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  • "I'm nothin. I'm nowhere":Echoes of Queer Messianism in Brokeback Mountain
  • Richard Block (bio)

To read the reviews of Brokeback Mountain, one would believe that the central issue of the film is whether this is a gay love story or a love story for everyone. Arguably mainstream America's favorite critic, Roger Ebert, defends his praise for the film by insisting that its appeal is universal and not just gay: "It could be a gay cowboy movie. [But] the more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it applies to everyone. I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it, because he always wanted to stay in the marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker" (2005). Without fancying what it means to have wanted to be a life-long marine while watching two cowboys screw, I will merely point out that universality is evidently not a quality that inheres in love stories that are "really" gay cowboy movies.1 David Mendelsohn, writing for the New York Review of Books, insists that Brokeback Mountain is a queer love story, focused on obstacles specific to homosexuals forced to endure Wyoming and so-called cowboy country in the closet (2006). What such discussions overlook is whether or not this is [End Page 253] even a love story. Do a "couple of high-altitude fucks once or twice a year," as Jack laments, constitute love? Or is it precisely a gay love story because it never materializes? Equally perplexing is that at least one-half of the film follows the lovers as members of a traditional family and their travails as heterosexuals. Almost every time we see Jack and Ennis together, the following scene concerns life on the heterosexual home front where girlfriends, wives, children, and in-laws both protect and threaten the closet. This binary is a first indication of the movie's understanding of homosexuality as pure inversion; it always stands in reverse relationship to heterosexual marriage, which governs the center and essence of all sexuality. The back cover of the DVD could not be more explicit in its marginalizing of homosexuality. There are four images. At the left margin is Ennis Del Mar; at the right margin is Jack Twist. Center left are Ennis and his wife; center right, Jack and his wife. In other words, gravity pulls even queers to a center occupied by heterosexual unions.

To focus on the universal dimensions of homosexuality obscures issues of class and race—an oversight all the more striking given how "coming out" or moving out of the closet is so central to the concerns of critics. Class is hardly obscured in the film. Jack Twist, the one whose marriage jumpstarts his social mobility, is ever ready to come out and set up house, thereby triangulating class, coming out, and domestication. Ennis del Mar, on the other hand, may live in a mobile home and move from job to job, but he goes nowhere fast. Mobility, at least for him, is a fiction. As is his family name, del Mar. He is "of the sea" or queer to mountain country, and apparently, of Hispanic origin despite his porcelain skin. The sexual partners Jack finds on the other side of the border in Mexico for backroom, anonymous adventure are therefore metonymies for the one Hispanic who remains forever removed by a border of a different kind. But the love story, if there is one, is over before it begins; metonymous, anonymous sex fills the void. Their relationship, as we will see, is always seen through a rear-view mirror; its rear end always in sight before anything begins,2 and such rear viewing renders class and race inconsequential. Those antagonisms have already been played out.

This brings us to the most glaring oversight of all: the time line. The film begins in 1963 or pre-Stonewall and ends in 1983, post-Stonewall and the [End Page 254] beginning of the AIDS crisis. Perhaps that explains why, in the middle of Buttfuck, Wyoming, everyone has homosexuality on his mind. In the period during which the narrative of coming out is being (re)constructed as essentially a gay...


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