The challenges that homosexuals are forced to confront are not new, which is especially evident in such films as Laura by Otto Preminger and Brokeback Mountain by Ang Lee. Male homosexuality in these films can be analyzed by examining the personal traits of the main characters as well as the ways these traits are represented acoustically and visually. Even though the films Brokeback Mountain and Laura were produced in different centuries, both these films can be discussed in terms of how gays are portrayed as weak and repressed persons who are perceived as outsiders by others in their milieu. The discussion will focus on iconography and sexuality.
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The First Aspect (Key Character Traits)
The character portrayal in both films is, first of all, iconographically similar. As noted by Dyer, “fastidious dress, love of art, and bitchy wit” compose the main traits of Waldo, the newspaper columnist, reflecting how he met Laura and became her platonic friend.1 It may seem that the representation of Waldo embodies the features of sexual perversion and decadence, as expressed by the sexual intercourse of the young men with the older man along with the unusual pattern of communication. In particular, the first scenes show Waldo’s sexual unnaturalness when a spectator discovers his obsession with art, clothes, and gossip.
Similar to Waldo, Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain are depicted as lovers under oppression and faced with the threat of lynching, thus showing the internalized principles of masculinity adopted by the West. In these conditions, Ennis deconstructs the romantic icon of a Western man since he has both traditional male traits and homosexual features that lead to hypocrisy and contradictions.2 Speaking about Ennis, one may also note the question posed by him and by the director in general: whether he is gay or not. In particular, not only genital sexuality but also the understanding of sexuality on a wider scale is present in this film.
The very self-identification of Ennis seems to be ambiguous. On the one hand, he strives to be with his beloved; on the other hand, he has to fit the societal norms regarding gender. Focusing more closely on the feelings of both Ennis and Jack, one may note that they are in crisis and have little chance to find happiness because of the oppression they are subject to in their milieu. Therefore it is safe to assume that these characters are dramatic and romantic at the same time.
Perhaps drama is the key trait that unites the two films since a viewer observes the corrosion of male identity in both. In Brokeback Mountain, the married life of Ennis and Alma is more like drudgery and the “stultification of monogamous heterosexual marriage” instead of happiness.3 Likewise, Waldo’s traits are indicative of his disintegrated self, which can be traced through his manner of dressing and speaking.
The Second Aspect (Ways in Which the Characters are Visually/Acoustically Presented)
If Brokeback Mountain was created at the time when queer theory was being developed, then Laura was shot in a more conservative period that rejected modern assumptions regarding gender roles. The visual presentation of the main characters in Brokeback Mountain is specific in terms of their emotions and feelings, yet it is traditional in terms of clothing, hobbies, family, and work. In contrast to this, Waldo looks quite distinctive from the rest of the characters, demonstrating his unique style and self-expression.4
However, all of the characters mentioned here use eye contact, pauses, and gestures to communicate with each other and their environment. If Ennis is depicted as a strong man who can achieve great success, Waldo and Jack are more susceptible to repression and the necessity to hide their genuine identities.
As for the acoustic presentation of the characters, the directors use sounds, music, oral communication, and pauses to express these characters’ thoughts and ideas in the course of the performance. For example, Waldo is quite persuasive in his dialogues, and it is even possible to suggest that he fits the type of the “femme fatale.” Waldo’s sexuality sets him apart in ways that can be traced through his writing and negotiating style. A significant part of the acoustic representation is how pauses are used in Brokeback Mountain.
For example, the initial scenes show that the men appear to be laconic, calm, smart, and young, dressed in jeans and cowboy hats, and exploring each other in silence. Several thoughts are not stated by the director directly as he leaves space for the viewers to ponder and analyze. While Jack tends to speak calmly and peacefully, Ennis is full of aggression when someone irritates him.
Both Laura and Brokeback Mountain have gay heroes whose lives are oppressed by society. Their similarity lies in the challenges they face to their self-identification and the criticisms they are subjected to from others. However, Brokeback Mountain expresses its main characters’ emotions and feelings more deeply through visual and acoustic means. Both films make the viewers reconsider the image of a homosexual man and homosexual relationships, thus highlighting an important theme of gender identity in the modern world.
Dyer, Richard. “Homosexuality and Film Noir.” In The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, 50-70. 2nd ed. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.
Sharrett, Christopher. “Death of the Strong Silent Type: The Achievement of Brokeback Mountain.” In Millennial Masculinity: Men in Contemporary American Cinema, edited by Timothy Shary, 165–80. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013.
- Richard Dyer, “Homosexuality and Film Noir,” In The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, 50-70, 2nd ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 58.
- Christopher Sharrett, “Death of the Strong Silent Type: The Achievement of Brokeback Mountain,” In Millennial Masculinity: Men in Contemporary American Cinema, edited by Timothy Shary, 165–80 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2013), 167.
- Ibid., 176.
- Richard Dyer, “Homosexuality and Film Noir,” In The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, 50-70, 2nd ed. (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 62.