Dec 22, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain works as well as it does because it uses the love story genre, not drama, to make its point. Had the writers done this as a social drama, they would have focused everything on the central issue at stake. They would have used a lot of moral argument in the dialogue, which would have immediately raised the defenses of all those on the other side of the issue.

But the love story genre is much trickier, and far more effective. The love story is based on what two people feel for each other. What’s at stake in the story is not the characters. It’s the love itself. There is almost no moral argument in this film about the injustice of these two men unable to be together. Instead we see the positive effect on them when they are together. And we see the negative effect, not only on them but on everyone around them, when they are forced apart.

Because the writers understood this story strategy, and executed it so well, the great flaw in the script stands out even more clearly. For the story to have its greatest impact, the initial attraction between the two men can’t just be physical. This has to be a deep romantic love between them, and the reasons for that romantic love have to be made clear from the start. Instead all we get are a few short scenes of them working together on the mountain, and suddenly they are drunk having sex in the tent. That means everything they feel for each other afterwards must just be assumed. True, they act as though they feel deeply for each throughout the rest of the picture. But without the emotional groundwork at the beginning, the audience can only know how they feel on an intellectual level. They can’t really feel it themselves.

I always say, you can’t montage love. That’s true no matter who the lovers are.