Brokeback Mountain Snider #

Clifton Snider
Department of English, Emeritus
California State University, Long Beach

Brokeback Poster

Queer Persona and the Gay Gaze in Brokeback Mountain, Story and Film

   Ang Lee's film, Brokeback Mountain, became a phenomenon in American popular culture unlike any other. The first movie in wide release to explore the lives and love of two sheep-herding, ranch hand-cowboys during a twenty-year period--1963 to 1983--in Wyoming and Texas, Brokeback Mountain became, in the words of Richard Schneider, Jr., "at the very least a media event, and just possibly a transforming cultural moment" (10). The critical praise for Brokeback has been nearly "unanimous" (Grundmann 50). As for the story by Annie Proulx, it elicited an enduring and deep response from gay men. She says, "I still, eight years later [after the 1997 publication of "Brokeback Mountain" in The New Yorker], get . . . heart-wrenching letters" from men whose "story" she had told or who now understood what their sons "went through" (Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay 133). Critics such as Frank Rich, writing in The New York Times shortly after Brokeback's 9 December 2005 release, praised its universality: "Ennis's and Jack's acute emotions--yearning, loneliness, disappointment, loss, love and, yes, lust--are affecting because they are universal." If the central characters themselves are universal too, they are, in Jungian terms, archetypal. Using Jungian and Queer Theory, I propose to examine the queer personas of Ennis and Jack, whose queer archetypes fit into a context that, before Annie Proulx's short story and Ang Lee's film based on the Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana script adaptation of the story, had not generally been thought to contain those archetypes.

   One of the characteristics of what Carl Jung called "visionary" literature--literature that stems from the collective unconscious--is that it appeals to a large number of people in a culture and compensates for collective psychic imbalance (see Snider, Stuff 6-7, 72). Starting life as an "art house" film, Brokeback Mountain, having "yielded a conspicuous eighth best per-screen average in history" (Grundmann 50), soon became a hit movie, having by 16 April 2006 (12 days after its release as a DVD) grossed in the United States alone $83,025,853 ("Business Data"), far more than enough to demonstrate if not universal, then widespread appeal beyond the markets it was pitched to: heterosexual women and gay men. Brokeback Mountain, the film, came at time when gay and lesbian people had been restigmatized, as it were, on all levels of society, despite the gains we had achieved, or, it could be argued, in part because of those gains. To see on screen attractive gay men, portrayed by well-known actors, shown non-stereotypically falling in love with each other and maintaining that love for decades, even though it was doomed almost from the beginning, struck a deep chord in the souls of gay men that compensated for the renewed assault on our self-worth and sexual identity. For perhaps the first time a major motion picture appealed to and depicted what Steven Drukman calls the "gay gaze."

   Brokeback Mountain, both story and movie, also speaks to the essentialist/social construction controversy among queer critics that has been simmering at least from the time of the 1978 publication in English of Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality. On the side of social construction are such scholar-critics as David M. Halperin, who writes, "sexual preferences should not be thought of as intrinsic constituents of the personality; rather, sexual categories based on preference should be considered culturally contingent" (28 n.). On the other side of this controversy is the historian, John Boswell, who does not hesitate to call medieval people "gay." Contrariwise, referring to people in Renaissance England, Alan Bray declares: "To talk of an individual in this period as being or not being 'a homosexual' is an anachronism and ruinously misleading" (16).1 To continue with this line of thinking falls too easily into the neocon/radical religious right camps who believe being homosexual is a "choice," a choice which can be remedied by their homophobic reeducative tactics.

   Perhaps the most prominent queer theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, seems to fall in the middle of this controversy. Accepting the terminology, she concedes: "Most moderately to well-educated Western people in this century [the 20th] seem to share a similar understanding of homosexual definition, independent of whether they themselves are gay or straight, homophobic or antihomophobic" (85).2 Nevertheless, a 21st-century queer critic such as Nikki Sullivan insists on social construction: "sexuality . . . is constructed, experienced, and understood in culturally and historically specific ways" (1). While I agree that definitions people accept for themselves and others are in large part influenced by society, I would argue that, fluid as sexual behavior can be and often is, most people are born either gay or straight. I strongly agree with Frank Rich that the movie, Brokeback Mountain, "dramatizes homosexuality as an inherent and immutable identity, rather than some aberrant and elective 'agenda' concocted by conspiratorial 'elites' in Chelsea, the Castro and South Beach, as antigay proselytizers would have it." Furthermore, Ennis and Jack "long for a life together, not for what gay baiters pejoratively label a 'lifestyle.'" Actually, Jack is the one who longs for this life together. Ennis, having bought into the homophobic attitudes he was reared under, shuns that life while desiring it, or at least Jack's love, at the same time.

   If Ennis and Jack were born gay, that means they fit a gay persona. Before examining that and other archetypes in Brokeback Mountain, I want to examine the genesis of the story to show how it fits Jung's definition of "visionary" literature and his own theory of creativity. As I have pointed out in my discussion of Virginia Woolf's Orlando in The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On, Jung's theory of creativity is neoPlatonic (88). He believes "The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself . . ." (The Spirit 75). Furthermore, says Jung, "Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument" (The Spirit 101). The artist, in other words, is driven to create, and Proulx uses that exact word to describe her relationship to "Brokeback Mountain": "I was driven to write it" (Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay 131). Of course this does not mean the story sprang from nothing, nor does Jungian theory maintain that artistic creation comes from a vacuum. Proulx carefully crafted her story, as she did all the stories in Close Range, the collection "Brokeback Mountain" appears in. She says her story is "based on a coalescence of observations over many years, small things here and there" (129), and, incredibly, it "went through more than sixty revisions" (131). We have, therefore, in "Brokeback Mountain" a story that cried to be told, an explicit story about gay men in the West that compensates for all the untold, though implicit, 19th-century stories about "queer cowboys" that Chris Packard writes about in his recent book with that title.

   Ennis and Jack never use the words "homosexual" or "gay" to describe themselves and their relationship, nor, for that matter, do they use the word "love." Proulx's narrator explains: "They never talked about the sex, let it happen . . . but saying not a goddamn word except once Ennis said, 'I'm not no queer,' and Jack jumped in with 'Me neither. A one-shot thing. Nobody's business but ours'" (Brokeback Mountain 15). The lack of anything other than vague labels ("this," "this thing") for their love applies as well to the movie, only in the movie Ennis, not Jack, calls it "a one-shot thing." Probably McMurtry and Ossana are emphasizing the fact that Ennis is the one more governed by societal strictures than is Jack.  

   What queer archetypes, then, do they symbolize? What other archetypes do the story and film contain? First of all, the story and the movie come down solidly on the side of essentialism. Ennis and Jack may not wish to call themselves "queer," but they know they have little or no control over their queerness, their mutual attraction and love. That they both marry and have children doesn't make them heterosexual. As Ennis tells Jack in the short story when they reunite after their four-year absence from each other, "I like doin it with women, yeah, but Jesus H., ain't nothin like this. I never had no thoughts a doin it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you" (26). Jack claims he too doesn't "do it with other guys," although this is not quite true, as the narrator declares he "had been riding more than bulls, not rolling his own" (26).

   If having got married and fathering children makes them "bisexual," their bisexuality is only a matter of behavior, of conformity to the strict heterosexual norms of the time. They are conforming to socially constructed gender roles. The famous and poignant line Jack utters, both in the story and in the movie, "I wish I knew how to quit you" (Brokeback Mountain 42), demonstrates their bond, a bond neither has with his wife (or in the case of Ennis at this point in the story, his ex-wife). Jack, as we know, is the romantic one, the one who has yearned to settle down, who achingly declares, "Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life" (42). The queer archetype Ennis and Jack fit is that of likes: Plato's ideal, original man in the Symposium who longs for his other half. Early in the story Proulx portrays Ennis and Jack as doubles:

            They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of
            the state . . . both high school dropout country boys with no
            prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-
            mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life. (4)

Both are the same age--"Neither of them was twenty"-- (5), and at this point in their young lives they can and do easily switch jobs as herder and camp tender. Both are heavy drinkers, a characteristic shown more graphically in the film than in the story.

   Both sensation types, in Jungian terms, Ennis and Jack are just different enough from each other to provide the necessary tension to keep a long-term relationship alive. Ennis's introverted, sometimes violent, personality (his psychic energy flows inward so much that it hinders relationship with others, except for the brief intervals with Jack) is matched by Jack's more extraverted personality.3 Unlike Ennis, Jack's psychic energy (what Jung calls "libido"; see Snider, Stuff 12) flows outward. The movie shows this side of his personality more explicitly than does the story, depicting him, for example, as a tractor salesman who stands up to his father-in-law during a Thanksgiving dinner. He's more talkative than Ennis and he needs sexual connections with other men, connections Ennis manages to do without. As a pair, Ennis and Jack symbolize the archetype of the double.4
   Writing in 1999, queer critic Patricia Juliana Smith declares: "Homosexuality, even now, but more so in the 1960's, exists in heterocentric perceptions as an unrealistic mode of being, one that can be readily ignored or dismissed, as would the purely imaginary." And "if the queer imaginary is a highly developed one, it is not without reason; the imagination can easily take control where no overt expression is allowed, and in such a context, the need for icons is a tremendous one" (xiii). Of the two lovers, only Jack has the imagination to see another possible life. Ennis has been crippled emotionally and psychologically by a father who showed him the deadly consequences of living openly with another man in the West of the mid-twentieth century. This event permanently stunts Ennis's imagination. Both he and Jack are bereft of gay icons and supportive archetypal stories.

   Ennis's violent persona is part of the macho persona both he and Jack share. In Two Essays on Analytical Psychology Jung defines the persona as

            only a mask of the collective psyche. Fundamentally the persona is
            nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as
            to what a man should appear to be. He takes a name, earns a title,
            exercises a function, he is this or that. In a certain sense
            all this is real, yet in relation to the essential individuality of the person
            concerned it is only a secondary reality, a compromise formation,
             in making which others often have a greater share than he.
            The persona is a semblance, a two-dimensional reality, to give it a nickname. (158)

Although the collective is reflected in the persona, “there is, after all, something individual in the peculiar choice and delineation of the persona. . . . one’s real individuality . . . is always present and makes itself felt indirectly if not directly” (158). Furthermore, Jung says:

            The persona is a complicated system of relations between the individual
            consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed
            on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and,
            on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual. (192)

Although “a collectively suitable persona” is necessary, undue ego “identification with the persona” results in a kind of “‘soullessness’” (193). Too thorough an identification with the persona may paradoxically result in what Jung calls “possession” by an archetype (The Archetypes 122). The situation becomes “a question of Jekyll and Hyde” (C. G. Jung Speaking 297).

   The Jekyll and Hyde analogy suits the situation of Ennis and Jack, two gay men who are forced to live in the closet. Their public personas--be they sheep herder, rodeo performer, ranch hand, cowboy, farm equipment salesman, heterosexual lover, or father--are merely "mask[s] of the collective psyche," as in Jung's definition. That everything, including their own sensibilities (particularly Ennis's), conspires to keep them in the closet is part of the tragedy. As Daniel Mendelsohn writes, "Both narratively and visually, Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the 'closet'--about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it" (11). "'Closetedness,'" says Sedgwick, ". . . is a performance" (3). Gay men having to stay in the closet is, as Jungian psychotherapist Robert H. Hopcke has pointed out, "a false heterosexual persona," a fake performance so to speak. Some gay men and lesbians go so far as to "actually believe . . . [they are] heterosexual," says Hopcke (131). Such is the case with Ennis.

   Clothes, as I have suggested in my book, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On, can symbolize persona (9). As she does in other stories in Close Range, Proulx makes effective use of clothes in "Brokeback Mountain."5 Jack's early persona as an impoverished rodeo rider is deftly illustrated by a description of his clothes: he "fastened his belt with a minor bull-riding buckle, but his boots were worn to the quick, holed beyond repair" (7). Rapidly getting to know each other on Brokeback Mountain, "each glad to have a companion where none had been expected" (12), they eat supper by the fire, sharing a bottle of whiskey, and sit "with their backs against a log, boot soles and copper jeans rivets hot" (11). With apt detail Proulx uses clothes to portray the two soon-to-be lovers' public personas. She, or her narrator, describes Jack in later years as having "filled out through the shoulders and hams, [while] Ennis stayed lean as a clothes-pole, stepped around in worn boots, jeans and shirts summer and winter, added a canvas coat in cold weather" (34), thus illustrating Jack's relative prosperity compared to Ennis's poverty and Ennis's inability to change their situation. Jack, however, still wears in the same hat the eagle tail feather from the bird he had shot as a youth (36). One can easily imagine it symbolizes for Jack something like the two shirts he keeps in his closet, something precious that reminds him of the Brokeback Mountain myth he has made in his mind.

   Their private queer personas as lovers are symbolized by those Brokeback Mountain shirts, which Ennis appropriately discovers after Jack's death in Jack's closet. There Ennis finds

            his own plaid shirt, lost, he'd thought, long ago in some damn
            laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing,
            stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack's own shirt, the
            pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one.

In a scene repeated in the movie, "He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands" (52). At last Ennis finds himself capable of some measure of imagination, too late.

   In the screenplay, McMurtry and Ossana wisely keep the symbolic blood on Ennis's shirt from the playful fight he and Jack had just before leaving Brokeback Mountain. In her commentary in Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay, Proulx says she had hoped Ang Lee would be able to transfer his grief over the recent death of his father into a depiction of the grief of "two men for whom things cannot work out, that he [Lee] might be able to show the grief and anger that builds when we must accept severe emotional wounding" (136). The long-dried blood is just the right symbolic touch to show this "grief and anger."

   Proulx also says Heath Ledger "knew better than I how Ennis felt and thought" (137) and as if to prove this, Ossana reveals it was Ledger's idea to have Ennis's shirt cover Jack's in the final scene (Stockwell 43), as if to show another enlargement of Ennis's imagination, his desire to protect and cherish Jack's love and his memory. Again, though, it is too late: the shirts hang in his trailer closet, Ennis's queer persona shut away, probably for good.

   As defined in A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, persona is itself an archetype, meaning "there is an inevitability and ubiquity to persona," and one of the things it can "refer to" is "gender identity" (Samuels, Shorter, and Plaut 107). For Ennis and Jack, gender identity is certainly socially constructed, but their homosexual personas are essential, as we have seen. There is a pathological "risk" if an individual identifies too much with his persona (Samuels, Shorter, and Plaut 107), and that helps to explain Ennis's, if not Jack's, tragedy, for he identifies with his macho, heterosexual gender persona at the expense of his innate homosexual queer persona, about which he is in denial even as he makes love to Jack. As the authors of the Critical Dictionary declare: when the ego "is identified with the persona, [the ego] is capable only of an external orientation. It is blind to internal events and hence unable to respond to them" (107). Any kind of psychic growth is stifled for the individual who denies what Jung and Jungians refer to as "soul" (see Hopcke 139). While the film version of Brokeback Mountain suggests the possibility of some psychic growth for Ennis when he decides to quit his latest cowboy job in order to attend his daughter's wedding, Proulx's story, in which the daughter is already married, does not. Jack inhabits Ennis's dreams, which is to say Ennis keeps his queer persona in his unconscious, safe from the threatening world: "if you can't fix it you've got to stand it" (55). And thus the story ends.

   Although the persona has an individual element in it, for psychological wholeness--individuation--to occur, "the [public] persona must be extinguished or, in other words, restored to the unconscious. From this arises individuality as one pole that polarizes the unconscious, which in turn produces the counterpole, the God-concept" (Jung, The Symbolic Life 453). The way to achieve wholeness comes through love either for the soul (the unconscious) or "by loving the human being ["so long as this human being stands for . . . soul"] through whom I receive the gift of God." In this way love can have "the quality of a mediator," bringing wholeness (or, if you will, God consciousness) to the individual.

   As Robert H. Hopcke recognizes in his book on Persona,

            For social outsiders, people who do not fit cultural standards
             or whose individuality is not valued by political
            or social institutions, the persona performs an especially
            important function and often takes an especially hard
            beating. . . . (7)

Nothing in the story or the movie demonstrates the fact Ennis and Jack clearly love each other more than the flashback during their last time together when Jack recalls, to use the words of the story, "that distant summer on Brokeback Mountain when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger":

            They had stood that way for a long time in front of the fire, its
            burning tossing ruddy chunks of light, the shadow of their bodies
            a single column against the rock. . . . Ennis's breath came slow
            and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack
            leaned against the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the
            humming like faint electricity and, standing, he fell into sleep
            that was not sleep but something else drowsy and tranced . . .

"Later," the narrator continues, "that dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives. Nothing marred it, even the knowledge that Ennis would not then embrace him face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held" (43-44). Love might have bridged the gulf between unconscious (soul) and conscious (public) personas, achieving a psychic wholeness for the two young lovers, but societal homophobia, internalized by both, but especially by Ennis, prevents such wholeness.

   Besides the archetype of gay love, in the form of the double, the most prominent archetype (apart from the landscape) in the story is the scapegoat. Proulx says "Brokeback Mountain" "is a story of destructive rural homophobia," and while that includes the main characters' own homophobia (Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay 130), it just as importantly includes the homophobia of the West, of Wyoming, where, as Ossana mentions in her commentary in Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay, "young Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie" a year after she and McMurtry had written the screenplay for Brokeback (146). It is a psychological truism that those who persecute others hate in themselves what they see in--what they project unto--others.

   In Jungian terms, to use another as a scapegoat is to project one's shadow (or the collective shadow) onto him or her or onto a group. The shadow is that part of ourselves, almost always viewed as negative, we wish to hide or remain unconscious of, and it is always symbolized by a figure of the same sex (see Snider, Stuff 14-15). Scapegoats are viewed as aliens, "the excluded Other [who] remains so because of the possibility of contagion" (Gallant 109). As Jungian psychoanalyst Erich Neumann writes: "Inside a nation, the aliens who provide the objects for this projection [of evil] are the minorities" (52). Such minorities include, but are not limited to, "heretics [i.e., religious minorities], political opponents and national enemies," and the "fight against . . . [them] is actually the fight against our own religious doubts, the insecurity of our own political position, and the one-sidedness of our own national viewpoint" (52). Hence, homophobia, defined by Robert Goss as "the socialized state of fear, threat, aversion, prejudice, and irrational hatred of the feelings of same-sex attraction" (1), is actually a fear of one's own "feelings of same-sex attraction." Ennis clearly fears his own same-sex attraction and thus internalizes the homophobic scapegoating of society, of which, he believes, his lover Jack becomes a victim just as Earl in his childhood had been, just as Matthew Shepard was to be in the same part of the world. Ennis's panoptic fears are, in fact, not unjustified.6

   Whereas they are only suggested in the short story, the film, of course, develops the personas of Alma and Lureen. Theirs, however, are not "queer" personas as such. Alma is a housewife and grocery store clerk. Lureen is a rodeo performer and businesswoman. Both are heterosexual lovers; both are mothers. They are flat characters compared to the multi-dimensional roundness of Ennis and Jack.

   However, the women serve another function: they are the objects of the audience's gaze and they themselves gaze at the men they marry. Queer criticism has focused on the gaze, but before that the feminist critic, Laura Mulvey, wrote about the heterosexual male gaze in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. According to Mulvey, "The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly." Heterosexual men are the "bearer of the look" (19), both in the film and from the audience: "The actual image of woman as (passive) raw material for the active gaze of the man" is, according to Mulvey, part of the "patriarchal order in its favourite cinematic form--illusionistic narrative film" (25).

   My purpose here is not to analyze Mulvey's ideas (for such an analysis, see Burston and Richardson's A Queer Romance). Rather, I want to point out that Brokeback Mountain breaks ground in a way I have not seen discussed heretofore in terms of the "gaze" it appeals to. This gaze is dual; in fact, it belongs to the target audience: heterosexual women and gay men. After writing a brief review of the movie for, I received an e-mail from a woman who wholeheartedly agreed with my comments about Heath Ledger as Ennis: "Because of his lack of self acceptance, Ennis had long ago ruled that life [of fulfillment with Jack] out, and the regret Heath Ledger as Ennis expresses in his final scene is heartbreaking and even more moving the second time I saw the film. I've known too many like him in my own life as a gay man." The woman who e-mailed me said she'd been married to such a man and known many like him. She had seen the movie seven times, more times than I myself had seen it.

   If heterosexual women have found much to "gaze" at in Brokeback Mountain, gay men have found even more. The phrase, "gay gaze," as I have indicated, is elucidated by Steven Drukman, who uses examples from MTV (focusing on Madonna and George Michael). Drukman writes that his remarks "will necessarily generalise a universal gay male spectator to create a new position of interpretation, desire, meaning and subjectivity" (82). Of course there is no such universal gay male spectator, yet one can easily generalize without fear of serious dissent the fact that Brokeback Mountain caused a collective response from gay men that had not been witnessed before. Never before had a mainstream motion picture with such wide appeal directed our attention to the frank love, and love-making, of two such nonstereotypically gay and attractive young men. When Ennis and Jack first sort of coyly look each other over outside Joe Aguirre's office, we know, even if they aren't fully aware of the fact, they are checking each other out and liking what they see. Ennis, as we have seen, is not as comfortable with his own gay gaze--indeed, he is in denial about it--but when he and Jack meet again after four years all that is momentarily forgotten as he and Jack embrace and kiss in what has to be one of the most powerful scenes of lovers reunited in all of movie history.7 As gay gazers, we can appreciate these two young men for who they are, not for whom we'd like them to be, as is the case in other mainstream movies. For once we and our sympathetic heterosexual sisters are bearers of the look.

   Having Ennis and Jack played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, actors far more attractive than the characters in the short story, was a wise choice.8 Schneider writes that "a lot of gay viewers sincerely identified with the two men's struggle, having gone through something that was similar at its core: a war with one's feelings at an early age and an inability to 'quit' them." Also, "Proulx has taken pains to create the worst possible environment to be gay, reducing that struggle to a stark choice between living a lie or risking one's life" (10). Here something that Jung wrote is, I think, apropos: "We have to realize . . . that whatever we fight about in the outside world is also a battle in our inner selves" (The Symbolic Life 393). If a work of art has such universal appeal, it is because we respond consciously or unconsciously to its archetypal images. To see--to gaze--at images that reflect our "inner selves" is a powerful and profound experience, all the more so for its rarity among gay male viewers.

   What we also gaze upon is the remarkable scenery conveyed by Ang Lee and his photography director, Rodrigo Prieto. In my review I commented: "The gorgeous Wyoming (Canadian) mountain scenery matches the love Jack and Ennis express there, just as Ennis's squalid apartment and trailer match the sad, alternative family life he creates in the one and the barren life his own self denial and timidity create in the other. The symbolism fits well." The symbolism is archetypal.9 If Ennis's "squalid" living conditions match his "barren life," the "mountain scenery" and Brokeback Mountain itself symbolize the psychic wholeness he and Jack had briefly and might have had more permanently: "that old, cold time on the mountain" Ennis dreams of "when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong" (Proulx, Brokeback Mountain 4). Jung has said that the mountain "often has the psychological meaning of the self," by which he means psychic wholeness, the whole or individuated person (The Archetypes 219 n. 14). Hence, the mountain itself is an archetypal image. The implications of the mountain being called "Brokeback" are almost too obvious to mention. Suffice it to say that any possibilities of long-term psychic growth for the star-crossed lovers of this tale are broken beyond repair before they meet each other. They are never whole except during their initial union on Brokeback Mountain. If that is tragic, at least we have the story, a myth of the West come at last out of the closet.


   1Tellingly, Bray goes on to write he will "use the term homosexuality but in as directly physical--and hence culturally neutral--a sense as possible" (17).

   2Sedgwick sees the "separatist" or "essentialist" model of "modern homo/heterosexual definition" as "minoritizing," whereas the "universalizing" or "social constructionist" model allows for a "bisexual potential" (see Epistemology 1 and 88). At the same time she concedes: "Political progress on . . . life-and-death issues [directed against "women and men who find or fear they are homosexual, or are perceived by others to be so"] has depended precisely on the strength of a minority-model gay activism" (58). She is right. My opinion is that Foucault's "project," to use a favorite word of contemporary literary criticism, that sexuality is constructed, while containing an element of truth as far as specific sexual practices go, is ultimately deleterious to the struggle for full civil rights for LGBT people.

   3Proulx's story brings out Ennis's violence with a childhood incident, told to Jack by Ennis, that is not in the movie. Ennis's father had taught him how to stop his older brother, K.E.'s hitting him: "take him unawares . . . make him feel pain . . . Nothin like hurtin somebody to make him hear good" (28). The film shows Ennis's violence as an adult at the 4th of July event when he punches out too gruff bikers who had insulted his macho sensibilities. Again Ennis is acting out a socially constructed macho gender persona.

   4Among other gay male archetypes is the puer-senex, examples of which are the Greek model and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.

   5Mrs. Freeze, in "Pair a Spurs," has the persona of a man: "a crusty old whipcord who looked like a man, dressed like a man, talked like a man and swore like a man . . ." (155), who also wears a pair of "comet spurs," coveted by men (180). Unlike Ennis and Jack, she defies collectively constructed gender personas. Taken for a lesbian by one character, another corrects the misconception: "No. She got as much use for the females as she does for the men. What she likes is cows and horses" (176). Like her other stories in Close Range, "Pair a Spurs" illustrates Proulx's authentic use of local diction and her intricate knowledge of the details of life on the range.

   6Foucault defines the Panopticon as "a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen" (Discipline and Punish 201-202). The movie brings out Ennis's paranoia explicitly: "You ever get the feelin'," he says to Jack, "I don't know, when you're in town, and someone looks at you, suspicious ... like he knows. And then you get out on the pavement, and everyone, lookin' at you, and maybe they all know too?" (Screenplay in Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay 71). What Ennis fears is the menacing, homophobic heterosexual gaze.

   7During this scene Ennis's wife, Alma, gazes by chance on her husband as he and Jack embrace and kiss. Michelle Williams's portrayal of this bewildered, life-shattering gaze has received well-deserved praise. No doubt many heterosexual women--and perhaps some lesbians and men, both heterosexual and homosexual--can identify with Alma here.

   8Schneider notes that "many a discussion of filmic fine points degenerated into a debate over who was hotter, Jake [Gyllenhaal] or Heath [Ledger]" (10). Both deserve all the awards they won and were nominated for.

  9Larry McMurtry, who says "Brokeback Mountain" "was a story that had been sitting there all my life, fifty-five years of which have been lived in the American West" (Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay 140), feels that "the landscape itself poeticizes their [Ennis's and Jack's] union more than the director would have probably liked." He goes on to comment: "The West of the great mountains, of the high plains and rippling rivers, is very beautiful, so beautiful that it tempts many not to see, or want to see, the harshness of the lives of the people who live in the bleak little towns and have to brush the grit of the plains off their teeth at night" (141). Neither Lee's movie nor Proulx's story fails to see this harshness (it is one of the things audience and readers must gaze upon frequently). However, Brokeback Mountain itself, to which Ennis and Jack never return, and which figures in Jack's romantic imagination and Ennis's dreams, stands apart as an archetypal vision of the wholeness the lovers achieved there and which they never quite achieve again.

Works Cited

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Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd ed.
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Snider, Clifton. "By Far the Best of 2005." Rev. of Brokeback Mountain. 9 March 2005. 4 May 2006

---. The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: A Jungian Interpretation of Literature.
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--Copyright © Clifton Snider 2009 (Revised version)

This article was first published, in a different form, in Psychological Perspectives 51.1 (2008): 54-69.

Return to Top.

Read about Snider's book of literary criticism, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: A Jungian Interpretation of Literature.

See also Synchronicity and the Trickster in The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde, Queer Addict: Biography and De Profundis.
The Vampire Archetype in Emily and Charlotte Brontë.
Emily Dickinson and Shamanism.
Edward Lear: Victorian Trickster.
Psychic Integration in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.
Eros and Logos in Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales.
 "Everything is Queer To-day": Lewis Carroll Through the Jungian Looking-Glass".

To learn more about the poetry of Clifton Snider, see Clifton Snider, Poet, The Alchemy of Opposites, and Aspens in the Wind.

To read about his novels, see Loud Whisper, Bare Roots, and Wrestling with Angels: A Tale of Two Brothers.

Read his story, "Hilda."


Page last revised 23 August 2009