JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2007, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 49, spring 2007

Discovering America:
reflections on Brokeback Mountain

by Justin Vicari

“Yet, I think, my good sir, that it would be better for me to have a musical instrument or a chorus which I was directing in discord and out of tune, better that the mass of mankind should disagree with me and contradict me than that I, a single individual, should be out of harmony with myself and contradict myself.” — Plato, Gorgias

“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about,
Watching some good friends scream, ‘Let me out!’”
— David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, “Under Pressure”

1.

No matter how prepared one feels for seeing Brokeback Mountain (2005) — by all of the advance publicity, discussion and controversy surrounding the film — this story about the total destruction of a real and human love is overwhelmingly tragic to watch. As everyone knows, that love takes place between two men, a rodeo cowboy named Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a ranch hand named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), who meet as late adolescents and age another twenty years during the course of the narrative. Their lifelong affair is crushed at nearly every turn by the conformist demands of the heterosexual world, and by their own inability to accept that they are gay and truly in love.

But that’s just the surface of things, and this film does not comfortably wear the label “gay” any more than its protagonists, who shun the idea that they could ever be “queer.” In fact, the utter gravity of the film, its solemn insistence on tragedy, sets it apart from the relatively flashy, sunny way that Hollywood has come to include gay identity in its repertory. Jack and Ennis are not glamorous gay men standing toe to toe with straight characters, trading wisecracks and innuendoes; not upscale types hosting sophisticated parties. Even the beleaguered gay emblems in As Good As It Gets (1997), The Object of My Affection (1998) and Threesome (1994) — to cite at random three Hollywood films of recent memory — are light-years more comfortable with themselves and the world around them. In those films, gay men are shown co-existing (for the most part) peacefully with heterosexuals: bottom-line, they can come out successfully. By contrast, Jack and Ennis have an eternally wounded dignity that refuses to be compromised. They were emotionally gutted, early in their lives, by the recognition that, to be themselves, they would have to fight to the death against the entire world — a world who would always fight back harder, and would always win.

The interesting strategy of Brokeback Mountain is to mute out whatever impact the gay rights movement has made, and to treat gay identity as a largely indissoluble problem. By concentrating on spectacular human failure rather than the unlikely overcoming of adversity, the film suggests that our society’s compassion toward its minority groups must be measured not by the anomalous, hit-or-miss success stories that spring up now and then in spite of discrimination, but by the people who drown along the way, the nameless ones who fail to survive. Not just for sheer poetry is the site of Jack and Ennis’ idyll named after a paralyzing spine injury, for these are consummately broken men. Ledger even moves through certain scenes like a man whose vertebrae are inflexibly welded together. And we learn that one of Ennis’ earliest childhood memories is of being taken by his father to see the battered corpse of a gay man castrated by local ranchers and left to rot in a ditch. This event scarred Ennis and made him a creature of fear. As he warns Jack,

“If we’re around each other and this thing grabs hold of us again, in the wrong place in the wrong time, we’re dead.”

That wrong place is Wyoming, and when the story begins, that wrong time is 1963, a kind of no-man’s-limbo between the drably conservative 50s and the still-to-come sexual revolution. Even the entertainment is desultory; rock-and-roll has not yet arrived in a big way. But by the end of the film we have passed through the 70s and entered the 80s, and still nothing has changed in Ennis’ Wyoming, a place seemingly frozen in time like the relics of his love that he preserves, heartbreakingly, in an all-too-literal closet.

As I watched Brokeback Mountain, I wondered if its total despair would sit well with gay activists, who have striven to promote uplifting images of gays in the media. Moreover, contemporary homosexuals seem to pride themselves on having conquered at least the kind of self-inflicted quagmires that Jack and Ennis find themselves consumed in. But ultimately I don’t think this film was made for the gay community. As a primer on the devastating effects of external and internalized homophobia, Brokeback Mountain is probably more revelatory and sobering for the straight audience, who are, at this point, more familiar with gay fashion-sense than with all-out gay despair. (It goes without saying: this is as far removed from the cuddly camp of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as it is humanly possible to get.) And director Ang Lee, perhaps reasoning that to fully “convert” the mainstream a certain vulgar overstatement must be risked, has pulled no punches in bringing this despair to life. [1] [open notes in a new window]

Such deep fatalism is largely alien to Hollywood cinema — the existential seriousness which Lee brings to Brokeback Mountain has more in common with “art-filmmakers” like Wong Kar-Wai, Malick, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Herzog or Fassbinder. [2] In the work of those great directors, one finds similar characters groping inarticulately through a life that is more like living hell or living death, characters whose complete suppression of emotion is the unmistakable sign of being imprisoned in hostile, even fascistic environments. Indeed, Brokeback Mountain deconstructs the very fabric of the social environment as a series of ugly, uncomprehending face-offs of fear and intolerance, a relentless grid-work of people squaring off over various kinds of turf. Many scenes of the film play like a bad acid trip, thick with malevolence and paranoia. Jack’s co-workers insult him behind his back. Husbands and wives bicker in ways that suggest years of pent-up frustration and murderous rage. Children shy away from adults as if from incomprehensible monsters. Straight men in cowboy bars turn pale at the presumed sexual advance of another male. When people come on to each other (both heterosexually and homosexually) the moment is always claustrophobic, tense, even life-threatening. All human intercourse is viewed through the eyes of two men who are living with a vast secret, divided against themselves, and, as it were, spies or interlopers in this world of marriage and family, ever in fear of being caught out and excommunicated or worse. Through the cold shadows and gray twilights of Brokeback Mountain, there is a constant feel of lurking terror and dread.

This “immense on-sliding American dread,” as Norman Mailer has written (“sad as the ghost of tenderness itself”), is palpable even in those epic scenes that take place in enormous outdoor vistas, on sun-swept plains. Spectacularly filmed by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Brokeback Mountain is loaded with breathtaking panoramic shots of “Big Sky” country: azure and white cumulus, Bighorn ranges, sylvan forests. (In spite of its philosophical affinity to the work of certain European filmmakers, this is visually a very North American film — one of the most American of recent films.) This landscape is freedom and openness itself, unbounded, majestic, pure; as such, it only serves as an ironic teasing counterpoint to the conflicted relationship of the protagonists. They want to be as vast and free as this landscape, but are often dwarfed against it. Already in My Own Private Idaho (1991), Gus Van Sant made similar use of sprawling horizons to accentuate the loneliness of the futureless young hustler (River Phoenix) who could find no rooted identity or belonging. [3] Here, the U.S. that’s held up to Jack and Ennis inspires them, seemingly, to try to rise to its challenge, to claim some piece of it for themselves — and in raw unspoiled nature, away from other people, they can almost achieve this. The scenes on the mountain have a primeval quality that suggests the first stirrings of life on some dormant planet. Though taking place in the mid twentieth century, these scenes have a primitiveness that harkens back to at least the nineteenth, when the men scrub their clothes on a rock by a streambed, or hunt the elk that they will eat for dinner. (Other shots in the film convey a gloomy tumbledown beauty reminiscent of the dustbowl photographs of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange.)

A certain “backwardness” is central to Brokeback Mountain’s vision of the United States. The U.S. West may or may not like the way it’s presented here: as a slough of pathic defensiveness and murderous intolerance, similar to the Badlands of Boys Don’t Cry (1999) but, if anything, more pervasive. Unlike Boys Don’t Cry, Brokeback Mountain is not limited to the exceptional brutality of ex-cons and trailer parks (a brutality which might be expected, after all), but roams its eye over the hidden brutality of “respectable” mainstream society. It takes on the “sacred” U.S.A. of God-and-family. Brokeback Mountain is a goading reminder that whatever public liberation of gays has taken place over the past thirty-five years has been almost exclusively confined to a few urban centers, where economic demands have forced a greater reliance on others and created more universal openness to the pursuit of happiness. But what of the lonesome West, rugged and insular, knitted by tradition and stubbornly resistant to change? The self-reliant mentality (we might deploy the folkloric wisdom, “Good fence-posts make good neighbors,” as an anti-motto here) and the hyper-religiosity of the God-fearing are hardly conducive to a climate of openness or acceptance for anyone. Of course, if homosexuality is a phenomenon that can naturally occur anywhere, then gays must already exist even in those places where few provisions are made for them. Sometimes, we know they are unable to exist there for long: in one of Brokeback Mountain’s most unsettling scenes, we feel like we are watching a nightmarish reenactment of the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie.

This last point could give an ultimate clue to the reason why Brokeback Mountain got overlooked for Best Picture by the Academy: not because it’s “about gays,” but because it seems to have so little to do with the reality of life in urban L.A. (unlike Crash, the film that got the 2005 nod). One can imagine many cosmopolitan Angelenos throwing up their hands: “Well, of course, that’s just the way it is outside of California! Why didn’t Jack and Ennis move here?” It’s all well and good to accuse Jack and Ennis of being “flat-earthers,” clinging to an impossible way of life in which they can’t be free when they could just as easily have moved away. But could it be that easy? Leaving their homeland would be akin to breaking out of their heavily guarded character armor. “You know me,” Ennis grumbles to Jack. “About all the travelin’ I ever done is around a coffeepot, lookin’ for the handle.” At their boldest, they discuss opening a small ranch together in the same western states where they already live in fear of persecution. These men are as psychologically tied to the land they come from as they are to each other. It’s clear that the film does not want to force them into making such a hard, final choice between the men they were raised to be, and the men they actually are.

For they are both those things, and remain so to the end. If the deep dichotomy in Ennis and Jack is disturbing even to the occasional point of seeming schizophrenic, the film is rooting for their freedom to have it all. One could argue that the film allows them almost too much freedom. Is it credible that two men so inherently homophobic keep returning to each other throughout the years, or are able to wholeheartedly enjoy and invest emotionally in the furtive sex they have together? I don’t know the answer to that; one of Brokeback Mountain’s virtues is that it doesn’t present either character as a readymade composite of gay-identity or lack-thereof. Like the short story (by Annie Proulx) from which it derives, the film simply, and convincingly, suggests that this is how these two men handle their struggle for identity, a struggle that takes a lifetime and consumes nearly all their reserves of emotional and psychological energy.

2.

There is much that could be said about Brokeback Mountain’s central idea of men “getting back to Nature” to explore or celebrate their masculinity. Such socially accepted activities as hunting and fishing have promoted male bonding for centuries, in exactly those rugged, remote areas where there are few, if any, women. Jack and Ennis’s affair is carried on under just this disguise. In his excitement to be back on the road with Jack, Ennis nearly forgets the tackle-box that is his cover, the prop of “normal” male relations; this fuels the suspicions of his wife. Here, women are being identified — in a somewhat odd twist on how their mythos was traditionally presented — not as avatars of Nature itself, but as the first principle of order and civilization, the rule of law, so to speak. It is precisely in defiance of this female-identified societal law that modern men stage their return to Nature.

In Jack and Ennis' case, this involves sex. However, it has been depicted in many other films and novels as a more routine, less intimate kind of camaraderie. In Hemingway’s fiction, for example, men in the wilderness still bond around the idea of taming a Nature that is female: the Goddess element of Nature precludes and prohibits the men from being tender toward each other. But as men moved, historically, to fully dominate the natural world, so the natural world became less and less ineluctably female and more a creation of male instincts and male engineering. With James Dickey’s Deliverance (filmed by John Boorman in 1972), the hill country that is being invaded by land developers represents Nature already in the process of becoming masculinized, infected with male-against-male power struggles: gay sex enters as an act of hostility, without tenderness. Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? pointedly involves a working-through of Oedipal conflicts. Mailer's father-son bear-hunting expedition in Alaska is rife with overtly Freudian implications about the size of the bear reflecting on the shooting prowess of the hunter — implications which the young narrator is both well-read enough and adolescent enough to fully savor.

This gradual making-over of Nature into a “Father” rather than a “Mother” — with the female-maternal relegated to the civilized world of town and household — is only possible because civilization has propagated itself so completely. For ancient man, it was probably automatic to think of the Earth and Nature as female. Individual lives were born of women in much the same way as annual crops were born from fertile ground. Both processes remained awe-inspiring and enigmatic to the irrational, pre-scientific mind. Even when ancient man understood his own role in procreation and in the cultivation of the land, he could not have explained the processes themselves, nor could he have made those processes more efficient in any definitive sense. He could not have preempted or short-cut Nature itself. In the modern world, however, nurturance has been rendered asexual by the fact that science can explain and even control the production of both human life and natural food sources. Deprived of their primal mystery (and protected, through advanced medicine, from the former dangers of childbearing, for instance), women have been placed in the position of caretakers and upholders of civilization rather than the unruly “Goddesses” who once stood in challenging opposition to it. On its surface this historical situation is neither markedly feminist nor anti-feminist. If anything, feminism in the practical arena of social life only became possible when the ancient mystical ways of looking at women were dispelled in favor of more human ones.

The draining-out of all mysticism from modern life has reduced men and women to nearly equivalent functionaries in the societal machine. If women have been deprived of the power that once came from being the inexplicable and uncontrollable bearers of life, then men are also deprived of the power that came from placating and even warring against the nature-principle. In the sexual binary code of Brokeback Mountain, where men and women are turned away from each other, the men reinvest in Nature — as a kind of excess luxury, a libidinal surplus — all of the forgotten male energies that are no longer needed by the social order as such. The ranchers’ summer ritual of taking a flock of sheep up into the mountains to graze is probably no longer strictly necessary in a world where any living thing can be raised in “hothouse” conditions, and moreover, where the genetic cloning of sheep has become a reality. Perhaps the enclosure of homosexual desire is such that it masculinizes the external, natural world in every case, leaving no possible room for traditional representations of Nature as female-maternal. (Genet describes the world and the universe as having “become” the phallus of his deceased lover.) Phallic mysticism is in line with the effects of modern industrialization to make the natural world reflect male, rather than female, biological processes (active manufacture over passive creation; the planned circumvention of seasonal cycles; sky-scrapers, etc.). Therefore, a homosexuality that is entirely isolated from women and society, and which is also hyper-masculine (with the men performing male rituals not out of necessity but only to prove that they still can), can be read as symptomatic of male energies returning to some source of power in order to recharge themselves like a battery.    

3.

Will it surprise anyone if I say that the film is smarter and more generally subversive when dissecting male-female dynamics? In some ways, the movie is “stolen” by the supporting female roles: Ennis’ wife Alma (Michelle Williams), Jack’s wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway), and later Ennis’ girlfriend Cassie (Linda Cardellini). All three find themselves in love with men who are closed off to them, emotionally unavailable, and barely interested in even having sex. The film is as moving a portrait of these women’s struggle for selfhood as of the men’s. This, in itself, is a brave place for the film to go: most gay-themed films have refused to dwell seriously on the problems faced by women who fall in love with closeted gay men. The true subject of the film, at its deepest level, may be what John Lennon once called the “karmic wheel,” where people come into each others’ lives to work out common destinies. In fact, there’s just as much, if not more, heterosexual sex in Brokeback Mountain as gay sex. What’s radical is the critical context in which the heterosexual scenes play out. The male-female sex is presented as business-like, negotiated, and (apart from baby-making) inconsequential; while the gay sex gets to be spontaneous, playful, and of lasting consequence. The film suggests a kind of trade-off whereby gay sex gets to be “authentic” (and given the societal risk factor, this is not necessarily an unearned authenticity) while hetero sex enjoys a certain sanction, the imprimatur of respectability.

Moreover, the entire heterosexual world depicted in Brokeback Mountain is sick, power-mad, delirious in its hyper-defensiveness. Jack’s father-in-law is an aging badger obsessed with his own manly prowess and the familial authority it confers. When Jack and Lureen’s son is born, the father-in-law crowds into the hospital bed, crowing, “He’s just the spittin’ image of his Grandpa!” The preacher who marries Ennis and Alma (they don’t exchange actual wedding vows so much as recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison) says peremptorily, “You may now kiss the bride — and if you don’t I will!” Heterosexuality is viewed not so much as a natural thing but as a construct eternally in need of shoring up through constant semiotic identification. “I’m straight, I’m straight,” the male characters keep identifying themselves, a surplus luxury which further undermines the gay characters’ fragile resolve.

It’s part of the film’s genius that it documents how homosexuality can’t be understood except in relation to the larger heterosocial context from which it departs, and against whose background it is fated to play out.[4] Brokeback Mountain does not shy away from asking hard questions about this heterosocial context. It seems to suggest that men and women are fundamentally unknowable to each other, speaking radically different languages, and that the mystery they feel vis-à-vis each other is the source of both their heterosexual yearning and their pain. Again, the women in the film suffer emotional pain nearly as savage as that suffered by Ennis and Jack. If few men can live comfortably with the thought that they are not quite manly, then few women can withstand the fear that they are not loved by a man. This kind of hard-wiring, reinforced young and unlearned only with great difficulty, still has a high degree of dramatic resonance, even if forty years of feminist theory (and common sense about the inevitable gray areas of human sexuality) have helped us to overcome the repressive, black-and-white stereotypes of gender-essentialism.

The result is that relations between men and women can become little more than contracts meant to ameliorate mutual fears. Trying to use their whole power of reason in a desperate effort to understand, the women in this film read the inarticulate language of their men as a dense forest, and get lost inside it. The ultimate fault, the women assume, must be their own. Rather than believe her eyes when she catches Ennis locked in a passionate kiss with Jack, Alma labors on in the marriage, taking the blame for her husband’s “inexplicable” wandering. Eventually, she does divorce him, but it isn’t until many years have passed that she can bring herself to confront him, so bewildered is she by what she has seen. Later, Cassie assumes that if Ennis doesn’t want to marry her it’s because she must not be “good enough.” These women are true to the pre-feminist culture that forbade them from participating in men’s activities, and as a result left them helpless to decipher the nature of men’s experiences. It’s the shock of seeing Lureen riding a horse as well as a man that attracts Jack to her.

But if the men speak a language that is closed to women, it’s also closed, for the most part, to other men. The brilliant opening scenes are completely wordless. Ennis and Jack arrive separately at the ranch where they are both applying for a summer job herding sheep, and, being two men who are strangers to each other, can not surmount the social barrier that will make one of them more vulnerable by speaking first. Jack’s framing of Ennis in his truck’s rear-view mirror is the film’s first encoding of homoerotic desire, but it’s passed off in a reverse-angle shot in which we see Jack using the mirror to shave. When the rancher, Aguirre (Randy Quaid), arrives, he ignores both men, going inside his trailer and closing the door, drawing arbitrary power lines. A second later, he reemerges and summons them inside; but the message is clear. Even when a genuine social purpose is established (hiring someone for work), reluctance to speak to other men is deeply conditioned within the male psyche. (Later, because Jack develops a certain openness, a glibness even, he is able to draw out other closeted males, and discovers that desperate loneliness is a common feature of many men’s lives.)

Because of this, all realms of human experience become battlegrounds, contested and infected zones. Religion is among these, and the film does not shy away from examining it, both critically and in proto-mythic terms. In one of the film’s first images, the truck that brings Ennis to Brokeback drives past three telephone poles that rise along a hill like crosses, suggesting the crucifixion. During the early seduction scenes, Jack mocks the apocalyptic Pentecostal zeal of his family by bellowing a drunken hymn about the Second Coming. He goes on to admit:

“I don’t know what the Pentecost is. My ma never explained it to me. Guess it’s when the world ends and fellas like you and me march off to hell.”

Jack and Ennis are already acutely aware that, if they want to be together, they will have to defy the strict religions they were raised with. Later, Ennis argues with his wife when he doesn’t want to attend a church social, calling it the “fire and brimstone crowd.” His growing discomfort with the church’s (anti-gay) message is a sign of his growing feelings for Jack, or of his omnipresent fear. But the film doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some genuine religious feeling — without dogma or judgment — is evoked by the landscape, the tranquility and majesty of Brokeback itself serving as a kind of Eden myth.[5] Their employer’s name, Aguirre, is surely a reference to the anti-hero, nicknamed “the Wrath of God,” in a well-known Werner Herzog film. Indeed, the scene where Aguirre spies on the frolicking couple through binoculars seems like a reenactment of the Biblical Fall. One of the things Ang Lee may be calling for is a final end to the God of Wrath, and an embracing of the God of Love — for everyone.

4.

Brokeback Mountain is a heartfelt dramatization of the very human problem of having to carve out a place for oneself in the world. This could be anyone’s problem. Popular culture often pretends that love is automatically the greatest boon that can occur in anyone’s life, but for some people — inculcated, perhaps, to grow low self-esteem — love is the greatest source of terror. Many of us, whether gay or straight, are barely raised to understand or accept love; or we come from parents who were faulty models. Passionate first love overwhelms and frequently devastates timid, tender hearts, especially if that love is lost; one clings to the memory as to a fleeting vision of paradise, a personal “Rosebud.”

Much has been made of Ennis’ painful inarticulateness. When Cassie casually asks him what he’s been doing, he mumbles, “Earlier today I was castrating some calves” — as hysterically deadpan and impaired as a Samuel Beckett character. In an interview, actress Anne Hathaway says, very perceptively:

“Ennis is somebody that keeps his feelings so trapped and pushed down that it’s almost like, when he talks, the words are punching themselves out of his mouth.”

This is true; Ennis is a man afraid of his own voice, afraid of revealing any internal part of himself. But his unwillingness to exist goes deeper; in any room with other people, he often doesn’t seem to even be there at all. Jack has a far greater sense of entitlement; he strives to re-make the world in his own image, gathering to himself an ever-widening net of lovers. It’s Jack who first pushes the two of them into exploring their attraction to each other. In a scene where he and Ennis argue, Ennis accuses him, “I’m like this because of you!” and though his words feel a love-tap unfair, they also ring true. Jack is just trying to find a way for himself to live in this world, but he shirks responsibility for the passions he inspires, sometimes forgetting that others have a reality equal to his own. By contrast, Ennis’ hyperawareness of the responsibility that comes with love causes him to make the opposite move: withdrawing, shutting out the world, steadfastly refusing to impose his image upon it.

Finally, in its relentless depiction of various kinds of culture-shock, and in its allegory of freedom eternally at odds with social destiny, Brokeback Mountain has more in common with Easy Rider (1969) than with any “gay movie” I can think of. Both are landmark films for their time, and both are protest films. Both films feature a bonded pair of nonconformist heroes. Ambitiously, both films kaleidoscope the whole range of American experience — family, friendship, love, sex, religion, drugs, nature, money, popular culture, the pursuit of happiness — into a depressing terminal condition where every broken promise in this life must be weighed against the heaven that could never be enough, could never live up to our over-inflated expectations. Both place sudden, untimely death at the end of freedom’s winding road. And both are grim, sometimes queasy postcards of the romantic, spacious, wide-open America that is clearly not free and open to everyone — and which some can possess only at the total cost of their lives.

Notes

[1] For an incomparably subtler treatment of a similar love story, see Wong Kar-Wai’s profound and poetic film, Happy Together (1997). In Happy Together, two men, Lai (Tony Leung) and Ho (Leslie Cheung), are drawn to each other and become lovers. As in Brokeback Mountain, their happiest times together take place in a locale far away from where they come from: Buenos Aires. But Lai is very masculine and ashamed of his gay tendencies, while Ho is reckless and promiscuous; their affair quickly breaks apart under these pressures. Years later, they meet again by chance, and drift back together, but are still unable to surmount their personal demons. At the end of the film, Lai, who has been leading a life of almost monkish isolation, journeys to see the waterfall he had talked about visiting with Ho, and staring into its crashing surf, realizes that his love for Ho was as genuine and important as it was impossible to maintain. Wong Kar-Wai closes, ironically, with the well-known 60s pop song, I can’t see me loving nobody but you for all my life.

[2] While Lee may not be entirely in the same league with these hallowed directors (at least not yet), his ambitions and complexities are certainly welcome in the often one-dimensional landscape of Hollywood-based filmmaking.

[3] In fact, My Own Private Idaho accomplishes in one scene the same critique that Brokeback Mountain takes most of its running time to show: the lyrical campfire scene where Mike (River Phoenix) works up the nerve to declare his love for the somewhat homophobic Scott (Keanu Reeves), who at first rebuffs him then accepts him into his arms. As in Brokeback Mountain, we see here, first of all, that love between men can flourish only in a remote location away from other people and social influences. Also, even when it “comes true,” this love remains a fantasy — untenable in the real world and doomed to collapse.

[4] These themes occur in other films of Lee’s. Similarly to Brokeback Mountain, The Wedding Banquet (1993) counterpoints a negotiated marriage (meant to appease hysterical heterosocial demands) against a homosexual relationship that is genuine and loving; The Ice Storm (1997) functions as a critique of the “normal” family structure.


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