Week 14 – S-Town and Brokeback – Zach Nutman

In “Why I Hate that I Loved Brokeback Mountain”, Dwight A. McBride raises many of the same frustrations I have had with the film. He questions whether Brokeback Mountain could have received the same critical and commercial success had it not been so directly marketed as a love story for women or of the two lead characters had not been straight-acting, ruggedly handsome heteronormative white men. McBride questions whether the film would have been embraced as such a universal, wide-reaching tale of love had Ennis and Jack been Black. These concerns feel valid and pertinent but my personal opinion of Brokeback Mountain changed recently in light of the podcast S-Town and our Guest Lecture from Professor Diego Semerne. S-Town chronicles the life of a gay, partially closeted, clock maker in the rural, deep South. What starts as a murder mystery turns into a love letter to a unique, complicated man and the circles of people that surround him. At one point in the series, an old, estranged acquaintance of the clockmaker talks about the film Brokeback Mountain. A fellow mostly closeted man in the rural self, he speaks of how that film changed his life. He details how it made him feel seen and less alone as he watched it over and over again. It’ hard not to feel emotional when listening to the complexities of the troubled figures of S-Town but this chapter is by far and away the most upsetting, the most heartbreaking. In his guest lecture, Professor Diego Semerne implored us to not just think about what images say, but what they do. Brokeback Mountain undoubtedly says some problematic things but the life of what its images mean is separate from the life of what they do. Listening to S-Town and hearing about a queer life so unimaginably far from my own changed the way I evaluated Brokeback Mountain and the way that I think about queer representation on the whole. It’s easy, and important, to find fault in films that we do not feel accurately or helpfully represent our own lives but a second strand of analysis is also important – I think in evaluating a film we must strive to think about what it is doing for some of its audience, even just one person, as well as what it is saying to us all.

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