is impossible to watch this movie and think that all would be well with Jack and Ennis if only we’d legalize gay marriage. It is also impossible to watch this movie and not grieve for them in their suffering, even while raging over the suffering that these poor country kids who grew up unloved cause for their families. As the film grapples with Ennis’ pain, confusion and cruelty, different levels of meaning unspool — social, moral, spiritual and erotic. In the end, Brokeback Mountain is not about the need to normalize homosexuality, or “about” anything other than the tragic human condition.

In other words, I think Dreher is trying to say that the movie — like any artistic work that deserves to be called a “tragedy” — is, in large part, about sin and “The Fall.” This kind of art is not tidy. Thus, Dreher quotes Flannery O’Connor: “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction.”

Among the more gripping emails in response was a post by a man that Dreher simply identifies as a gay Catholic friend of his. His post points toward a possible story in all of this. How are gay conservatives, especially those who are seeking to honor traditional Christian beliefs, going to react to this film? What are the discussions like, these days, at Courage meetings?

Consider this passage from the online comment by the gay Catholic, with its reference to God — the Other Who — and the riptide of beliefs involved in all of this:

No man with homosexual attractions forgets the first time he ever had a serious love-crush on a male friend in a disapproving environment — disapproval being either internal (morality) or external (society). There’s a strange mix of terror and lust, and a need for SOME sort of same-sex approval that I cannot imagine having absolutely any equivalent in the straight world. It’s a whirlpool of attraction and revulsion. You know that what you most want, what your body is telling you (and male bodies can’t be fooled), is wrong and/or that acting according to it would ruin you in the eyes of the other, the one you love (in some sense). And in the eyes of the Other Who loves you. And in some sense yourself. If you know/believe (rightly or wrongly) that homosexual acts are wrong, there is simply no secular way out. Only the acceptance of tragedy, the embracing of the Cross, and seeking to die to self.

Like I keep saying, there are many points of view out there on this issue and this movie that are not making it into the MSM coverage. Journalists need to find the voices in between Hollywood and, well, the 700 Club.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Scott Allen

    Honestly, I don’t believe this movie is worth the coverage. These comments will seem harsh, but so be it:
    Hey, let’s make a film about gay policeman. Hey, I’ll make one about gay soldiers. Hey, I’ll make one about gay priests. Whatever. Turn on any TV show and you’ll get gay character(s) at least as throw-ins, and often as repeating, principal roles. The novelty is gone, this isn’t being done for ratings. The only reason we’re hearing anything about this film is that New York and Hollywood want THIS to be the future of our culture. It will not get 1/100th the viewers of Narnia or King Kong but it is “Important” and Oscar-worthy because our betters tell us so. If gays want to watch films that show how they struggle with their sins (or that approve of their sins) fine. We both know that sin is common to all mankind and there are plenty to show in any film (even Narnia). I haven’t looked at Mr. Dreher’s discussion and I’m not about to give the web site any “hits” that lend credence to the supposed Importance of this topic. It is all hype being foisted on us to remove the stigma of this particular sin (and don’t worry, Hollywood has others waiting in the backroom as “art” to use in the next Important film). By now you’d think I’m a 700 Club type — I’m not, I fit your description of Mr. Dreher as an orthodox, traditional Christian but I see no virtue whatsoever in viewing or commenting on the particulars of this film. It is akin to discussing the merits of doing drugs or watching a film where that’s what the main characters do. Films are “safe” and at arms-length. They may show that characters leading destructive lives have “struggles” or even reach a “bad” end but in truth depiction of such behavior on the “silver screen” always adds to its allure and only desensitizes us to the dangers. It may not be sophisticated, but sometimes the greatest wisdom is to “Just say ‘no’” to viewing or discussing the merits of evil. Rom 12:9 Eph 4:29.

  • Daniel

    If one says “no” to view or discuss the merits of evil, what does one read or watch? Since the Bible is clearly out, the Left Behind books are out, even Narnia is out (Narnia is DEFINITELY out), what’s left?

    As Rod points out, the movie points out the ambiguities of life, how we view evil, how we view love. It is tragedy on numerous levels, and people of different moral and political beliefs see various tragedies (and often see the same ones).

  • Rod Dreher

    If you had troubled yourself to read what I actually wrote instead of talking through your hat, you would know that I started my column by saying I had no intention of seeing this movie because I expected it to be pro-gay propaganda. A thoughtful conservative Christian friend who is also a cinephile saw it and wrote a long blog essay on why the movie is not the rah-rah pro-gay movie that most reviewers make it out to be. Then I read the Annie Proulx short story upon which the film is based, and concluded that if the movie is faithful to the story, then no, it wouldn’t be pro-gay propaganda at all. So I went to see the movie, and concluded that it is a work of art. Not a great one, but art all the same, because it does not try to sell a message or hide the messy truth of sin beneath tidy moralizing.

    Do you really believe that any film that depicts characters engaged in sinful behavior is beneath consideration? I don’t know you, but I’m sure you don’t believe that. Did the violence in “The Passion of the Christ” render that film unworthy on its face? How about the sin committed by the characters in “Schindler’s List”? How about the movie “Traffic,” which showed its main characters doing drugs? In all three cases, and in countless more, the sinful behavior on screen is presented within a certain context that affects how the viewer judges it.

    Similarly with “Brokeback Mountain,” we see the main characters engaged in sinful behavior, but behavior that has real-world consequences. The story and the movie both made me reflect on the struggles of people I know who are decent deep down, but who cannot for whatever reason seem to conquer their own brokenness (and I’m not talking about sexual matters), and their own pain and selfishness and struggle coruscates outward into the lives of all those who love them. That’s what sin does. And we are all born into sin.

    I wouldn’t blame you at all for not wanting to see “Brokeback Mountain.” There are lots of movies I don’t have any particular interest in seeing because the subject matter does not interest me. But if you are saying that any work of art that deals frankly with sin is on its face immoral, then I wonder how on earth you ever justify going to the movies or opening up a book, etc. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, we humans are made of dust, and if you don’t want to get dusty, don’t try creating art. Or, as I would say, exposing yourself to it.

  • 1630r

    BBM is a excellent movie. As a “ex-gay” Christian I went to the movie theatre thinking/fearing it would make me reconsider the whole ex-gay thing but it didn’t. It’s a heartbreaking story and Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar. If you are interested in moving on from perpetual adolescence, it is a far better movie than Narnia.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Scott Allen spouts off an a subject he knows nothing about:

    [BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN] will not get 1/100th the viewers of Narnia or King Kong but it is “Important” and Oscar-worthy because our betters tell us so.

    Actually, it will easily get that many, and it already has without having really rolled out yet. It’s grossed almost $8 million already, and no way in hell or anywhere else will KING KONG and NARNIA gross $800 million … combined.

    And is it just possible that it’s deemed “Important” and Oscar-worthy because … it is. And since I’ve seen the movie, that’s an opinion I’m entitled to.

  • Cranky Lawyer

    Thanks, Rod and tmatt, for this interesting discussion. I think you both are really getting at the heart of something here–that something might just be a way to advance the ball in the “culture wars.” (Pardon the shorthand.)

    I want to add just one little thing. “MSM” entered the lexicon before the 2004 election–through public health, where it means “men who have sex with men.”

    So, when describing a movie dealing with same-sex attraction, talking about how the MSM deals with public reaction, you might be creating some confusion!


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  • Brad

    I agree that excluding movies that depict sin pretty much closes you off from movies…especially ones with much to say.

    One movie I had trouble with at one time (when I thought more like Scott than I do now) was “Magnolia.” The first time I watched it it seemed like an unredeemable cesspool.

    But the 2nd time I watched it, over a year later, I started to pay more attention some specific details: for instance, it made sin look quite ugly and the one really good person in it was an unabashed Christian. I now see it as a really good movie. Not one I’ll rush out and buy, but really well-done with alot to say.

    So, I think we’d be closing ourselves off to some really well done movies if we say we don’t want to watch any that depict sinful behavior.

    I haven’t seen BBM yet, partly because I do think alot of hype has been drummed up from Hollywood and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction, but I’m sure I’ll see it when it comes out on DVD and, from what I’ve heard and read about it, I’ll probably have a nuanced view of it similar to my view of Magnolia.


  • Ingvar

    I wasn’t going to see this film, mostly because I thought it probably was simply a piece of gay propaganda, and as has been pointed out, that is certainly how it is being used in some circles. Now I will see it, but almost certainly when it comes out on DVD. The problem of how art deals with sin in its attractiveness and its consequences is going to be around a long time. I don’t like ideological solutions to it. I find it helpful to remember that when we sin we are always chosing some good at the expense of another.
    There is a risk that artists have to take in portraying this attractiveness. Any good is of God, the source of all good, and can open us to our desire for and our need for God. How does an artist deal with this good in the context of sin, where a greater good is sacrificed for a lesser one?
    I think that art has its own integrity and language that cannot be easily contained or transposed into ideological systems, be they religious or otherwise. Good art can reveal the mystery of the God in ways that other forms of human expression cannot. Flannery O’Connor’s work is full of examples of this. God is a mystery and art in its symbolic language deals better with some mysteries than simple propositional language (I hope I have my terms right here). I am willing to give art and artists a lot of lattitude. It often happens their talent is better than their ideology and great things can happen despite their intentions.


  • Scott Allen

    A few points: (1) Thank you all for reading my comments, it shows you care (2) Victor, thanks for the update on the box office take for BBM, I had seen the first week’s revenue and thought it would decrease after initial release, obviously wrong there (2) Daniel and others, I said “We both know that sin is common to all mankind and there are plenty to show in any film (even Narnia)” so I am not (per Mr. Dreher) “saying that any work of art that deals frankly with sin is on its face immoral.” Any orthodox Christian knows that sin is everywhere, including every moment of our lives even after salvation so any worthwhile work of art or discussion involves sin (3) Ingvar, thank you for noting that “The problem of how art deals with sin in its attractiveness and its consequences is going to be around a long time” and making many other thoughtful observations (4) What I DO NOT SEE IS where do you all “draw the line” on what sort of art you will patronize. Mr. Dreher mentions that whether one should watch a film or not is a matter “of whether I have any particular interest in” the subject matter. Perhaps you could be more kind, view me as a weaker brother and provide more detail on whether you rely on your own personal judgments or on some sort of external standard to make decisions as a consumer of art.
    Folks, I hate to break it to you, but I knew when making my post that I would take flak because I appear to take the ignorant (that is, “don’t wanna know”) point of view. It always seems superior to be able to “handle” more stuff than the next guy. But your consumption of this fare is not “value neutral.” Jesus hung out with sinners but He told them to repent. I can hardly do that with a film, in fact, when I attend/rent I add to Victor’s box office total. So if you re-read my previous comment I outlined the overall trend in mainlining gay characters and said I do not wish to support it. Mr. Dreher, am I “talking through my hat” when I say that your patronizing this film and recommending it as “a work of art” could have negative consequences? I explained that I would not even want to add “hits” to your web article because I have no desire to add to its supposed Importance. In economic terms I am creating a market for it, in sociological terms an indirect “Hawthorne Effect” when Hollywood knows that this sort of “revolutionary art” is newsworthy and therefore will get free publicity. To put it plainly, I choose to consume or not while understanding the full consequences of my actions. Do you? I hope so, but I don’t think you “troubled yourself to read what I actually wrote” either. Well, here’s your chance to outline your position. To reiterate my earlier question, where do you “draw the line” not only for yourself, as an editorial writer and columnist (who presumably would wish to be informed on general trends, even if you do not find them of personal “interest”) but also for me, the consumer. These are 2 different standards. They should be easy for you to address, something you can cut & paste from your own commentaries or those done by others. Again, thank you for taking the time to address these serious issues.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com Joe Perez

    In my previous comment on this blog, I said that I had only read one online commentary by a conservative religionist that was worth reading. Most are as intellectually bankrupt as Scott Allen’s comment above. (The good piece was Victor Morton’s blog post). Now I’ll add Dreher’s column. Thanks for pointing it out.

    P.S.: I second the commenter who wishes this blog would stop using MSM to mean mainstream media. Public health has defined the term as men who have sex with men, and this is how many readers will interpret the term.

  • Brad

    It seems to me, from an evangelical perspective, it’s helpful to have some knowledge of what people are talking about to relate to them where they are.

    For instance, I love reading books on the early church but haven’t bothered to read the “Da Vinci Code.” It’s not that I mind the idea, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I started it last night, though because I want to have read it by the time the movie comes out. I’m sure it will be quite a hit and with the book, it was a great way to get people talking about these issues from early Christianity.

    So, it seems to me, if somethings a phenomenon…as BBM is (whether real or manufactured), and it engages some aspect of Christianity (which in today’s climate, this does) there’s more demand for us to know what we’re talking about when engaging others.

    That’s just a guide I go by, though, and I think there are as many ways of looking at this particular topic as there are Christians who think about it.


  • Stephen A.

    I think Scott Allen caved in a bit too quickly to Victor’s comments about BBM’s box office.

    Those figures don’t really look good for BBM.

    True, the studio’s keeping it in about 220 select locations (Cambridge? Greenwich Village? Beverly Hills?) so it could make a lot more money – but it’s gone from 8th to 14th place already. It’s tanking, or maybe it’s exhausted these smaller markets.

    As for this:
    “It’s grossed almost $8 million already, no way in hell or anywhere else will KING KONG and NARNIA gross $800 million . . . combined.”

    Hmmm. The re-release of Polar Express has grossed $8 million in just two weeks and in just 88 theatres. King Kong grossed $120.6M also in just two weeks (do the math on that one) while Narnia’s done $165.1M in just three weeks.

    Granted, they opened wider – far wider, over 3,000 theatres – but yeah, they can triple those figures, though I don’t exactly know who mentioned that $800M number.

    The film “Rumor Has It,” said to be the worst film of 2005, has made almost as much ($7.5M) than BBM’s total gross – in its FIRST week. Yikes.

    As for the content, it is what it is. It’s getting far too much attention at this point. What’s this, the fifth post here? Let it die. Another two weeks and people will be saying, “Brokeback what?”

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    ANy chance that Rod Dreher could become a contributor to this blog? Excellent post!

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    True, the studio’s keeping it in about 220 select locations (Cambridge? Greenwich Village? Beverly Hills?)

    No, actually. I just did a quick Google search, and I see listings for eight theaters in Manhattan, only one of which is in the Village. I’m actually surprised.

  • Fred

    You’ve got an excellent point. The “betters” provide us with topics that the MSM (who the heck knows that in some small defined population that means something else?) makes the context of our lives, that is if we allow them. They are masters of creating realities. When Hollywood tries to score in the culture war I will not support them with my money, time or attention regardless of how good the art is reputed to be. Their depiction of a classic human struggle in the context of a same sex relationship is a transparent attempt to mainstream homosexuality. If I’m out of the loop at least I’m my own person. I understand that in the competitive world of journalism and movie criticism writers have to keep up and comment. They are forced to react. I enjoy the luxury of belonging to the great unwashed.

  • Daniel

    I’m not sure that we, as Christians, do ourselves much good being “my own person” if we aren’t willing or able to be open what’s happening in society. Lots of Christians–including Rod himself and many folks here–jumped to some conclusions about BBM that are turning out not to be completely true.

    How can we expect to take part in–or change–the culture if we aren’t willing to engage it and consider that maybe we are wrong.

    I saw BBM and found it very moving and tragic. Since homosexuality is not an issue where I spend much time worrying about and feel Christians have gotten rather sidetracked by the whole topic, I saw the movie differently from others here. I think it probably affirms the idea that people can’t “change” and that when we deny human beings the ability to love, we are doing significant harm to everyone involved.

  • Scott Allen

    Brad, thank you for describing how it’s useful to be “current.” I’ve studied many of the fallacies in the Da Vinci Code and if I run into any readers/viewers, would find it a good “bridge” to talk about how we know Truth, can we trust the Bible(?), etc. Joe Perez says I’m “intellectually bankrupt” so it’d be nice for him to enlighten me, exactly what would I learn from BBM? Fred is right to point out how we must evidently accomodate Joe’s viewpoint, if “MSM” means something entirely different to him then naturally I must be the one to change. Daniel states that BBM “affirms the idea that [gay] people can’t ‘change’” although I expect we’re all aware that many gays claim to have changed. So Joe Perez could do more than just collect web articles that he agrees with, he could use his “progressive intellect” to logically tell readers why BBM is a “must see.” Mr. Dreher deserves respect for taking the time to put forth his views in the public domain. I am still hoping he or any other commenters (including Stephen A.) might provide me with an answer to where they “draw the line” as consumers of films fit/unfit for viewing. Presumably there is some sort of fare (kiddie porn, snuff films) that folks would not view themselves, even if they are somehow classified as “art.” While BBM is not yet of interest to me (maybe Joe can save the day!) I hope to learn from other commenters about their approach to “art.” If that is “intellectually backwards” so be it.

  • 1630r

    Scott, BBM is a “must see” movie if you are interested in serious drama as genre. If you mainly watch Sci-Fi or action movies, I suggest you give it a miss. You will be more bored than disgusted by BBM if one of your favorite movies this year was King Kong. I’m not trying to sound “superior”. BBM is just not a blockbuster movie. It’s not even a western. But it is a very good example of it’s type.

    I suspect the main audience for BBM will be straight women who like weepy movies and the husbands/boyfriends they can drag along with them. The gay audience is far too small to claw back it’s 12 million dollar production costs.

    I have chosen life-long celibacy after 20 years of being openly gay (in the very anti-religious UK) for a “greater good”. BBM didn’t make me reconsider that choice for one second. The Ennis character turns down the offer of “sexual fulfillment” for the greater good of his family (even though he fails to fully consider the feelings of his wife). All of the characters make choices – some of them bad, some of them good but all of them convincingly portrayed on screen. BBM is not a preachy piece of liberal propaganda. Syriana wins that particular award.

  • Stephen A.

    Scott wrote: “I am still hoping he or any other commenters (including Stephen A.) might provide me with an answer to where they “draw the line” as consumers of films fit/unfit for viewing.”

    Scott, I’m still worried about going to Hell for seeing “The Last Temptation of Christ” – on EASTER weekend when it first came out. So I’m not about to tempt fate again.

    Seriously, I’m sure BBM is filmed very nicely and may be worth seeing just for that, but films about adultery and anguish have never appealled to me, and even if one of the characters was a female, this would simply be another “chick flick” I would probably avoid. So, no, it’s not like ‘kiddie porn’, but still, I’m going to avoid this one.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    Scott, I’m still worried about going to Hell for seeing “The Last Temptation of Christ” – on EASTER weekend when it first came out.

    Eh? I remember seeing that movie when it came out in August 1988, and I would be surprised if it hung around in theatres for a whole seven-and-a-half months.

  • Bill

    It’s the difference between people of any faith who are using their own brains, and “God Warriors” such as this one — http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2681739?htv=12 — who aren’t.

    The first group challenges themselves and continues to grow as human beings throughout their lives.

    The second group erects walls — criterion for what kind of art you’ll expose yourself to or won’t — because of fear. They don’t challenge themselves, don’t grow, and all the while their fears magnify in their minds.

    Decide for yourself if God wants you to use your own brain, to grow, to be afraid, or to hide from yourself.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com Joe Perez

    Scott A.: For what it’s worth, I said your COMMENTS were intellectually bankrupt, not YOU. I think others have addressed your know-nothingist sentiments quite well, so I have nothing to add.

    As for your suggestion that I write a review of Brokeback, thanks. I do have one planned, though it’s slow going. I’m not sure it would be link-worthy here, though; GetReligion tends to focus on news items like Dreher’s review that suggest that religious conservatives aren’t as stupid or monolithic as the “MSM” portrays. That’s a good beat, but it’s not my bag.

  • Brad


    As one who has gone on record planning to see BBM (though likely not until it’s out on DVD) and in defense of those who choose to not see it for whatever reason, I seriously doubt the lady in your link is representative of the average Christian who decides to shun the movie.

    I think it’s legitimate to think that there are some things that Christians shouldn’t expose themselves to or, better, that some people should/can and some shouldn’t/can’t (refer to Paul’s discussion of the “weaker” and “stronger” Christians in reference to dietary choices).

    That lady is….interesting, though. :) I sometimes question whether people like that are even real and she still seems a bit too over-the-top to really exist.


  • Stephen A.

    “The second group erects walls — criterion for what kind of art you’ll expose yourself to or won’t — because of fear. They don’t challenge themselves, don’t grow, and all the while their fears magnify in their minds.”

    So people who avoid soft-core porn like BBM and “put up walls” against seeing such things have weak brains and are fearful?

    Huh? That’s pretty warped.

  • Daniel

    But it’s not soft-core porn, that’s the point. When my wife and I saw it, we commented that there was very little sex. But, of course, you’ve already constructed a narrative.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    People who think this movie is soft-core porn are some combination of (1) people who don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t seen the movie; (2) people who haven’t seen much soft-core porn; or (3) people with such a broad understanding of soft-core porn that they should feature in anti-Victorian parody, alongside the table-leg dressers.

    Also, the reason I said $800 million was because that is 100 times $8 million, and I was responding to someone who said BBM will only be seen by 1/100th the people who’ll see KONG or NARNIA.

    Those last two mentioned films are blockbusters, released on as many screens as possible the first week, after which they always lose ground, both in terms of number of screens and in terms of gross, week by week. It is very rare for a big-opening film to earn as much as 4 times what it does opening week. See here for the proof (and bring your calculator).

    BROKEBACK is a platform release, which is a completely different strategy of opening in a smaller number of theaters, expanding after a few weeks to let word of mouth build. You cannot compare the box-office trajectories AT ALL.

  • Scott Allen

    Aonymous(?) can recommend BBM based on the genre — “serious drama” — and other comments also appear to deal with the “to watch or not to watch?” question based on genre preferences (whether BBM is a “chick flick” or “soft porn” etc.). At risk of repeating myself, I’m still hoping someone shares a broader method/process for deciding what to watch other than “sounds good to me.” Brad noted the Apostle Paul’s discussion of weaker and stronger brothers, I actually asked Mr. Dreher to view me as a weaker brother in an earlier post when asking him to provide advice for when to “draw the line.” Of course, Bill has decided that I do so “…because of fear. They don’t challenge themselves, don’t grow, and all the while their fears magnify in their minds.” Joe follows by saying that “others have addressed your know-nothingist sentiments quite well, so I have nothing to add.” Well I have something to add. I’m asking for you all to enlighten others with your comments, and instead of Intellect we see Attitude. This is the same Attitude that decides kids should be taught about homosexuality without any legal need to inform parents. We are told we “aren’t using our brains” (thanks, Bill) but when we ask for reasons we are accused of being fearful or hiding from ourselves. Further, I’ve asked Joe “exactly what would I learn from BBM?” and evidently it was not something he could just type out or cut & paste from a reviewer.
    I’m gonna stop commenting on this subject. I’ll keep reading in hopes that someone can explain why BBM is a “must see movie” (after all, it’s evidently Oscar material) or even better, recommend how “people of faith” (Bill’s words) should decide where to “draw the line” on what to movies to watch. Thanks.

  • Brad


    One thing that tends to make me expose myself to more movies, books, etc. that cause these types of debates is simply who I am around/can reach.

    My brother, my sister-in-law, my grandparents, and my wife’s whole immediate family are nonbelievers, generally liberal, and to varying degrees hostile to Christianity. My wife was also hostile to the faith (and was surprisingly ignorant of what it actually taught) when we met. That whole list (with the exception of my Grandparents) is very attuned to the dominant culture and not terribly knowledgeable on Christianity.

    I am a life-long Christian…I was born into it and have never looked back (my brother was also born into it and it never took).

    So, for me, I feel like I need to be on top of what people are seeing and reading. As I’ve noted before, I love to study the pivot points in church history and to really dig into the debates that have existed at various times (early church and Reformation, especially), so the Da Vinci Code is already up my alley (even if really easy to shoot down and, as a result, frustrating).

    On the other hand, while I may think it’s very well done once I’m there, there’s less in BBM to grab on to in terms of my own personal interests, but I do feel I should know first hand about some of these phenomena that those I would like to reach are likely to be exposed to.

    To me it’s really about personal philosophy. Do you try to stay away from things that you feel are wrong and risk not being able to capitalize on an opportunity, or do you get in there and see what the other side sees? Another question then becomes, when does something get big enough that it is a water-cooler opportunity you should seize (ie-Da Vinci Code is definitely there, but is BBM?)?


  • cathy

    “But it’s not soft-core porn, that’s the point. When my wife and I saw it, we commented that there was very little sex. But, of course, you’ve already constructed a narrative.”

    I don’t like seeing homosexuals make out. Bottom line. I’m not going to go see a movie that goes even farther than that. I think that there is something basic inside of many of us that still reacts strongly to that kind of image. Just like we would naturally react in the more dramatic depiction of a child in any sexual activity.

    Most people still react to the child thing. (Especially if you don’t live in Europe. :) More and more people are trying to shut down their natural instincts (I would say God given instincts)about homosexuality. Hollywood is partly to blame for that.

    I am open-minded about a lot of things. I don’t think that this reaction is a “weakness”. I consider it a “strength”. (I wish that I could be blessed with this kind of “strength” in other areas of my life.)

  • 1630r

    I would compare BBM to Crash. Crash deals with race relations in modern America (all races in every combination). Crash could have been a embarrassing piece of liberal propaganda but it is actually a very fine movie (good not great). At times you feel you are being force-fed a politically correct viewpoint – at other times it feels “raw” and believable. Crash differs in that it is a Cop & Robbers drama which has to be “clever” and keep the audience guessing who are the real good guys and who are the real bad guys. BBM doesn’t have to amuse the audience with complicated plot twists. Crash won’t make you change your mind on any race relations issue but it is still worth your time. And BBM won’t make you leave your wife to hook-up with a cowboy.

  • Stephen A.

    As for “softcore” or not, I’ve read a transcript and description of the sex scene between the men (such as it was – apparently it was just a minute) and another person here said something to the effect that another sex scene between one of the guys and his wife in bed was even racier and would have shocked people if it was the other way around.

    So, it even has simulated sex, it’s the very definition of softcore porn. Anyone who is thinking of seeing the film has a right to decide whether that’s for them or not.

    Me, I see enough of that on TV accidentally. I don’t need to pay for it, too.

    As for “Last Temptation,” Peter’s right. I must have RENTED it that following Easter weekend in 1989. I do remember it was good, though not very Biblically accurate. It was a bit of a fantasy, after all.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    So, it even has simulated sex, it’s the very definition of softcore porn.

    I wouldn’t accept that, particularly if one is going to say something characterizing like “Film X is soft-core porn” rather than “a scene in Film X looks like soft-core porn.”

    I would say that in order to actually *be* porn at all, whether soft-core or hard-core,** two things have to be true:

    (1) the scene is specifically shot so as to be sexually arousing or alluring or appalling (mere nudity or “sex” is not enough);


    (2) arousing, alluring or appalling the viewer is the film’s dominant reason for being. (This does require a BS detector and judgment.)

    Examples of soft-core porn would be the kind of stuff they play late-night on Skinemax, some of the “adult” titles that are on display, but not in the back room of video stores, and frankly some television shows on the pay-cable channels.

    Anyone who is thinking of seeing the film has a right to decide whether that’s for them or not.

    I at least have never said otherwise. But such decisions should be based on accurate information about the film. And if it isn’t, while people retain the right to their personal decision, they have no immunity against being called on it if they try to proselytize against the film based on such inaccurate info.


    ** The distinction there is “soft-core” = the sex act itself is simulated or shot so as to leave the question open; “hard-core” = actual penetration.

  • Byrd

    Just for information’s sake, data on movies release and money can be found at http://www.boxofficemojo.com

    As of yesterday BBM had taken in 15Million, was only in domestic release and at 269 theaters as it’s widest release.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    I have to say I don’t see much point in getting stressed out over WHAT films to watch. I have long thought that the more important question was HOW we watch films. Figure that one out, and the other pretty much takes care of itself.

  • Stephen A.

    Victor’s definition is correct.

    Wikipedia has a good definition (which I’ll reprint here, in part:

    “Softcore is a form of pornography that is less explicit than hardcore material in depicting or describing sexual behaviour. Usually, any sexual contact in softcore is simulated.”

    And Peter, you’re right, too. I would say that once you have figured out the *criteria* you use to evaluate films for yourself, then *which* films to see is an easy question.

    But for some people to say that if you have developed those high standards and criteria for evaluating films that you’re “unthinking” or “not using your brain” is ludicrous and insulting.

    Further, it’s certainly within anyone’s rights to go on to say: “These are my moral standards, and here’s why I don’t think the film is worth seeing,” though some anti-democratic folks think that to say such things is some kind of sin, and call those people uptight, preachy prudes. I simply disagree.

  • Stephen A.

    Yes, Byrd, a lot of liberals are “voting” for that film. Well, maybe not a lot. $15 million is kind of enemic, frankly. If it’s going to open in 5,000 theatres, it better do it quick. It’s sinking fast.

    The problem is that we all know the plot, for good or bad. While we knew the plot of Titanic, too, there was a case to be made for seeing the special effects. None with BBM. Just a quickie and a lot of anguish. Like I said, not my kind of film, preferences aside.

  • Daniel

    Given the film only cost $16M, it has already made its money back showing on a relative handful of theatres and with only a week of television advertising and before the Oscar nominations have been announced. It’s not clear whether it is a “hit” but sinking it isn’t.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    Stephen A. wrote:

    And Peter, you’re right, too. I would say that once you have figured out the *criteria* you use to evaluate films for yourself, then *which* films to see is an easy question.

    Well, FWIW, when I say that “HOW we watch” is the more important question, I am not merely pointing my finger at the films and saying that THEY need to be evaluated; I am also saying that WE need to become better movie-watchers. We need to enter into some sort of dialogue with films, not merely figure out how to sit in judgment over them.

    Yes, Byrd, a lot of liberals are “voting” for that film.

    Um, conservatives are buying tickets to this film, too. And FWIW, I’ve always said that you’re never “voting” for a film the first time you see it. The second time and beyond, maybe, because then you know what you’re in for; but not the first.

    Well, maybe not a lot. $15 million is kind of enemic, frankly. If it’s going to open in 5,000 theatres, it better do it quick. It’s sinking fast.

    Um, well, not so fast. Yesterday, Studio Briefing reported:

    In limited release, Brokeback Mountain remained the champ as it took in $4.8 million over the four days in just 269 theaters, averaging $17,702 per screen. (Daily Variety observed that the figure was up an “amazing” 61 percent from the previous week, although it added only 52 theaters)

    Doesn’t sound to me like the film is “sinking” at all. Plus it has grossed a total of $15.8 million so far — over a million bucks more than it cost to make the film! — despite playing in no more than 269 theatres at any given time. That’s very good, for an independent film.

    By comparison, say, the movie version of the wildly popular Broadway musical version of The Producers, which cost $45 million to make and was supposed to be a big hit, has grossed no more than $12.1 million, despite opening in limited release around the same time as Brokeback Mountain and playing in almost a thousand theatres since Christmas.

    Oh, and FWIW, no film has ever played in 5,000 North American theatres at once. Shrek 2 holds the record with 4,223 theatres. In fact, only four films have ever played in more than 4,000 theatres — the three most recent DreamWorks cartoons, and Spider-Man 2.

    Needless to say, I don’t think anyone expects Brokeback Mountain to get that wide a release. But bigger and better box-office success is definitely a possibility. 2002′s Chicago rode the Oscar wave to over $170 million despite never playing in more than 2,701 theatres. Ditto 2001′s A Beautiful Mind, which rode the Oscar wave to over $170 million despite never playing in more than 2,250 theatres. 1999′s American Beauty won the Oscar and grossed $130 million despite never playing in more than 1,990 theatres. And so on.

    If Brokeback Mountain grosses $100 million, that will be considered very successful indeed, methinks. And it doesn’t need to open on that many screens to do it — especially during the buzz-filled awards season.

  • Stephen A.

    I’m sorry, but I already know I’m not going to want to sit through Debbie Does Dallas, or even some weepy film in which woman cry a lot, eat ice cream and bash men. I can use my common sense, my moral backround, better judgement and ability to watch Ebert and Roepper’s reviews to evaluate WHICH films to avoid, and I think that makes perfect sense and is quite legitimate.

    I know there are folks out there who believe one must expose oneself to EVERYTHING before being able to properly evaluate ANYTHING, but I disagree. I hate crack, for example. No need to use it first and “enter into a dialogue” with it.

    As for the film, it’s getting tedious. Great, it’s got Hollywood’s imprimatur (surprise!) and will now do even better. This self-adulation from H’wd is not impressing me at all and never has.

    As for 5,000, I surrender. Pretend I said 4,000 theaters.

    I’m thrilled it broke even. I’m shocked that the Producers IS tanking, but then again, I know the story from the 1960s film (a very funny one) and don’t see the need to watch it again. The same will be true of BBM. Everyone knows the story, so why bother? — unless you want to “vote” for it and help it succeed in the face of “bigots” like me who will be avoiding it.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    I’ve written and posted the piece that I mentioned above that I was working on. It’s called “Why gay men cry while watching Brokeback Mountain.”


  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    Hey Joe, one question I would like to ask is why gay men laugh while watching Brokeback Mountain! I’ve only seen the film once so far, but it was at an AIDS benefit screening, and the audience with which I saw the film certainly seemed to be predominantly made up of gay men — so I’m struck by the way the audience roared with laughter whenever the men were seen “together” by other people, even though the discovery of their affair must inevitably mean negative consequences for most of the people involved (and in the case of Ennis’s wife, it means instant heartbreak).

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Peter: No idea. I haven’t seen that reaction to those sorts of scenes in an audience. Discovery scenes did bring out gasping/shock reactions. Perhaps you could have mistaken a gasp for a laugh? I don’t know. I have heard a few reports of gay men laughing at supposedly heartbreaking moments, probably a defensive reaction or a feeling that the movie was too melodramatic. But I haven’t noticed any laughter.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton


    Those who are laughing are doing so because BROKEBACK is, first and last, a chick movie. And gay men are, first and last, men.

    Yes, I am grossly generalizing obviously. But accurately as gross generalizations go.

  • Stephen A.

    Now you’re starting to get it.

    (ha. ha.)

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    No, Joe, I don’t think the audience was roaring with gasps. :)

    And it happened at least twice — once when the bigoted boss spies the men from afar, and once when Ennis’s wife sees him kissing Jack. If this film were a farce, it would make perfect sense to laugh whenever the secret affair is discovered. But it isn’t a farce; it’s actually pretty serious, and the laughter was particularly jarring on the second occasion, when Ennis’s wife is clearly troubled and distraught.

  • Daniel

    A pretty common audience reaction is to laugh at scenes that are uncomfortable. It’s a defense mechanism, of sorts. It happens often at live theatre. For gay men who have risked their emotional and physical lives at such a disclosure, I would imagine laughing may be that same kind of response.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, from the article ‘Pride ‘em, cowboys‘ in today’s National Post:

    Some members of the crowd I watched it with at a Toronto theatre weren’t quite ready for Brokeback. The woman who walked out about four seconds into the first same-sex sex scene clearly wasn’t prepared, nor were the many adults in their forties and beyond who thought it was absolutely hilarious every time the male leads were caught, by any other character in the movie, showing affection for one another.

    But I have been surprised by the lack of pearl-clutching editorials about the movie from right-wing pundits in the United States. Perhaps the culture warriors aren’t up in arms over this one because the central gay relationship ends badly, so that those inclined to view it that way can read it as an anti-gay morality tale. Or maybe being pro-cowboy overrides their anti-gay sentiment.

    And from ‘Rape of the Marlboro Man‘ by World Net Daily’s David Kupelian:

    Four years later, Jack sends Ennis a postcard saying he’s coming to town for a visit. When the moment finally arrives, Ennis, barely able to contain his anticipation, rushes outside to meet Jack and the two men passionately embrace and kiss. Ennis’s wife sadly witnesses everything through the screen door. (Since this is one of the film’s sadder moments, I wasn’t quite sure why the audience in the Portland, Oregon, theater burst out in laughter at Alma’s heartbreaking realization.)

    The laughter is not an isolated phenomenon, and it may not even be limited to gay members of the audience.

  • Stephen A.

    Looks like NBC’s Gene Shalit is taking a lot of heat from the Gay pressure group GLAAD for daring to criticize the movie. (hope the link works, but it’s on the front page of YAHOO, it was so unusual:)


    The article says he “referred to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Jack, as a “sexual predator” who “tracks Ennis down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts.”

    And… “Shalit commended Ledger’s performance in Brokeback and allowed that the film had a “few dramatic peaks.” [But] concluded that Ang Lee’s much-nominated oeuvre was “wildly overpraised, but not by me.”

    How DARE HE!!! What nerve! Heresy, even!

    The article’s unnamed “E!” reporter takes him to task with this accurate, but too-triumphalist, NPR-style ending (which means, “You’re WRONG!”):

    “While Shalit may not be a Brokeback fan, his colleagues in critique have clamored to commend the cowboy drama.

    To date, the film has been named Best Picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle and deemed one of the year’s 10 best films by the American Film Institute and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

    The kudos don’t stop there–Brokeback is up for eight Critic’s Choice Awards, seven Golden Globes, a Writers Guild Award, a Producers Guild Award, a Directors Guild Award and four Screen Actors Guild Awards, to name a few. And that’s before nominations for the Academy Awards are announced on Jan. 31.”

    (Love that last line! It’s like: “GOTCHA, GENE!”)

    Thanks, Gene, for being one of three critics in America to speak out on this. You’ll probably lose your job, because GLAAD is asking people to write in to NBC and complain.

    No modern blacklist for Conservatives or non-PC folks? Think again.

  • Michael

    I think it’s calling the character a “sexual predator” is what raised alarm, not that he didn’t like the movie. Since you haven’t–and apparantly won’t–see the movie, you don’t have the frame of reference to understand the goofiness of the comment. Let’s just say that pretty much every man–gay and straight– in America would be a “sexual predator” based on Shalit’s definition.

  • http://well-dressed-branch.blogspot.com Jim Thompson

    While pop culture embraces sexual liberty as innocent fun, it leads normally sensitive people into conflict and heartbreak. That’s why God prohibits fornication; straight or gay, it’s sin.

    Fictional literature requires conflict–sexual or otherwise–and sin produces conflict. Since God requires His people to set their minds on things above, does that prohibit our consumption of literature? No more than it prohibits our consumption of Bible stories that deal with sin.

    Of course BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN can’t be compared with the Bible, but to the extent that they are honest storytelling the same principle applies to both.