So, I watched both of these movies today, for the second time. I saw both in theatres when they first came out, but not again since. I was left with very different impressions the second time around.
Brokeback Mountain – so, check it out. What I think I missed about this movie before was the complexity of the sexual identities of the two characters. I was kind of hung up on thinking of the story as one about two gay men who couldn’t really be out because of time and place, beautiful unrequited love! (I am such a sappy romantic!) And, after Jack and Ennis’ first sexual encounter, I thought to myself, well, now they’re gay! It seemed to me that was what the filmmakers wanted me to think, anyway.
But that isn’t really the entirety of what was going on. Both men went on to hetero marriages, had children, and continued their affair. Jack was unsatisfied with their arrangement, and sought out other same-sex affairs, and also mentioned an affair with another woman. but, it seemed like the emphasis in the film was on Jack as being “more” homosexual than Ennis, based on the facts that he initiated the affair with Ennis, and that Jack had more same-sex partners than Ennis, who only had Jack, and that Jack was the bottom in their relationship, a classic move in determining which partner is “gayer” than the other (the one doing the penetrating has historically not been seen as necessarily gay; the one being penetrated is usually seen as the one that is “truly” gay). I dunno – seems like too simplistic an analysis. Seems like Jack just got around more than ol’ Ennis did – with both men and women.
And, what’s up with that initial moment, the “they turned gay” moment? I felt so weirded out with that whole thing – like that initial sexual encounter was enough to negate their entire previous lives as heterosexuals? That it revealed the “truth” about them, that was lying dormant all those years until then? How do we define sexuality – by acts, by desires, by identifications? By acts, both men were bisexual. By desires, Jack seems more bi than gay, but Ennis seems more gay than bi. By identifications, well, Ennis explicitly told Jack, “I’m not queer” and Jack said, “Neither am I,” so I guess both identified as hetero (seeing as that’s the only other option presented) – but that seemed like the line was there for the audience to go, “yeah, right!” and it was early on, not after 20 years or so of fishing trips together. nevertheless, they both still led lives that were largely presented to the world as het.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see it now, because I tended at the time I saw it first to think about sexuality in more rigidly defined terms. Now, I think of sexuality as something that’s more fluid, and not necessarily innately determined but also socially determined in lots of ways. The film seemed to me to be presenting the sexuality of the characters in harsh juxtaposition with their social and historical context – and I can’t help but wonder, if the story was told in the historical context of this decade, would things have ended up the same? I think not – more support for and within the gay community might have led to the two of them shacking up or getting married, and identifying themselves as gay, and having very different lives.
Anyway, I got the distinct impression that the idea was we were supposed to think of these men as sexually homosexual, and that “truth” about them was interacting at odds with their social contexts. But the more subtle message, I think, is that historical and social contexts actually work to shape and produce sexuality in significant and meaningful ways, and that placing sexuality at the centre of one’s identity does not make for a stable and homogenous “truth” about a person or his/her experiences. This time, I didn’t miss that message. (thanks, Foucault!)
Best Line: Jack, to Ennis: “I wish I knew how to quit you!”
Crash – the first time I saw this, I liked it. I thought it was an important kind of movie to make, to examine racial tension among various communities. This time, I felt differently. It made me mad.
Make TG Mad #1: the scene where Thandi Newton got felt up by Matt Dillon the cop while her husband Terrence Howard watched helplessly and Ryan Phillippe the other cop did nothing. White cop molests woman of colour while man of colour is powerless to stop it and other white cop watches uncomfortably but yet doesn’t question the power hierarchy.
I was so mad about this scene. Then, the next scene where Thandi Newton and Terrence Howard are at home arguing about what happened, and then when she went to see him at work the next day. Thandi kept saying things like, “why didn’t you do anything?” and Terrence kept saying things like “what was I supposed to do, he’s a cop?” So frustrating. Thandi’s character, in addition to being victimized by white male supremacy in the embodiment of Matt Dillon, was vascillating between blaming her husband for not taking better care of his stuff (her) and feeling bad for Terrence for being so emasculated. Traditional Gender Stereotpye 1: Woman Needs Man to Defend Her and Traditional Gender Stereotype 2: Man Must Defend Woman Or He Isn’t Really a Man were definitely upheld here.
What I thought they did a good job of was treating gender and race coherently. Matt Dillon felt Thandi Newton up not just because she was a woman, but because she was a woman of colour and because her husband was a man of colour. He wasn’t aiming just to hurt her, but also to hurt him through his objectification and subsequent use of her.
Made TG Mad #2: Thandi Newton is trapped in her truck after it flips and she can’t get out. Matt Dillon the cop who molested her the night before comes to her rescue and pulls her out.
Fuck this scene made me MAD! Now, this woman of colour who has been abused and victimized by this very same white cop has to rely on him to help her, to save her life. And he has the nerve to say to her, “I’m not going to fucking hurt you!” NEWSFLASH: he already did! And so, the woman of colour has to put her trust back in the very same white man who just finished molesting her, telling her what her value and worth and place was, and not just for her own knowledge, but for the emasculation of her husband, so he also could know his value and worth and place: look how powerful I am, I can finger your pretty black wife and you can’t do a damn thing about it but offer her up and apologize for taking too long doing it. And isn’t this pretty much how our social systems treat women of colour everyday? Let me show you how little you’re valued, and how mighty we are, and exactly how much you need and require and rely on us for the very air you breathe. You exist within our framework, our hierarchy of power, but you can’t participate in it.
Made TG Mad #3: Don Cheadle goes to see the DA about a case he’s working on where a white cop shot and killed a black cop (neither knew the other was undercover, I think). Anyway, the guy he talked to, who is the creepy guy who was on that show about the aliens and now he’s on Prison Break with the icy blue creepy eyes and the kind of blondish hair, kept on about “fucking black people” and how they can’t keep from robbing and killing each other and whatnot, in order to extract from Don Cheadle what he wants, which is something to do with the case but he brings up his little deliquent brother and throws him into the mix for further extortionary purposes.
So, what pissed me off here, aside from the references by a white man to a black man about “fucking black people” was the damn system, putting Don Cheadle in the middle of white men’s manipulations. That’s about all I can say about that, it was a really kind of general feeling of anger that scene generated, I’d have to go back and watch it again to get the full feeling.
There are a hundred other little and big moments in the film that pissed me off. But what kind of pissed me off the most was that this is a movie that is ultimately supposed to make white people feel good about opposing racism. Like identifying and opposing obvious cases of racism makes a white person not racist. Such a surface analysis of racism.
Best Dialogue (paraphrased):
Don Cheadle, on the phone with his mother, which he answered while in the middle of sex with Jennifer Esposito: “Mom, I can’t talk right now, I’m having sex with a white woman.” To JE: “Where were we?”
JE: “I was white, and you were jerking off in the shower,” pushes him off and proceeds to get dressed.
DC: “I’m sorry, I would have told her I was fucking a Mexican woman, but it wouldn’t have made her as mad.”
JE: “Here’s a geography lesson – my father is from Puerto Rico, my mother is from El Salvador. Neither of which is Mexico.”