Remember that movie Brokeback Mountain from a while back? It stirred up a whole lot of controversy, nabbed itself an Academy Award nomination or two, and had mediocre stand-up comments quoting it's famous "I wish I knew how to quit you line."
Yeah, we bet you remember that. But what you might not know is that because Hollywood is now legally forbidden from producing original ideas, the movie Brokeback Mountain was actually based on a short story called "Brokeback Mountain" written by Annie Proulx. Long before Heath Ledger put his own twist on high altitude shepherding, Proulx came along and gave us a love story that serves up doses of elegance and pain in equal measures.
Why pain? Well, because in the olden days of the 1960s and 70s where the story is set, a romantic relationship between two men was rather frowned upon. And by "rather frowned upon" we mean that men who entered into such relationships risked not only their reputations, but also their lives—as Ennis and Jack do in "Brokeback Mountain."
Proulx puts a whole new spin on the western genre. Sure, there are rodeos and roadhouses. But this one's less about booze and broncos and more about forbidden love and broken hearts. Proulx handles their story with sensitivity and compassion, which means we see firsthand both the intense love these guys feel and the gut-wrenching prejudice that keeps them apart. It's a short read, but it backs a wallop, so get ready for a modern western for the ages.
Why Should I Care?
Simple. You should care because you read the news. LGBT rights have been the hip thing to argue about for many a moon, and the debate doesn't seem fixin' to end anytime soon. Supreme Court decisions, laws both fer and agin gay marriage, protests, profiles, and more op-eds that you can count. It's all happening right outside our doors. All you have to do is turn on the TV or click on over to Buzzfeed to see what's going down.
Hey, even "Brokeback Mountain" itself got caught up in the debate, and while Proulx insists that " It was just another story when I started writing it," when the movie came out, she confessed, " I hope that it is going to start conversations and discussions, that it's going to awaken in people an empathy for diversity, for each other and the larger world" (source).
But Proulx's story doesn't have a preachy agenda. There are no Life Lessons or Meaningful Morals to be learned. In fact, where you fall in this debate and what you take away from this story is entirely up to you. What Proulx does show us is the love between two men, plain and simple. She makes us feel for these guys, understand their desire for each other, and appreciate the fact that they're probably made for each other—that is, if they had been made in another decade. Like all of us, Jack and Ennis are stuck in their time and place, and must deal with their own identities in a sometimes unfriendly world.