"Brokeback Mountain" loomed large in Salt Lake County last week, and not just in its heft at the local box office.
The film traces 20 years of a forbidden romance between two gay Wyoming cowboys, as well as the tragic effects of that relationship on others who share their lives.
The buzz started when management at MegaPlex 17 at Jordan Commons yanked the film Friday to the surprise of people who had seen it advertised in the newspaper and showed up to see it at the Sandy theater. While neither theater management nor owner Larry H. Miller is discussing reasons for the decision, Miller had indicated in an earlier interview on KCPW-FM that the movie would screen at his theater as planned.
"It's something that I have to let the market speak to some degree," Miller told the radio station just hours before the theater pulled the film. "I don't think I'm qualified to be the community censor."
Given the showing the film made last week, uberbusinessman Miller's comment is as easy to swallow as a Utah Jazz basketball. If he were making strictly a marketing decision, his theater chain would be backstroking through even more than its usual piles of cash. "Brokeback" is showing on two screens at the independent Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City, and the theater's take for the week was 12th-highest nationwide.
The MegaPlex 17 dust-up only reinforced my own decision to see the film on Sunday. Given the masterful creative forces behind it - it's based on a 1998 story by E. Annie Proulx and directed by Ang Lee - I would have seen "Brokeback" were it about vertebrae fractures. Saturday night, four couples sharing dinner spent nearly an hour slicing and dicing its content, morality, cultural significance, and maybe toughest of all for the straight men at the table - cinematic depiction (however limited) of gay sex.
It was a fascinating conversation, given that only one person at the table - a woman - had actually seen the film. She explained how "Brokeback" is a love story, pure and simple. And she added, you can't discount the painful spinoff the women and children in these men's lives endured.
Her analysis was perfect. The pain is palpable as the two main characters battle their biology by marrying women and fathering children, with all the predictably tragic consequences that come from living a lie.
How many times have we seen that sad scenario played out in real life, as gays and lesbians struggle with their true sexuality and try to fake it in a world where heterosexuals make the rules? Depression, divorce, custody fights. It goes on and on.
At its best, film is always out front, riding the most gnarly waves of societal change. And this film is doing plenty of that, examining the gut-churning challenges of life before anything remotely close to gay rights came along.
But mostly, the film critics have called this one right. At its core "Brokeback" isn't radical at all. It's about the ache, the obsessive push and pull, of forbidden love.
However morally objectionable some in the straight world might want to paint it, this film gets straight to the marrow: Love is the fuel of all humanity. Straight or gay, we all want to get it and to give it in return.
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