The “Courage” of Brokeback Mountain and that “Brokeback Mormon” Thing — And an Example of Real Courage

I was surprised – well, not that much – to hear critics and the media speak about the great “courage” that it took to make Brokeback Mountain. How much courage does it really take to release a politically correct movie whose subject matter is almost guaranteed to receive massive favorable coverage and numerous awards? How could the New York Times do anything but offer adulations? Same goes for the new off-Broadway “Brokeback Mormon” play, Confessions of a Mormon Boy. The latter is another pro-homosexuality production aimed more squarely at the gay community. This autobiographical solo is performed by a gay ex-Mormon, Steven Fales, who divorced his wife and left his children, then went to New York to become an escort. Expect more praise for its unmitigated courage.

When it comes to real courage, my hat goes off to those who dare to say unpopular things that need to be said. In my view, an example of real courage is an LDS missionary going to Manhattan or anywhere else to tell people that they need to have faith in Christ and repent of their sins (including sexual immorality). No one wants to hear that. Popular culture will reject it. The media will denounce the message. The elite will mock it. Bigotry is ensured, sometimes by the loudest proponents of diversity and toleration. There will be no academy awards for the elders and sisters in the supporting role of a missionary, but it will do more for people’s lives than any actor’s performance.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

37 thoughts on “The “Courage” of Brokeback Mountain and that “Brokeback Mormon” Thing — And an Example of Real Courage

  1. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the cultural elite have dabbled in combining Mormonism with the less satiable. Case in point: Angels in AMerica. While it received much critical acclaim, its depictions of Mormons are horrific, even blasphemous for rank and file Mormondom (“AFfirmation’ does not count). I need not trouble you with the details. But because it shows “another side of Mormonism” or because it gives “supressed voices” a venue to talk in, suddenly this terrible depiction of Mormons becomes a Tony award winning play.

    Disgusting. I try to avoid being this polemical, but I dare not be moderate in morality, lest I become a mediocre Mormon.

  2. Anyone know why Cinderella Man has been so thoroughly snubbed at the Oscars? The film, the director, and the starring actor, all deserving of nomination, have been studiously ignored.

    I harbor a suspicion that a movie about a faithful father and husband, who places his duty to family above all others, and who believes he has a moral duty to support himself without public assistance, is just too politically unacceptable to Hollywood.

  3. Yes, those brave people in Hollywood who sacrifice so much to bring us “good quality” productions that can uplift and edify us all… not.

  4. please define “real” courage. I’m having trouble distinguishing between the “real” courage you describe and the “fake” courage you deride.

  5. b bowen: One distinguishing feature of “fake” courage is that it is manifested by doing exactly what those in power are expecting and demanding that you do in order to have their approval. Promote gay agenda = be loved in Hollywood.

  6. that’s a rather unnuanced view of the myriad factors that drive the economics of the movie industry. so the makers of this movie made it not to express themes that resonated with them, or because it would be successful (or both), but rather to be accepted by the “in” crowd?

    I’d still like a definition of courage, and something distinguishing “fake” from “real” courage in a way that makes sense and does not resort to ad hominems.

  7. Courage: “The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.”

    Making a film about gay cowboys in 2005 in America is none of those things.

    It’s what the Hollywood people want to see, America is far more accepting of homosexuals than ever before, etc, etc.

    No one on the film project risked a dang thing about their careers or lives. There is nothing courageous about doing a movie like that.

    30+ years ago, it would have been quite daring and might have been the last picture all those involved would have worked on.

    Instead, everyone working on it will get a lot of Hollywood cred and be able to ask for more cash on the next picture.

    Real courage (sans scare quotes) is doing what you believe is right in the face of forces arrayed against you.

    Watch “A Man For All Seasons”, the one with Paul Scofield. The story of Sir Thomas More is one of a man with real courage.

  8. I’m not seeing how that definition in any way resorts to ad hominems. I would agree with it.

    The only reason why we’re even using the word at all is because of commentators calling the movie courageous. Yet, I believe that these commentators are incorrect in claiming that the movie was daring. The movie was actually quite fitting to the current cultural elite’s train of thought. Consequently, we refer to fake courage because some of the media has portrayed it as courageous, giving it the appearance of courage while denying the power thereof.

  9. —“doing what you believe is right in the face of forces arrayed against you.”

    Sounds right to me. But you see none of this, either by the filmmakers, or by Steven Fales? Or, better stated, you assume the absence of this kind of courage on their part?

    Perhaps they could have made a more conventional (read: lucrative) film during the time they spent making BBM. Perhaps studio execs balked at the idea of releasing a gay-themed movie for wide distribution and promotion (given the predictable conservative backlash). Perhaps they made the movie knowing they would receive precisely this kind of assumption-driven, anti-hollywood critique from the public (which may or may not include their own friends and loved ones). Perhaps they made it knowing they would receive hate mail and threats for doing so (I’d wager this is more likely to have happened than not). Perhaps — I’d say likely — Steven Fales made his choices, to “do what he believed was right,” “in the face of forces arrayed against him.” Or maybe the pressure of family disapproval and the coercive forces of one’s upbringing (guilt, shame, self-loathing, etc.) are not meaningful to those of you who are inclined to dismiss Fales’ “courage.”

    Without knowing more, I’m not sure one way or the other who is or isn’t courageous. And I’m certainly not inclined to make declarations of the validity of others’ courage on the simplified, assumption-riddled grounds I see tossed about here.

    On that note, where, precisely, is the media coverage speaking about the BBM makers’ courage?

  10. I don’t think very many of the LDS people realize what is going on with regards to the temptation some of our people are facing. As I am very close to one person who faces down same sex attraction everyday, I have a unique perspective. First, many of our young men (and young women) who may be facing this temptation feel that they have no where to turn. They feel that their bishops can not possibly be empathetic at all. Second, society as a whole and specifically television are constantly placing homosexuality in attractive and normal roles. If your children are exposed to cable or satellite television, its not just heterosexual porn that you need to be concerned about. Bravo and other satellite channels have programs such as Gay USA and many lesbian oriented programs. Even programs that may not be considered “porn” are very stimulating to a person who has convinced themselves that they might be “gay”.

    Movies like BrokeBack Mountain contribute to the illusion that homosexuality is normal. It reinforces to anyone tempted with same sex attraction that fighting the temptation is a lost cause. Even Science is used to justify homosexuality as unavoidable due to the supposed “gay” gene.

    If BrokeBack mountain had been released thiry years ago, it would have never made it to the big screens. Society is drifting… Are we helpless to stop it?

    The human being at young ages can be attracted to any naked body. How do we channel those desires toward a healthy marriage when the world is constantly telling our young people that the abnormal is normal.

    In our family we have strict control of our television. Only the parents know the password to access any channels other than the BYU channel and the Boomerang Cartoon channel. My wife and I cringe if at any time a school teacher or even a primary teacher suggests any kind of a boy-girl role reversal in any kind of play acting. We have had to directly teach our children not only about proper marriage relationships but have had to be very specific about what is improper.

    The one close to me that faces these type of challenges, has so far been able to limit the attraction to fantasy and is a worthy priesthood holder. But, like an alcoholic he fights it everyday. I will bear testimony that he truly is one of the Lords choicest sons. I pray that he will continue to fight.

    If you know someone with similar challenges have them visit for some gospel oriented support.


  11. I find that there is courage by a lot of people who believe differently than me. However, I don’t think it takes a whole lot of courage to make a film, at least not in the heroic sense. For me, use of that word is better left to more noble endeavors, and I’m a film historian.

    Truth be told, Munich is a more “courageous” film than Brokeback Mountain, mainly because it provides less answers and more questions: At what price vengeance, and is it worth sacrificing the souls of the few (the assassins) to protect the many (Israel)? Does retribution violence end terrorism or perpetuate it?

    That’s about as “courageous” as film gets for me.

    No, I’d rather use the term “contemplative”. Roger Ebert talks about how films are primarily about emotions, and I agree; they aren’t the best medium for intellectual discourse or historical accuracy, but rather for the feelings about ideas and history, or rather how we incorporate them into our lives, society, culture, etc.

    I empathize with anyone who is conflicted with same sex attraction. I find it no shock that science shows a predisposition to same sex attraction based on genetics, mainly because we inhabit imperfect bodies with imperfect physical desires; alcoholism is hereditary, for example. If the “natural man is the enemy of God”, then surely giving in to natural desires – as in the “born that way” natural desire of same sex attraction – is a mighty struggle that is a part of gaining an imperfect physical body.

    But I’m no scientist; I study film, not biology. Brokeback Mountain is a well made film, and it is minimalist enough in the story it tells that one can disagree with the characters and their choices and yet enjoy the film, as I did.

    It is one of the better tragedies I’ve seen in a while. Those who watch the film will project their experiences/background/beliefs onto what they see up on the screen, and for me it was no less true (no one can ever be 100% objective). I still do not believe sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage is a part of God’s plan. But that’s me and my beliefs, not the beliefs of these characters; nor, frankly, is it the belief of the majority of people in the world, to varying degrees (how many people wait for legal marriage to have even heterosexual relationships nowadays?). One thing I really got out of the film is the importance of both conversation and toleration.

    Conversation, because Ennis (Heath Ledger’s character) would not be haunted for all his life if he could trust someone to simply listen to him; he is attracted to the same sex, and he destroys himself because of the violence/hatred/bitterness he is afraid he’ll attract if he ever opens up about it to anyone. In the post above mine, Anonymous mentioned a friend who is attracted to the same sex; if he had no one to discuss his same sex attraction with, perhaps he would also be so despondent, guilt-ridden, hopeless, depressed, and anti-social as Ennis is at the end of the film. It’s a truly sad tale.

    Toleration, because if other people would leave others alone and have common respect even if there is fundamental disagreement there would much, much less pain in this world. I have gay friends now, and I’m sure I’ll have gay friends in the future. They know my views, and they know me, and they recognize that my disagreeing with them in ideaology does not mean I judge them, and that is the best thing I can do for the friendship. They wonder why they get attacked so often for trying to express who they are, and though they don’t understand fully my viewpoint of God’s plan and how heterosexual marriage is a large part of it, they know I do not judge them because of it. And if they want to use film as a manner in which to express themselves, so be it. What Brokeback Mountain does is not say “you must accept homosexuality on the same terms we do”, but rather, it says “please do not physically harm or vocally slander us for living in a manner that you do not agree with.”

    So, that’s what I got out of Brokeback Mountain. Like I said before, it’s the type of film that presents its story and trusts the audience member to understand it on their own terms.

    I understand fully well that those involved in the production were of the mindset that homosexual attraction is no more wrong than heterosexual attraction. I reserve the right to disagree with them; I think it is because I have knowledge about God’s plan of salvation, and in that respect they are lacking, and are left to the reasoning of men. Considering the perspective they have, it is by no means inconceivable that they would want to suggest toleration and even an embracing of the lifestyles of their friends and neighbors.

    (This goes both ways: Mel Gibson was attacked for making his personal expression of faith on film via The Passion of the Christ, and he was accused of an agenda by those who are intolerant. My personal feelings about Jesus were not always on the screen in Gibson’s film, and there were choices he made that I disagree with, but in the end I took what he put on the screen, mixed it with my subjective views, and felt the better for it).

    By the way, this is not a new film concept; the 1982 film Making Love was a film about a homosexual relationship, and it was released on DVD today. As a film it is lacking, and feels far too much like an After School Special for liberal-minded adults.

    I want to mention it because Brokeback Mountain is nothing new, nor is homosexuality. What is new about Brokeback Mountain is that it has the craftmanship and quality acting performances to give it sincere pathos. It’s a film that will be remembered in twenty years, it’s a lock to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and in the long run I hope it goes a long way to allowing for the two things I really got out of it – conversation and toleration.

    Even from those who do not believe homosexuality is a part of God’s plan of happiness.

  12. I think what is new about Brokeback Mountain is the stars are hot, masculine men, who women lust over and we really don’t believe they’re gay. It brings out my inner need to save a guy.

    Although I didn’t see it.

    And I agree, “hear, hear, Jeff.”

  13. LOL. As a heterosexual male, the attractiveness of the male leads was not a particular interest of mine.

    However, in some ways the film is a “chick flick”, so I can see your point.

  14. b bowen: I don’t see anyone saying that the filmmakers had no other object than to curry political favor. I suppose they had many reasons for making this movie. I just point out that, since doing so was certainly going to buy them a lot of political favor, it didn’t require a great deal of courage.

  15. by that reasoning, then, neither does it take much courage to be a missionary. or do you disagree that serving a mission generates “favor” among the circles in which young mormons operate?

    in the case of both the moviemaker and the missionary, there is support and opposition. both missionary work and movie making about controversial topics require some level of courage, which level in both cases is mitigated somewhat by the support available to one’s peers. The moviemaker has friends in hollywood to pat his back; the missionary has the entire church to pat hers.

    which brings me back to my original question. where is the principled distinction between real and fake courage?

  16. To me the ‘courage’ shown is merely political. I would make a parallel to having the ‘courage’ to glorify drugs or lies. Hmmm how about a movie that is ‘courageous’ because it has all the deception of Enron, Worldcom or the rest.

    The real courage comes when you dare to have a stance inspite of what societal pressures say. It is a teenager defying the ‘fashion’ to be skinny or popular or to listen, do, say whatever is ‘in’. It is the mother that teaches her daughter to be virtuous and chaste in the midst of all the pornography around us. It is the mother that stands up and speaks when in school they try to cancel a religious festivity for fear to ‘offend’ any given denomination. That is courage.

    Yet we need to differenciate the issues here. There are many that struggle with same sex attraction that need to be understood, not belittled or patronised. We need to keep ourselves open to what ever moment they decide to talk. We need to address homosexuality in an open manner, without rhetoric nor bashing. If, as Anon@7:22pm, we had a very near case of someone dealing with same sex issues, how would our responses be?

    The ‘Brokeback Mountain’ effect has made quite a reaction on jokes. For instance, check this video of the 80’s trilogy Back to the Future with a BBM approach.

  17. I would have to reject the missionary example somewhat. The “favor” gained by missionaries is far too complex to do a tit-for-tat comparison to movie making. Also, no amount of “favor” can compensate for a day full of slammed doors–especially if your reason for seeing those slammed doors is to curry favor (a most intriguing paradox eh?)

    I live in the “circles in which young Mormons operate.” It is easy to caricaturize us as being intolerant, exclusive, and even self-righteous (we have our friends at Halestorm making a living off of that!). Yet I’ve seen individuals who have not served missions, yet curry a great deal of favor within the young Mormon circle. Sure, some folks may get a bit miffed at the “deteriorating priorities of the younger generation.” Others might say that they would not date a returned missionary. Most folks, however, understand that there are many reasons why a fellow/fellette might not go, and in general, are understanding of that. They are accepted into the circle of friends.
    It is far too easy to glibly talk schmack about young Mormon circles w/o taking into account that we can (at least try to) be loving and non-judgmental.

  18. Walker, to be fair to b bowen, it’s quite probable that Hollywood circles are more complex than they appear, just as Mormon circles are.

  19. True ltbugaf. However, to b bowen’s fundamental question about the distinction between real and fake courage, it appears that he’s driving the point that courage is courage is courage, and that we ought not make any moral distinctions about good/bad real/fake courage.

    Fine and dandy from a linguist’s point of a view. However, a politico/rhetoritician would see the matter far differently. No matter how we wish to parse the word for meaning, we cannot change the commonly accepted connotation of courage as a good thing. So I do indeed worry a bit at calling the makers of Brokeback courageous, not because they fail to fit the dictionary definition, but because once they’ve been cast in that light, it becomes more difficult to condemn the movie as being morally reprehensible, which I believe we are under an obligation to do. I saw how Susan Sontag used to word to vindicate the 9/11 attackers (saying that courage was “a morally neutral virtue” not that supporters of Brokeback fall into that cast), so I do not want to fall into the trap of using her tactics.

    The adjectives we use to describe Brokeback are extremely important in this way. Since all descriptions have connotations, we must be careful to only use those which accurately describe are feelings.

    So b bowen, what is your stance on Brokeback? I’m not so much interested in the adjective (courageous, deplorable, brilliant) as I am in your reasoning for that adjective.

  20. So I do indeed worry a bit at calling the makers of Brokeback courageous, not because they fail to fit the dictionary definition, but because once they’ve been cast in that light, it becomes more difficult to condemn the movie as being morally reprehensible, which I believe we are under an obligation to do.

    The film is not so black and white, nor can it be summed up as “morally reprehensible”. There’s more complexities and reason to see Brokeback Mountain other than to support homosexual relationships as morally correct.

    As the only person participating in this discussion to have seen the film (as far as I can tell), let me again reiterate that one can still be morally opposed to homosexual relationships on the basis of revealed religion and yet care for the characters and the portrayal of very real issues and struggles people of this world go through, and that the latter is more than enough reason to be willing to see the film.

    When Million Dollar Baby came under scrutiny for depicting characters that make choices many would disagree with, too many people erroneously supposed that seeing the film meant that they had to agree with all the actions of the lead characters in a moral sense. Such deduction isn’t the best of reasoning.

    I think part of it depends on how much of your film viewing is simply for escapism. Watching a film to escape the real world and its issues to root for a heroic character is perfectly fine, but not all films want the audience to be that straightforward in their approach.

    While almost all films have some level of escapism (usually through main characters and setting them up to be supported by the design and structure of the film), there are varying degrees across the board.

    Terrence Malick’s wonderful The New World is compelling because it strips away a direct connection to the main characters, and forces the viewer to be much more objective than subjective towards the material. Malick uses the structure of film in a manner closer to a lingering poem rather than the more traditional fictional novel approach. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe conversely sets up the heroes and villains, goes head on into the narrative, and provides most of the answers for the viewer (and does so magnificently). Brokeback Mountain is nestled somewhere inbetween.

  21. My issue is not merely a matter of depiction. Heavens, Les Miserables depicts choices I don’t agree with either, but I consider that work to be far more appropriate for viewing.

    The question is: HOW is homosexuality portrayed? I admit, I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment authoritatively. If, however, a movie portrays something fundamentally wrong as being in any way right, then I cannot support it in good conscious. Mind you, I wouldn’t go picket a theater for showing it. I just choose not to patronize the filmmaker.

    It would be one thing to portray a struggle with homosexuality, it is quite another where homosexuality is portrayed to be the ultimate right, because it is “forbidden love,” defiance to societal norms, etc.

  22. Hmm. Jeff’s argument seems to be that BBM required no courage because it was expected and encouraged in the media, but going on a mission requires courage because the media makes fun of missionaries. This strikes me as focusing on the wrong thing. Look at the relevant community of each group, and a different picture emerrges.

    It’s true that BBM didn’t require all that much courage, because it was mostly expected and encouraged in the community, Hollywood. (Subject to some limits, as comments have pointed out). However, the same applies to many missionaries. Particularly, for kids raised in the church in Utah-Arizona-California-Idaho wards, going on a mission similarly requires little courage because it is expected by the community.

    This is not to say that there aren’t some missionaries who make great personal sacrifices and have great courage. But many missionaries end up on missions by default, not out of great personal courage.

  23. The question is: HOW is homosexuality portrayed? I admit, I have not seen the film, so I cannot comment authoritatively. If, however, a movie portrays something fundamentally wrong as being in any way right, then I cannot support it in good conscious. Mind you, I wouldn’t go picket a theater for showing it. I just choose not to patronize the filmmaker.

    I see that as being fair. Everyone has their personal lines and they draw them where they wish. My line just seems to be a little further up the road, where I am more concerned with what I am going to get out of the viewing experience than what the motives of the filmmakers were. But on the other hand, there are films I refuse to see out of similar principles. Showgirls is an easy example; another would be the American Pie movies.

    Of course, anyone can also go to the extreme, and, say, refuse to watch Bambi because Bambi’s father is a terrible portrayal of how a father should raise their child.

    I’m clearly being facetious here, but I think the point I’m trying to make is that there are many places to draw the line between being a non-sanctioning observer and a sanctioning one. Should someone choose to be a non-sanctioning observer of Brokeback Mountain there are positive elements to draw out of the film without agreeing with the motives of the filmmakers or the actions of the characters.

  24. Kaimi,

    I would have to reiterate that LDS missionary work is seldom done strictly out of default. “Default” should have told my brother to go on a mission. Default should have told many people in my family to go on a mission, but they simply chose not to.

    Furthermore, I can think of very few missionaries who did not have fears entering the mission field, all of which needed to be overcome. In this light, this “social pressure” you speak acted instead as social support. Besides, if strict social pressure is causing one to go on a mission, s/he will not last long. Such pressure is not enough to endure a rejections, hatred, and provocateurs seeking to destroy the Church these young me represent. I’ve seen it happen.

    Furthermore, I would argue, such an individual is not so much of a missionary as he is a fellow dressing in a white shirt and tie who is attempting to play the part. Real missionary work, that defined in D&C 4 (whosoever desires to serve God is called to the work), requires more, much more. And companions seldom make up for strong testimonies.

    I doubt, though, that the filmmakers had much angst about making this movie. Few doors of note would be slammed in their face, just a few picket lines.

  25. Kathi, I agree with your statement. Courage, however, is a separate question from obedience. Some obedience requires courage; some doesn’t.

    I think it usually requires at least some courage to seek and obey a mission call.

  26. So would anyone here argue that Larry H. Miller is a man of courage?

    He went agains the grain, he risked bad publicity and probably took a light financial ding at his theaters.

    Or was he doing what the Mormon majority wanted him to do?

    Interested in your opinion

  27. I’d consider Mr. Miller a courageous person to some degree if he was consistent, and also removed films with other questionable moral themes from his theatre. I’m okay with him removing Brokeback Mountain, but why not also remove Hostel, or even Capote, another film with a homosexual character?

    Mr. Miller may be more successful, and simultaneously feel more morally in the right, if he limited his theatre to only showing films with a G or PG rating instead of handpicking one R rated film out of a plethera that have possible objectional content.

  28. Complex question. On the one hand, if Miller had shown it, he would probably would not have received glory or praise from anybody. There might have been some backlash, but then again, Mormons stay in Marriots all the time where alcohol is sold. Many simply accept it as a part of business. My guess is that the Mormon contingency would have viewed this likewise. They wouldn’t have approved of it, but they wouldn’t have gone up in arms either. All Miller would have received is ticket sales–no fame or shame.

    On the other, when he didn’t show it, he turned down the ticket sales, got a bad name in the press, but won a little respect from fellow Mormons.

    I would conclude in favor of courage, since his showing it would not have qualified as anything. He went against more odds by refusing to show than he would have by showing it.

    Now the question is: are we holding the same standard to Miller as we are to BBM makers? I would say: yes. They had a larger audience to win than did Miller by making the movie. Miller had no one to win by showing it. Hence, their willingness to stand up-factor is far lower than Miller’s. BBM makers’ consequences for making the movie are the possible receipt of several Academy awards; Millers? a ding in ticket sales and only the smallest amount of additional praise from fellow Mormons.

  29. Millers? a ding in ticket sales and only the smallest amount of additional praise from fellow Mormons.

    And a lawsuit from Focus Features for breach of contract. 😉

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