copyright 2011, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 53, summer 2011

Fear and loathing on Brokeback Mountain

by Craig Snyder

Valentin: “You gays never face facts. Fantasies are no escape.”
Molina: “If you have the keys to that door, I will gladly follow. Otherwise, I will escape in my own way.”
Valentin: “Then your life is as trivial as your movies.”
—Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985

As I sat in my local movie theater five years ago, waiting for Brokeback Mountain to start, I flashed back to another moment of similar anticipation. I was 23 and attending a small university. I had finally worked up the courage to rent My Own Private Idaho from the video store down the street and I was convinced that everyone in the store would know that I was gay simply because of the choice of film I was renting.

When I rented My Own Private Idaho that day, I had two specific motives as a viewer: The first was to be identified by others (customers, store clerk, etc.) as being someone that either is gay, or had the potential to be gay. The second was to hopefully see a new cinematic rendering of what life could be like as an openly gay man.

In other words, through spectatorship, I was attempting to locate my own homosexual subjectivity, as well as discover a new one: A homosexual whose natural desires were not deemed to be pathological. So as I scanned the audience in the movie theater while waiting for Brokeback Mountain to start, I found myself realizing that I had the same motives as when I rented My Own Private Idaho. I wanted to take my place in the audience as a gay man, amidst the swarms of heterosexual couples, and I desperately wanted to see a new cinematic rendering of life as a gay man. I had a certain set of expectations when walking into the theater that night, most of which were based on the incredible media exposure leading up to the film’s wide release dates. As Entertainment Weekly proclaimed, the film contained “…a force so powerful it can scarcely be named.”[1] Or, as Roger Ebert declared,

“It is the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel.”[2]

All of which is to say that my viewing of Brokeback Mountain was located as that of a gay man with an expectation of witnessing a sea change of sorts in how Hollywood cinema represented gay men. Five years later I’m still waiting for that sea change to happen, and all indications point towards the unsettling fact that it may never come.

Annie Proulx’s fictional story and Ang Lee’s film allows a contemporary audience to look back in time at a culture that is seemingly much different then today. Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain was originally published in 1997 and takes place in isolated small towns of Wyoming from 1963 to 1983. The setting of Brokeback Mountain supports a reading of the queer love story as one that could never happen in modern times. The remoteness of the location, the job of a ranch hand or sheep herder, or the very notion of the ‘cowboy’ provides for a reading that can be both nostalgic and elegiac. Simply put, the setting is far removed from our current cultural condition of legal same-sex marriages (in specific states), or gay soldiers serving openly in the U.S. military, or the federal legalization of sodomy. As a result, the suffering, joy and lost love within the film is often seen as being an inherent product of their particular time and place, rather then a fictionalized Hollywood representation of a gay love story between two men.

However, the distant past that Brokeback Mountain presents is in many ways not that distant at all. For example, internalized homophobia, shame, discrimination, and threats or acts of violence are all alive and very real in contemporary queer culture, regardless of your setting. After all, Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming was murdered just a year after Brokeback Mountain was published, and the It Gets Better project was created in 2010 to address violence against LGBTQ youth, much of it self-imposed.

As a gay man, I had experienced many aspects of the film that have often been contextualized or dismissed as being from a distant time and place. The safety of the closet and the fear of violence are all too familiar to me, as well as the projection that living as a gay man inherently means living an unhappy and unfulfilled life. Importantly, I learned about these cultural norms from watching movies long before I experienced them first hand.

Research into the pleasures and validity of homosexual spectatorship within the cinema have been explored by authors such as Alexander Doty, Richard Dyer, Judith Mayne, Yvonne Tasker, B. Ruby Rich, Brett Farmer, Thomas Waugh and Clare Whatling. They have looked directly at the pleasures and processes of viewing films homosexually, that is to say, either as a homosexual or looking for homosexual narrative. All of these observations have sprung from earlier works on gendered spectatorship, Laura Mulvey most notably among them.

As a way of expanding on that scholarship, I’m locating my gaze onto Brokeback Mountain as a gay male spectator. Which is to say, my viewing position is unlike the viewers that Linda Williams references, whom it seems, she feels were enlightened by the gay sex acts on screen:

Brokeback Mountain staged consensual sodomy between two men in a very dark tent as a simulated R-rated movie sex scene available for viewing by all persons seventeen or older, or any age if accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.” (2008:240)

I am also not the type of viewer that Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman propose:

“Although we would argue against the idea of an essentially gay or lesbian gaze, we do not want to make the case for the ‘queer gaze’ either. Rather, we want to make the case for identifications which are multiple, contradictory, shifting, oscillating, inconsistent, and fluid.” (2004:217)

After all, I had spent my entire life negotiating ‘contradictory’ identifications in the cinema. I was desperate for a new representation of the gay male body because I had grown tired of Hollywood’s portrayal of homosexuals as lacking moral guidance and self-control, a slave to their deviancy that controlled them from some deep-seated place within. As Richard Dyer notes:

“Equally, there can be no doubt that most stereotypes of gays in films are demeaning and offensive. Just think of the line-up – the butch dyke and the camp queen, the lesbian vampire and the sadistic queer, the predatory schoolmistress and the neurotic faggot, and the all the rest. The amount of hatred, fear, ridicule and disgust packed into those images is unmistakable.” (1999:297)

The pathological representation of the homosexual has turned increasingly sophisticated in post-AIDS Hollywood cinema. For instance, it has now become suitable for the homosexual character to develop an empathetic connection with the audience. In this way, his probable death can be interwoven into the narrative in a way that serves a greater purpose. The audience is now allowed to see the homosexual as an individual, and thus, possess their own subjectivity. Spectators are encouraged to find empathy with the queer, and sympathy for the loved ones left behind. Particular examples of this include Philadelphia (1993), American Beauty (1999), and most recently, A Single Man (2009).

Classic Hollywood cinema was much easier to navigate for me as a youth. Since the classics did not have overtly homosexual characters, I was free from having to emotionally reconcile a pathological storyline. Instead, I could let fantasy take over and thus, see myself inserted into a classic on-screen love story. In films such as An American in Paris (1951), where as a spectator, I would elect to see seduction and love between Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant, rather then Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Or Pillow Talk (1959) where it was exceptionally easy to provide a queer reading of blissful domesticity between Rock Hudson and Tony Randall rather then the officially sanctioned romance of Rock and Doris Day. As Brett Farmer aptly points out, classic Hollywood was a safe terrain for the gay viewer:

“Spectatorship assumes a similarly performative function within gay contexts. For many gay men, spectatorship offers a privileged forum in which to define and express their identifications with discourses of gayness.” (2000:30)

My ability to read a film “against the grain” provided a form of comfort and resistance from the normative pressures I was facing as a gay youth. As Clare Whatling proposes,

“One appropriates what is there, straining to read into it those elements which are not there. In this sense the text sets up the terms of representation and of resistance, colonization and refusal which structure any appropriation of the dominant with the margins.” (1997:5)

Or, as Annette Kuhn describes,

“…the acts of analysis, of deconstruction and of reading ‘against the grain’ offer an additional pleasure – the pleasure of resistance, of saying ‘no’: not to ‘unsophisticated’ enjoyment, by ourselves and others, of culturally dominant images, but to the structures of power which ask us to consume them uncritically and in highly circumscribed ways.” (1985:25)

So as the lights went dark in the theater five years ago and the high school boys in the audience finally stopped making jokes about lonely cowboys and sheep, I thought to myself that perhaps now, finally, I’ll experience visual pleasure when seeing Hollywood’s version of the homosexual. What I did not realize then, was that the gay bodies in Brokeback Mountain were never meant to be on cinematic display for my pleasure. Rather, they were on display for my discipline.

Cinematic pleasure

Like any successful Hollywood film, Brokeback Mountain formulated its love story in a way that reached a mass audience. The fact that the love story was taking place between two men seemed to form a spectacle that only heightened the publicity and the box office. Ang Lee won an Academy Award for Best Director for the film and it grossed $178 million in theatrical release. It was then followed by DVD release, resulting in 1.4 million copies of the DVD being sold on the first day.

Critical reception of the film focused on the ways in which it avoided gay male stereotypes and exceeded at being more then just a gay love story. The film was celebrated for the ways in which the gay male characters were represented, and the resulting impact on mainstream culture. As Harry Benshoff writes,

“In presenting Jack and Ennis as ‘normal’ married men who like to go on fishing trips together, Brokeback Mountain threatens our culture’s very definitions of heterosexuality and masculinity.” (2008:15)

Or, as Andrew Holleran states,

“The whole achievement of Brokeback is to make this love serious. It’s important to stress that, whatever else it is, Brokeback is a love story. That’s the source of its power: as old as Romeo and Juliet.”

Holleran continues,

“What’s threatening to some about the movie is the way it blurs friendship and Eros. Jack and Ennis are both best friends and lovers, fishing buddies who bring home no fish.”[3]

The success of Brokeback Mountain only added to my expectations of seeing a queer on-screen representation that would be positive and affirming. As Brett Farmer reminds us, the culturally produced homosexual has the potential to be a powerful figure:

“Homosexuality is a central determining paradigm in modern, Western cultures, and many subjects articulate their desires, make their meanings, and live their lives, whether in part or whole, whether centrally or peripherally, through it. Thus it is valid to speak of gayness as an identifiable category of subjective organization, to recognize that it has specific force and function, even if its realization in material contexts, its performance to speak, will always be contingent and variable. Furthermore, the production of a formal figure of gay spectatorship can be a powerful and enabling strategy to combat heteronormative presumption, and this more then justifies any putative risks of abstraction and essentialism. Not only does the construction of a theoretical image of gay spectatorship refuse the pervasive demands to silence and marginality that circulate around the very idea of gay spectatorship in dominant culture, making visible the invisible, speaking the unspeakable.” (2000:9)

I first felt the power inherent within my own gay spectatorship of Brokeback Mountain when Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist kissed for the first time. They had their first sexual contact the night before, which will turn out to be the only time the audience witnesses (simulated) sexual intercourse between the two. Earlier in the day they had reconciled the sexual exchange from the night before. According to Ennis, it was a “one shot thing we have going on here.” Ennis continued, “You know I aint queer.” Jack responds, “Me neither.”

With their sexualities straightened out, the film cuts to a scene of the campsite that night, Ennis in the foreground by the fire, Jack in the center of the frame undressing in the tent in the background. We hear the crackle of the fire and a peaceful night. This is the first time we have seen both men sober at camp, without a whiskey bottle in sight. Ennis sits by the fire to the left of the camera’s frame as he watches Jack undress. He pokes the fire with a stick and gets up to walk towards Jack in the tent. The film cuts to a medium shot of Jack inside the tent, shirtless, in a reflective moment. Jack hears Ennis approach and looks towards the tent’s opening. As Ennis enters the tent, Jack sits up to meet him. First grabbing Ennis’s arm, then moving his hand up to cup the side of Ennis’s face. Jack’s hand pulls Ennis closer as their lips touch in a passionate kiss. In this medium shot, their eyes are locked onto each other in a way that is affirming and caring.

The exchange between them seems to be less about lust, and more about passion. After the kiss, Jack continues to hold Ennis’s face as Jack reclines again, taking Ennis with him, his head resting on Jack’s bare chest. It’s within this scene that we see Ennis overtly display a romantic desire for Jack. He lets his hands explore Jack’s body and his lips meet jack’s lips again as Jack rolls on top of him. Their long series of kisses play out in the tent as we hear and see the fire crackle in the background. No words are exchanged.

The scene is unlike the night before, where the tent contained a sexual exchange between them that seemed to border on assault. This moment illustrated romance and a level of intentionality that could indeed be considered queer, despite their claims otherwise. For me, as a gay viewer, it marked the beginning of their love affair. It also marked the moment in which my viewing position became normalized. The love I saw on the screen was my love. I did not have to rely on fantasy to insert myself into a Hollywood love story. It was there before me, affirming and welcoming, and beautifully familiar. It provided a taste of what I imagine it must be like for heterosexual men when they witness countless Hollywood love stories between male and female stars: spectatorship from the center, rather then from the margins. While Ennis and Jack share other moments in the film, none are as intimate as this one. We see them kiss just one other time in the film, sneaking kisses in front of the sad eyes of Ennis’s wife Alma.

It’s only near the end of the film when a level of intimacy returns to that which was displayed in their first kiss. Jack gets into an argument with Ennis on one of their return trips to the mountains. It’s been 20 years since they first met, and Ennis informs Jack that it will have to be another year before they can meet again. Jack tells Ennis that he can’t get by on “a couple of high altitude fucks once or twice a year,” and he famously says, “ I wish I knew how to quit you.” A crying Ennis replies,

“Then why don’t you? Why don’t you just let me be? It’s because of you, Jack, that I’m like this. I’m nothing, I’m no where….I honestly can’t stand this no more, Jack.”

As Jack reaches for Ennis and they both crumble to the ground, hugging and crying, there is a slow fade to a campfire of 20 years ago. The viewer shares Jack’s memory of the love he feels for Ennis, as Jack reflected on a specific moment occurring up on Brokeback Mountain that first summer. In the flashback, we see Jack standing at the campfire as the camera tilts up from the smoking embers. Jack has his head down, black cowboy hat hiding his face. Ennis walks up to him from behind and gently reaches his right arm over Jack’s shoulder and across the front of Jack’s chest. Cut to a close up of Ennis whispering in Jack’s ear: “Well, now you are sleeping on your feet like a horse.”

As Jack tilts his head up, eyes closed, embraced by Ennis, Ennis whispers a lullaby into Jack’s ear. The same lullaby that Ennis’s mom used to sing to him. The film cuts to a wide shot as we see the full campground, horses, crackling fire, and Ennis holding Jack tight from behind as the lullaby continues. Cut back to a close-up as Ennis whispers into Jack’s ear,“ I gotta go,” as Jack nods his head, eyes still closed. Ennis continues, “ See ya in the morning.” As Ennis unwraps himself from Jack and turns away to walk to his horse in the background, we see Jack turn his body away from the camera and watch Ennis ride away. As Ennis leaves the frame, the film cuts to a reverse shot of us watching Jack straight on, as he continues to watch the spot on the trail where Ennis just disappeared. Jack seems to be in a sleepy dream state, comfortable in the fact that Ennis will be back the next morning. The film then cuts back to present day, where we see Jack watching Ennis leave down the road in his pick-up truck in a cloud of dust.

Cinematic discipline

This flashback is significant in two ways: First, it allows the audience to see the overt love that Ennis has for Jack. Second, because we see Ennis’s actions via Jack’s memory, Jack’s homosexual subjectivity becomes dominant. In contrast, Ennis is seen more as homosocial then homosexual. After all, it was Jack that started the sexual contact with Ennis in the tent, and it was Jack that made the trips from Texas to Wyoming to see Ennis for the last 20 years. It was also Jack that repeatedly tried to settle down with Ennis:

“Tell you what, we could have had a good life together, a real fuckin’ good life.”

This imbalance in sexual subjectivity proves to be a critical element when looking at cinematic pleasure because it results in a form of cinematic discipline. From a pleasure perspective, Ennis displays tenderness, intimacy and a critical distance from homosexuality. From a discipline perspective, Jack’s homosexuality is framed within a predatory context. As Ennis himself says,

“Why don’t you just let me be? It’s because of you, Jack, that I’m like this. I’m nothing, I’m nowhere.”

As a result, the audience is simultaneously invited to find pleasure in their (my) love, while also being shown the deviancy inherent in it. The end result is that the homosexual is “fixed.” Even though the audience may find him a warm and sympathetic character, even to the point of being able to love. He nonetheless can never escape from the moral implications of his sexuality.

As Homi Bhabha describes, subcultures are “fixed” in ways that maintain the superiority of dominant culture:

“Fixity, as the sign of cultural / historical/ racial difference… is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition.” (1983:18)

Bhabha continues by illustrating the relationship between fixity and stereotype:

“Likewise the stereotype, which is its major discursive strategy, is a form of knowledge and identification that vacillates between what is always ‘in place,’ already known, and something that must be anxiously repeated…” (1983:18)

It’s this fixity, working through stereotypes and other means, that maintains the gay male body as being pathological. The homosexual is demonized, outlawed, dismissed, or as is often the case, left for dead. This is not to say that the visual pleasure that I experienced in Brokeback Mountain was not real. But it is to say that engines of dominant cultural production, such as Hollywood, created those moments as part of a larger disciplinary action. Brokeback Mountain shows the homosexual as being fixed, destined for unhappiness and failure or worse yet, death. Which is to say, the formation of homosexual desire within Brokeback Mountain is constructed in a way that gives the audience at least two choices of readings—the homosexual as a tragic and flawed figure, or the homosexual as deviant and predatory. Regardless, their homosexuality is fully known to the audience. Which is in contrast to how D.A. Miller proposes Brokeback Mountain’s homosexual construction:

“At one end of each shot is a homosexual who doesn’t mean to be a homosexual, at the other end, matching and mirroring him, is a film spectator who doesn’t mean for him to be either. Both parties are disallowed self-consciousness, the homosexual unable to attain it, the spectator freed from it by having its burden shifted to the dramatis personae.” (2007:58)

Jack’s deviancy is more then just the fact that he is a homosexual. It’s the fact that he acts on his homosexuality that is important. For example, he was the bottom when they had sexual intercourse. He also has gay sex outside of his relationship with Ennis. Jack confessed to Ennis to having sex with men in Mexico, which the viewer sees in an earlier scene in the film where Jack picks up a Latino man in an alley. It is not clear if the man is a prostitute or just cruising. Regardless, for Ennis and the film itself, this overt level of homosexuality is clearly deviant behavior. We also get confirmation of Jack’s overt homosexuality when Ennis learns from Jack’s parents that Jack was planning on bringing a man other then himself to his parent’s ranch to help turn it around.

As a result of this imbalance between the men, Brokeback Mountain creates a secondary “Othering.” The first Othering is that both men are deemed to be gay. The second Othering is that Jack is more gay then Ennis. This double layer Othering secures the stereotypical construct of the deviant homosexual (Jack) whom recruits and corrupts the masculine straight male (Ennis).

Of course, since Ennis and Jack share a bed together, Ennis is implicated at some level in terms of his homosexual desire. But Ennis’s same sex desire seems to be offset for the audience by his rugged masculinity. For example, while they were on Brokeback Mountain that first summer, Ennis switches roles with Jack and it’s Ennis that ends up watching the sheep on the mountain, rather then cooking and cleaning back at the base camp. It’s Ennis that shoots the elk to provide food for Jack, who is tired of eating beans. It’s Ennis who is getting married as soon as he gets down from the mountain, and once off the mountain, it’s Ennis that fathers the first child.

Paramount to his masculinity within the film is Ennis’s refusal to have a domestic relationship with Jack, and to only be a top when they have sexual intercourse. These elements allow the viewer to create distance (real or imagined) between the homosexuality of Jack and the homosexuality of Ennis. For instance, while it’s true that Ennis had sexual intercourse with Jack, he did so in a way that could easily be dismissed for acting out of necessity (he was drunk and horny on a mountain). Or it could be interpreted as a sexual act that was equal to having sex with a woman, since we see later in the film that he prefers anal intercourse with his wife Alma.

Brokeback Mountain does not attempt to question or offer an alternative to the idea of the homosexual as deviant. Instead, it affirms a heteronormative reading that results in the audience seeing disciplinary actions on the gay body as normal and justified.

It’s in this way that Brokeback Mountain disciplines my own gay body. As a viewer, I am skilled at navigating around overtly homophobic representations of my gay body on screen. However, Brokeback Mountain is able to combine and entwine its call for the discipline of the gay male body within a larger, seemingly innocent, dramatic love story. As a result, the mass appeal of Brokeback Mountain provides a new level of homophobic discourse. One that works on a nearly subliminal level that encourages the mass audience to continue to embrace and enforce fixity, Othering, and discipline upon the gay male body.

On their first camping trip since being on Brokeback Mountain, Jack reminds Ennis how good their life could be if they decided to settle down together. Ennis replies,

“If we are together, and this thing grabs hold of us again, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, we’re dead.”

Ennis continues by telling Jack the story of how his dad took him and his brother to view the dead body of a homosexual when they were kids. It’s during this scene that we learn the full extent of Ennis’s knowledge of the immorality of homosexuality, and perhaps most importantly, the ramifications of living an overtly homosexual lifestyle.

As Ennis tells Jack the story of Earl and Rich—“two old guys ranched up together down home”—the film cuts to a medium shot of a man and two boys walking with their back to the camera down a trail. This flashback, seen from Ennis’s memory, unfolds as his voiceover continues:

“They were the joke of town, even though they were pretty tough old birds. They found Earl dead in an irrigation ditch, tire iron to him, spurred him, tied him up by his dick and drug him around till it pulled off.”

As the voiceover plays, the camera pans onto a close up of the young Ennis, as he stairs directly ahead. The film cuts to a medium shot of Jack back at the campfire asking, “You seen this?” The film cuts to a medium shot of the grown Ennis replying, “Yeah, I was about nine years old,” which then cuts back to a young Ennis looking straight ahead, his father’s hand placed directly on the boy’s neck to keep him looking straight ahead. Ennis continues, “He made sure my brother and I seen it.” The film cuts from a shot that has the audience watching a young Ennis, to a shot which allows the audience to see what Ennis is seeing: a dead man sprawled out amongst the rocks in a ravine. However, the camera is showing us a wide shot of the scene, and it’s difficult to make out the visual details of the dead body, let alone find the body in the landscape all together. After a few seconds of this wide shot, the film cuts to a medium shot of the body in center frame. It’s at this point we see that his jeans are pulled down and that blood covers his groin. The jump cut from a wide shot of Earl to a medium shot which shows his injuries is non-diegetic. Young Ennis did not move closer to the body to warrant this closer view. It was delivered to the audience by the filmmaker as a way of visually affirming the penalty for being homosexual.

This scene serves to define two types homosexuals within the film: the homosexual that acts on his deviant behavior, and the one that does not. The one that refrains from acting on his desire is allowed to live. The one that actively pursues his same-sex desire will most likely die as a result of it. Thus, it provides the viewer with evidence as to why the gay male body needs to be disciplined. For at the same moment the audience learns of Ennis’ traumatic boyhood experience, we assign blame for that trauma not on the men who committed the crime, but onto the homosexual(s) that caused the crime. As a result, the viewer is provided with two versions of the deviant homosexual. The first is alive as a result of his self-discipline. The second is dead due to his lack of self-discipline. Through our association with the characters on screen as a result of spectatorship, the audience comes to understand that there is a price to pay for overt homosexuality.

During the course of the scene, the viewer moves from the third-person perspective of the audience, to the first-person perspective of the homosexual (a young Ennis) as he is forced to see the mutilated body of Earl. As a viewer, having access to his gaze allows the audience to learn of Ennis’ homosexual subjectivity at the exact same time that Jack learns of it. It provides the audience a level of intimacy with Ennis that Jack can’t obtain. We are able to see what Ennis saw, while Jack is left to imagine the details on his own. Thus, the audience is able to identify (and join) with Ennis’ self-discipline, while simultaneously reinforcing the positioning of Jack as the deviant homosexual. After all, it is Jack that wants to live together like Earl and Rich did.

This scene is foreshadowed earlier in the film when Ennis rides back up to the sheep the morning after their sex scene in the tent. Ennis awakes to find himself with his pants down and Jack sleeping next to him. As Ennis rides out of camp, the camera follows him on his horse, climbing up to the sheep in a sweeping wide shot. We hear the dog barking in the distance. Ennis gives the horse a kick and takes off on a quick gallop towards the barking dog. The film then cuts to a shot of Ennis approaching the dog and a dead sheep nearby. As Ennis looks at the dead sheep, the audience is given his first-person perspective as he looks down at the sheep, split open along the length of it’s belly, chest cavity showing a brilliant red of blood and emptiness. Not unlike the view of Earl’s groin.

The discipline of the gay male body within Brokeback Mountain culminates near the end of the film when Ennis hears of Jack’s death. As we hear Jack’s wife Lureen describe in a voice-over that Jack died from an accident while fixing a flat tire on his truck on the side of the road, the film cuts from a medium shot of Ennis on the phone with Lureen, to a wide shot of Jack walking from three men in the grass near the railroad tracks. The viewer is given the idea that they are seeing the true story of Jack’s death through Ennis’ perspective. However, this is only partly right. The camera maintains a third-person perspective throughout the scene, allowing the viewer access to Ennis’ fears and projections without any first person point of view. The men in the scene strike Jack with a tire iron and continue to beat and kick him on the ground. The film makes a series of jump cuts between his bloody face, kicks to his crotch, and repeated blows to his body. As we hear Lureen ask if Ennis is still on the line, the film leaves Ennis’ imagination and returns back to a series of cuts between Lureen and Ennis ending their phone conversation.

This scene provides the audience with an oppositional reading to Jack’s earlier flashback of Ennis. In that memory sequence, Jack is reflecting on how passionate and caring Ennis is to him. In contrast, in this moment, Ennis is imaging how Jack’s overt homosexuality surely got him killed. As a result, Ennis and the audience share in what now has become common knowledge between them—the gay male body is a threat that needs sustained discipline.


1. Film reviewed by Owen Gleiberman, Nov 30, 2005, EW.com, accessed on 11/19/2010.
[return to page 1 of essay]

2. Film reviewed by Roger Ebert, December 16, 2005, rogerebert.com accessed, on 11/20/2010.

3. Film reviewed by Andrew Holleran, "The Magic Mountain," March-April, 2006, glreview.com, accessed on 11/19/2010.


Benshoff, Harry 2008. “Brokering Brokeback Mountain,” Jump Cut, No 50, Spring.

Bhabha, Homi 1983. “The Other Question: Homi Bhabha Reconsiders the Stereotype and Colonial Discourse,” Screen Volume 24, Number 6.

Doty, A. 1993. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dyer, Richard. 1999. “Stereotyping,” The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, & Politics, Gross, L & Woods, J eds. New York: Columbia University Press.

Evans, Caroline and Gamman, Lorraine 2004. “Identity Politics and Gaze Theory,” Queer Cinema, the Film Reader, Benshoff, H. & Griffin, S. eds., London: Routledge.

Farmer, B. 2000. Spectacular Passions: Cinema, Fantasy, Gay Male Spectatorships, Durham: Duke University Press.

Foucault, M. 1976. The History of Sexuality: Volume One, London: Penguin.

Gever, M., Greyson, J., Parmar, P. eds. 1993. Queer Looks: Perspectives On Lesbian and Gay Film and Video, London: Routledge.

Kaplan, A.E. 1997. Looking For the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze, London: Routledge.

Kuhn, A. 1985. The Power of the Image, London: Routledge.

Mayne, J. 1993. Cinema and Spectatorship, London: Routledge.

Middleton, Peter. 1992. The Inward Gaze: Masculinity and Subjectivity in Modern Culture, London: Routledge.

Miller, D.A. 2007. “On the Universality of Brokeback Mountain,Film Quarterly, Vol. 60 Number 3.

Whatling, C. 1997. Screen Dreams: Fantasizing Lesbians in Film, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Williams, Linda 2008. Screening Sex, Durham: Duke University Press.

To topJC 53 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.