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USCCB Goes for Gay Cowboy Film Brokeback Mountain

Never mind the advent calendar, the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting might as well have encouraged one to spend advent working to legalize gay marriage.

A film review of the movie Brokeback Mountain has nothing but positive things to say about a picture that has elated gay-rights activists.

Just about every other Christian group out there is decrying this film for what it is, a gay love story on the big screen. Take for example these comments from the folks at Focus on the Family:


Focus on the Family Action Analyst Caleb H. Price said Hollywood is doing all it can to get people interested in a film that they know most moviegoers will not want to see. Set in Wyoming in the 1960s, the R-rated love affair between two cowboys culminates in explicit gay sexuality.

"If you read what Hollywood is saying about it, they're calling it 'an achingly beautiful love story,' " Price said.

"But I don't see it that way at all. You see two characters obsessed with a type of bondage that they don’t know what to do with. They don't know where it came from, and they don't know how to resolve it. And they both end up experiencing tragic consequences in their lives."


But no, the bishops' office is doing their part to promote the film, our Catholic Communication Campaign dollars at work. Perhaps it will be integrated into the good touch bad touch curriculums they are rolling out nationwide?

I must confess I have not seen the film, but it strikes me as problematic on several fronts: The critical distinction between sinner and sin is totally lost, it mainstreams a fundamental disorder, if the guys weren't gay, there would be no story, and in the current culture of sexual confusion, it is more likely to lead the faithful astray than toward the true shepherd.

If "Tacit approval of same-sex relationships, adultery, two brief sex scenes without nudity, partial and shadowy brief nudity elsewhere, other implied sexual situations, profanity, rough and crude expressions, alcohol and brief drug use, brief violent images, a gruesome description of a murder, and some domestic violence" aren't considered morally offensive, what is?

Read on for the full review...

Here is the entire review as it appeard at

http://www.usccb.org/movies/b/brokebackmountain.shtml

Brokeback Mountain

Over-the-years love story between two emotionally fragile cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who begin an intimate relationship during a solitary sheepherding assignment. Though shortly after, they try to go their separate ways, with one marrying his fiancee (Michelle Williams) and the other a former prom queen (Anne Hathaway), they continue to be drawn to each other. Director Ang Lee's well-crafted film, which is superbly acted, was adapted from a New Yorker short story by Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx. It treats the subject matter -- which a Catholic audience will find contrary to its moral principles -- with discretion. Tacit approval of same-sex relationships, adultery, two brief sex scenes without nudity, partial and shadowy brief nudity elsewhere, other implied sexual situations, profanity, rough and crude expressions, alcohol and brief drug use, brief violent images, a gruesome description of a murder, and some domestic violence. L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (R) 2005

Full Review

"Brokeback Mountain" (Focus), the much publicized "gay cowboy love story" adapted from a New Yorker magazine piece by Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx, arrives at last, and the film itself -- a serious contemplation of loneliness and connection -- belies the glib description.

While it is the story of an intimate relationship, more to the point it's the relationship of two emotionally scarred souls. Ranch hands Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) share a sheepherding assignment on a mountain in Signal, Wyo., in 1963. Ennis is a man of few words; Jack is somewhat more open.

Their friendship gradually grows despite Ennis' taciturn manner. At first, it's only Jack who sleeps in the camp near the sheep (with Ennis ensconced down the mountain), but come to realize it is more practicable to guard the sheep in tandem.

Ennis resolutely insists he'll sleep outdoors, but the cold drives him into Jack's tent, where the two awkwardly, then roughly, have sex. Incidentally, that scene -- short and with the men mostly clothed -- is the only onscreen gay sexual encounter in the film.

In the morning, both are too embarrassed to talk about what has transpired, but a bond has formed, and we are led to understand that the relationship has deepened. Later, some outdoor wrestling is observed by their boss, the unsympathetic rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid), who watches them with a knowing eye.

At the end of the season, they come down from the mountain, and dismissing what happened on the mountain as a "one-shot deal," go their separate ways. Ennis is engaged to Alma (Michelle Williams, Ledger's real-life girlfriend). But we see him crumple in despair as soon as he's alone. The first human connection he's had is coming to an end.

Jack, for his part, makes a tentative attempt to pick up an Ennis-like cowboy in a bar, but eventually meets former prom queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Both men marry and have children.

Time goes by, and Jack sends a postcard to Ennis telling him he's coming to town. The air is rife with anticipation as Ennis waits for the reunion. When Jack finally drives up, the unexpressive Ennis can barely contain his excitement, and rushes out to meet him.

They embrace passionately, not realizing that Alma is sadly viewing the interaction from behind the screen door. She says nothing, but understands all.

On the trip, Jack proposes that they chuck their families and buy a ranch, but Ennis -- who as a child witnessed the aftermath of a hate-crime murder of two rancher neighbors who had lived together -- can't bring himself to do it.

Thereafter, Ennis and Jack initiate meeting several times a year for "fishing" trips where they can be alone together. Lureen, for her part, senses the importance of these trips to her husband, but remains engrossed in her own business.

As the Catholic Church makes a distinction between homosexual orientation and activity, Ennis and Jack's continuing physical relationship is morally problematic.

The adulterous nature of their affair is another hot-button issue. But the pain Jack and Ennis cause their families is not whitewashed. (The women are played with tremendous sympathy, not as shrill harridans.) It's the emotional honesty of the story overall, and the portrayal of an unresolved relationship -- which, by the way, ends in tragedy -- that seems paramount.

Director Ang Lee tells the story with a sure sense of time and place, and presents the narrative in a way that is more palatable than would have been thought possible. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana's screenplay uses virtually every scrap of information in Proulx's story, which won a National Magazine Award, and expands it while remaining utterly true to the source.

The performances are superb. Australian Ledger may be the one to beat at Oscar time, as his repressed manly stoicism masking great vulnerability is heartbreaking, and his Western accent sounds wonderfully authentic. Gyllenhaal is no less accomplished as the more demonstrative of the pair, while Williams and Hathaway (the latter, a far cry from "The Princess Diaries," giving her most mature work to date) are very fine.

Looked at from the point of view of the need for love which everyone feels but few people can articulate, the plight of these guys is easy to understand while their way of dealing with it is likely to surprise and shock an audience.

Except for the initial sex scene, and brief bedroom encounters between the men and their (bare breasted) wives, there's no sexually related nudity. Some outdoor shots of the men washing themselves and skinny-dipping are side-view, long-shot or out-of-focus images.

While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true.

The film contains tacit approval of same-sex relationships, adultery, two brief sex scenes without nudity, partial and shadowy brief nudity elsewhere, other implied sexual situations, profanity, rough and crude expressions, alcohol and brief drug use, brief violent images, a gruesome description of a murder, and some domestic violence. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted.

The following movies have been evaluated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's Office for Film and Broadcasting according to artistic merit and moral suitability. The reviews include the USCCB rating, the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and a brief synopsis of the movie.

The reviews can be heard by calling 1-800-311-4CCC. The movie review line is updated each Friday and includes information about six theater releases and a Family Video of the Week. For a full review of recent films, check your local Catholic diocesan newspaper.

The classifications are as follows:

* A-I -- general patronage;
* A-II -- adults and adolescents;
* A-III -- adults;
* L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. L replaces the previous classification, A-IV.
* A-IV -- adults, with reservations (an A-IV classification designates problematic films that, while not morally offensive in themselves, require caution and some analysis and explanation as a safeguard against wrong interpretations and false conclusions);
* O -- morally offensive.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 16, 2005 3:04 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Bishop Backbone Campbell Fights For Statute of Limitations.

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