Finding God on Brokeback Mountain

Editor’s Note: The inclusion of this article on RELEVANTmagazine.com bespeaks not an endorsement of Brokeback Mountain, but rather a desire to fulfill the “Progressive Culture” section’s mission to encourage productive Christian discourse about significant events and movements in popular culture. Brokeback Mountain, at this point the Academy Award frontrunner and winner of four Golden Globes, certainly warrants a discussion.

Please do not boil this movie down to homosexuality. Please do not pass judgment without even seeing it. See the fact that there are great performances. See the gift of storytelling. View the beauty of God’s creation. Relate to people who have lives that are complicated. Remember that God’s love is far greater than any of us deserve.

If we give Brokeback Mountain a chance, before automatically condemning it, I think we will be surprised by its well-rounded exploration of what it means to be a human in relationship with other humans.

Some have found it easy to quickly dismiss the movie, crying foul over anti-family values and homosexual agendas. And many will simply not see it at all, regardless of the press it’s received, both good and bad. At this point it has won four Golden Globe awards—a fact that, to me at least, says the film is at least worth taking a look at.

I did see the movie. I come from a perspective of believing that God shows up in the most extraordinary places, and I believe he’s shown up in this movie. I will say, however, that the film did make me feel uncomfortable at times, as it does deal with controversial subjects. It is a period piece that deals with extremely contemporary issues.

Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two ranchhands—Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger)—that have a secret homosexual affair over the course of several decades. While popularly touted as “the gay cowboy” movie, it would help to quickly get over the “gay” thing. The plot revolves around homosexual encounters, but it is far more than just that. The film is filled with emotion, discouragement, pain, security, hope, loss and love—all of which echo human experience and God’s heart. The strength of the movie is the depth of character it mines—and the acting supports this in tremendous ways. The raw, carnal, male emotion displayed in the film is something not easily drawn out of most men and even more infrequently portrayed in a major motion picture. While at times these men are confused and bewildered by their emotions, Brokeback shows a true depiction of how males do and do not deal with emotion.

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The cinematography alone left me feeling the breath and scope of God’s creation. The vast rolling hills and stunning jagged mountains were enlivened on the big screen. Truly, Brokeback lives up to the title of “art house” film, as it is, quite simply, art. I’m not insinuating that we should automatically take joy in watching it. We are free to disagree with some of the lifestyle choices depicted, but I do not think we are allowed to dismiss the whole thing as Godless. In the old saying that we should view the world with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, I think that the newspaper should be expanded to a number of different sources—such as TV, the internet and cinema to name a few. We need to make sure we are looking for God’s shadow even in the hardest of places.

While God doesn’t make a blatant appearance in Brokeback, except for a church-going reference and a wedding in a church, I do see God’s heart as a heart for people who struggle. All humanity struggles on some level, and God is in clear solidarity with human suffering. These men and their wives spend the entire movie trying to figure out what it means to exist with other people and trying to figure out who they are as individuals in the midst of difficult relationships. Here is where I think God shows up the most clearly. God understands broken relationships. Part of me identifies with this movie on a very deep level. It helps me express my dependence on God. It helps me to realize that the “Christian” world is just as broken as everyone else. It helps me share my hope in Christ.

It is not easy to always find how God is breaking through in a situation. It takes work and time to listen for how God is going to speak. Like Elijah on the mountain, it may not have a “Christian” label smacked on the front, or an endorsement from Focus on the Family, but God desires to make himself known to us. We have to be open to how he is going to do that.

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