September 3, 2008

Objectivism on Brokeback Mountain

Abstract: While no character in Brokeback Mountain can be considered an Objectivist and the film is philosophically muddied and inconsistent, Brokeback Mountain contains and engenders more Objectivist thought than the vast majority of analysts have realized.
Intended AudienceIndividuals who have seen Ang Lee's film version of Brokeback Mountain and who have a basic understanding of the broad topics of philosophy, including at least some exposure to Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Knowledge of the creative process used by theatrical actors and directors—especially the Stanislavski system—is helpful, but not necessary.

Those who lack the background in Objectivism may want to read Wikipedia's introduction to Objectivism before reading this article.

More than two years after the release of Brokeback Mountain, I was flipping through the channels one weekend and found the film playing on cable television. I had no interest in seeing the movie during its overwhelmingly popular theatrical run, but I had heard quite a bit about the plot and seen or read several of the critics' and commentators' analyses. I expected something I could evaluate easily from an Objectivist perspective. I presumed a story of two gay1 ranchers who evaded the reality of their strongest desires, weakly surrendered to social metaphysics by marrying women, became altruists by serving the emotional and financial needs of their families, tried to remain faithful, but broke their marriage contracts by meeting up occasionally for a tryst here and there. I assumed that this violation of an array of Objectivist precepts would produce inevitable disastrous results. Simple.

During my first viewing, I interpreted the story through this framework. But over the next few days my mind repeatedly turned back to this complex film. As time passed, I became quite uneasy with my simplistic analysis. The questions that stuck in my craw included:
  • Were Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar exhibiting social metaphysics?
  • Were they guilty of reality evasion? And if they were, to what degree?
  • Were these men guilty of altruism?
  • Were these characters even gay?
  • Which character, if any, exhibited Objectivist behavior?
Had I been incorrect in my premises?


After watching the film a few more times, I realized that Brokeback Mountain contains more Objectivist thought than revealed in any analysis I had encountered.

This article focuses on director Ang Lee's 2005 film version of Brokeback Mountain. Annie Proulx's short story on which the script was based employs minor plot differences that give the short story a substantially different philosophical presentation.2 Some of these differences are mentioned in the footnotes. Interpretations of the film's script that differ from Lee's are detailed in the body of the article.

Rand's views on homosexuality

Ayn Rand, the philosopher who developed Objectivism, probably would not have watched Brokeback Mountain, let alone analyzed it. The Objectivist view of homosexuality has been contentious. While Rand supported equal—but not special—rights under the law for homosexuals, she believed that private-sector discrimination against homosexuals should be allowed, provided the discrimination did not involve violence or the threat of violence. Rand is on record with her opinion of homosexual acts: "disgusting."3 Rand appears, however, to have changed that opinion toward the end of her life. Objectivist Harry Binswanger claimed that in 19804 Rand tempered her position by stating that not enough is known about the causes of homosexual desires to allow one to make a moral judgment on the behavior.5 Many of today's Objectivists have adopted an accepting view of homosexuality, with some Objectivists supporting "gay marriage."6

Shared values and a surprising lack of social metaphysics

In Objectivism, a social metaphysician is an individual who obtains his sense of reality from those around him, rather than independently questioning his environment, using his senses to perceive reality, and—with that reality—thinking for himself.7 Sometimes called second-handers, social metaphysicians seek to please others. The second-hander is frequently a target of peer pressure, but social metaphysics is much more than peer pressure:
A [second-hander] is one who regards the consciousness of other men as superior to his own and to the facts of reality. It is to a [second-hander] that the moral appraisal of himself by others is a primary concern which supersedes truth, facts, reason, logic. The disapproval of others is so shatteringly terrifying to him that nothing can withstand its impact within his consciousness; thus he would deny the evidence of his own eyes and invalidate his own consciousness for the sake of any stray charlatan's moral sanction. It is only a [second-hander] who could conceive of such absurdity as hoping to win an intellectual argument by hinting: "But people won't like you!" 8
At first blush, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar may appear to be social metaphysicians. One of Ennis' speeches to Jack late in their relationship seems to support that argument:
Ennis: You ever get the feelin'... I don't know, er... when you're in town and someone looks at you all suspicious, like he knows [about your sexuality]? And then you go out on the pavement and everyone looks like they know too?
It appears straight-forward. We have two gay men who, rather than run off to live together, "give in" to social metaphysics by returning to their respective societies, marrying, and doing what is expected of them; the results are disastrous.

But Jack and Ennis are not social metaphysicians. They are also not gay. On their first trip to Brokeback Mountain, the characters separate themselves from society and their exploration of the environment allows them to determine a truth: They are emotionally and sexually attracted to each other and they are willing to act on that attraction through sexual experiences. These are men, however, who also share and enjoy the prevailing values of their zeitgeist.

Explaining romantic love and sexual expression, Objectivist psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden wrote:
Of the various pleasures that man can offer himself, the greatest is pride—the pleasure he takes in his own achievements and in the creation of his own character. The pleasure he takes in the character and achievements of another human being is that of admiration. The highest expression of the most intense union of these two responses—pride and admiration—is romantic love. Its celebration is sex.
It is in this sphere above all—in a man's romantic-sexual responses—that his view of himself and of existence stands eloquently revealed. A man falls in love with and sexually desires the person who reflects his own deepest values.9
What is the character that Jack and Ennis take pride in being, want to create for themselves and admire in each other? It is the character of the ideal man that they share with the American West of 1963. Jack and Ennis are not interested in gender iconoclasm or social metaphysics. They value the role of a "real" man and enjoy the activities of their masculinity: rodeo, roughhousing, swearing, guns, hunting, fishing, liquor, admiring—and "putting the blocks to"—beautiful women, marrying them, procreating with them, fighting to protect honor.

Take Jack's obsession with rodeo. As created in the Ang Lee/Jake Gyllenhaal performance, an ebullient Jack bucks around camp, gushing with enthusiasm for rodeo's masculine imagery:
Jack: Yee-haw! I'm spurrin' his guts out! Wavin' to the girls in the stands! He's kickin' me to high heaven, but he don't jackboard me! No!
Consider the roughhousing incident that provides the bloody shirts. When Ennis' nose begins to bleed, Jack assumes an almost maternal role in nursing the wound, whispering "Ennis, come here, you're OK." Putting his hand on Ennis' face, Jack attempts to pacify him with "Shhh...." Ennis swiftly rebukes Jack's gender transcendence with a sucker punch.10 Like Oedipus' father attempting to knock Oedipus off the road to inevitable destruction, Ennis derails Jack's attempt to sully their abstraction of the ideal male character. With the exception of their sexual encounters,11 Jack and Ennis believe that men should behave as men. The men's enshrinements of the commingled bloody shirts symbolize, among other things, the shared deference—the pride and admiration as Nathaniel Branden would say—these characters have for their masculine value system.

Let's evaluate two scenes in which characters with overt or covert contempt for homosexuality12 confront the men: Jack with his Brokeback boss, Joe Aguirre and Ennis with Jack's father, John Twist.13 In 1983, Ennis journeys to Lightning Flat in an attempt to obtain Jack's ashes. John Twist refuses Ennis' request to turn them over, stating, "We got a family plot and [Jack's] goin' in it." Ennis responds, "Yes, sir." As played by Heath Ledger, Ennis nods slightly in deference. In 1964, Jack returns to Brokeback to ask Joe Aguirre for work. He is refused, presumably based on the behavior Joe witnessed the men engaging in the previous summer.14 A much younger and virile man, Jack could have easily cold-cocked Aguirre. He could have erupted into a rant about bigotry. He does neither. The character simply nods in agreement. Jack cannot respond to Joe Aguirre's repulsion with anger just as Ennis cannot refute John Twist's mandate that Jack's ashes be buried in the family plot. To react with disrespect would be to invalidate the value system that enabled Jack and Ennis' relationship. Jack's and Ennis' psycho-epistemologies15 are integrated enough for their automatic realization that they share the widest values of their "adversaries." They differ only on a specific (e.g., the permissibility of consenting adult men to engage in private sexual relations with and love each other).

Objectivists realize that this is a necessary condition enabling the possibility of compromise: a shared value system under which the participants compromise on specifics.16 With none of the characters in Brokeback Mountain being an Objectivist, they never achieve such a realization and no compromise is made.


During their first summer on the mountain, Ennis tells Jack, "You know I ain't queer," and Jack replies, "Me neither." The young men mean it; they are not in denial. They are not giving in to the social metaphysics of a society of haters of homosexuals and "fag bashers." They have found objective reality: Each is in love with someone who shares his values and those values just happen to coincide with the prevailing values of their time and place. And if either of the men had been gay or queer they would have been unable to share a mutual romantic attraction.

That is the tragedy of Brokeback Mountain: a relationship that could exist only where the participants continue the roles they value. Off Brokeback Mountain, that's not possible; but the two men cannot live on the mountain. The plot can be fully understood only from the Objectivist perspective. Had the script better exploited this, Brokeback Mountain would have been sublimed to brilliant tragedy.

Under Objectivist morality, this situation would be justification for Jack and Ennis to commit suicide if the men realized that, due to their restriction, their lives had no chance of ever being heroic. As Ayn Rand wrote in John Galt's suicide justification speech in Atlas Shrugged, "there will be no values for me to seek...and I do not care to exist without values."

Instead of suicide, Ennis breaks down emotionally—out of Jack's sight, and the two men attempt to move on, separately. In an alternate script, the two could have had a denouement discussion about their values and their inability to achieve greatness in the world to which they must return, check into a hotel and suicide. That version of Brokeback Mountain would be much closer to Randian fiction and drama.17 Such a plot would be a negative image of Rand's Anthem, a novella in which two people leave a society exhibiting values they do not share to live heroic lives on a remote mountain. In this altered version of Brokeback Mountain, two people must leave their secluded mountain to return to a society exhibiting values they do share only to die under the acknowledgment that their self-actualized existence is a logical impossibility.

In the real script, the men are, of course, ultimately destroyed. Toward the end of the movie, Ennis sums up his life for Jack:
Ennis: Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you Jack, that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere... Get the fuck off me! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack.
Still Ennis does not lose his value system. The previous night, Jack tells Ennis that Jack has "kinda got this thing going with a ranch foreman's wife" and that Jack could "get shot by Lureen or [his mistress' husband] each time [Jack] slip[s] off to see her."18 Ennis chuckles in amusement and says, "You probably deserve it." The possibility, however, that Jack is entering a Mexican gay subculture to solicit male prostitutes terrifies Ennis. Ennis confronts Jack:
Ennis: You been [to] Mexico, Jack Twist? Hmm? Cuz I hear what they got for boys like you19 in Mexico...I'm gonna tell you this one time, Jack fuckin' Twist, an' I ain't foolin'. What I don't know—all them things [he hits Jack] that I don't know—could get you killed if I come to know them. I ain't jokin'.
Having a mistress garners bragging rights; entering a gay subculture—even if only for fleeting, purchased pleasure—is a capital offense.

Pyscho-epistemology, reality evasion and a character bordering on being an Objectivist

As a character who never fully "gets it," Jack Twist is guilty of reality evasion. Jack's psycho-epistemology is developed enough to integrate his value system into his automatic reactions, but he clings to the impossible notion that he and Ennis will someday run a ranch together.

Other characters comment on Jack's reality evasion: Jack's father refers to the ranch idea as a "half-baked notion" and admits that "most of Jack's ideas...never did come to pass." When Jack mentioned Brokeback Mountain to his wife, Lureen doubted its existence:
Lureen: I thought Brokeback Mountain might be around where he grew up. Knowing Jack, it was probably some pretend place, where bluebirds sing and there's a whiskey spring...
Jack, after taking up with another man, apparently falls victim of the violent anti-homosexual element Ennis warned him about. Jack chooses to evade the reality of that threat and, if one finds veracity in the flashback's murder, is beaten to death. Jack also evades reality in his final confrontation with Ennis:
Jack: Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together! Fuckin' real good life! Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, Ennis!
After twenty years, Jack still fails to realize that, for the reasons outlined above, Ennis couldn't want it because it is a rational impossibility.

Ennis' wife Alma is also guilty of reality evasion by not confronting her husband immediately after she witnesses the men kissing. She waits at least eight years to confront her then ex-husband about his infidelities.

In contradistinction to the intellectual treasons of these characters, the reticent and poorly-educated Ennis Del Mar exhibits a well-integrated and effective psycho-epistemology, capable of seeing the repercussions of actions far in advance of other characters (especially Jack). Quitting jobs at a moment's notice to run off for a tryst with Jack, Ennis does not have the work ethic of an Objectivist; but excepting of his self-imposed financial limitations, Ennis does not engage in reality evasion. Ennis has also developed a rejection of authoritarian epistemology, evinced when his wife asks him to go to church and he refuses, condemning the "fire and brimstone crowd". While not an Objectivist—and certainly not an Objectivist hero—Ennis is the character exhibiting the most Objectivist behavior in the drama.

Contract violation

By not being sexually exclusive with their wives and not obtaining their wives' consent to have extramarital relations, Jack and Ennis fail to honor their marriage contracts. The contract is one of the most important social constructs in Objectivism, and the men are guilty of a gross violation of Objectivist morality.

Did Jack and Ennis marry their wives in good faith? Clearly, both men were bisexual and willing to perform sexually with their wives. The script contains no evidence that either of the wives was dissatisfied with her husband's sexual appetite. At the time of their marriages, the men's homosexual relationship—the "one-shot thing" as described by Ennis—was presumed, by both parties, to be terminated. Jack and Ennis fathered children in their marriages and procreation is a part of the male identity both men valued.20 But inconsistencies abound.

As played by Ledger, Ennis has a pained, forlorn look during his wedding ceremony, immediately contrasted by a euphoric sleigh ride with his new bride, a scene of two people joyously in love.

The film provides no evidence that Ennis is financially irresponsible until after he reunites with Jack. In their encounter in the hotel, Ennis tells Jack, "Making a living is about all I got time for now." As the extramarital relationship continues, however, Ennis fails to sustain long-term employment and career advancement, but the script offers no evidence that he is grossly financially irresponsible.

The script contains no indication that Ennis engaged in sexual activity with any man except Jack. Jack, however, desires homosexual activities with other men. Sometime around 1964, before his marriage, he tries to seduce a rodeo clown, only to be rejected.

Prior to their marriage, Lureen, seeing Jack perform in a rodeo, aggressively pursues the impoverished Jack. Initially, he seems flattered, but has only a passing interest in Lureen. Once Jack learns that Lureen's father has earned "serious money" by selling "big farm equipment...hundred-thousand dollar tractors," Jack accepts Lureen's offer to dance and makes love with her that night.

But consider Lee's directorial choices in Jack and Lureen's pre-coitus dance scene. The camera remains stationary as the actors make two revolutions on the dance floor. For one-and-a-half revolutions, we see a mesmerized Lureen gazing at a rapturous and self-assured—almost cocky—Jack. But in the final beats, Lureen turns, her gaze moving away from Jack. The unobserved Jack's eyes glance at the floor with a solemn, preoccupied expression.

When they make love a short time later, however, the audience sees Jack enjoying the encounter without even a hint of duplicity. But, by Jack's first reunion with Ennis, Jack has concocted a scheme to extort money from Lureen's father to finance the two men's leaving their wives and living together.

What of Jack's retaining the bloody shirts? The script doesn't state when he symbolized his emotional attachment to Ennis by commingling them, but Jack did not dispose of the shirts in the four years the men had no contact. Was Jack keeping them as a memento of past activity to which he intended never to return? Given his behavior it seems more likely Jack was aware of his desires and engaged in reality evasion. Jack, not Ennis, sends the postcard that resurrects their relationship.

What are we to induce from Jack's inconsistent nature? His dark morality, clearly evinced by the script, isn't properly developed in the Lee/Gyllenhaal creation; instead, Jack is portrayed with an authentic boyish and naïve charm.21 Ang Lee's failure to provide a properly developed Jack Twist results in a character whose intentions and philosophy are muddied and out of focus.

In the end, we are up against the "other minds" problem, and the question of the faith with which these characters entered their marriage contracts remains open.


If the above analysis holds, neither Jack nor Ennis is guilty of altruism. Neither sacrificed a greater value for a lesser, as both men highly valued the roles they played. Avoiding the guilt of altruism is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful, heroic life. As such, these characters' moral instantiations with respect to avoiding altruism were not enough to allow them to escape the impossibility of their lives being heroic.

The case against this interpretation

One of the most intriguing aspects of Proulx's writing is what she omits from her storylines. This characteristic is maintained in Larry McMurtry's and Diana Ossana's derivative work, the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain. Such elisions are significant in that they allow the audience—and in the case of a film or stage production, the director and actors—to hold multiple interpretations of the same events. They also provide obstacles for those attempting a philosophical analysis.

The Ang Lee film—and the screenplay—is, unfortunately, both a philosophical pastiche and a blank canvas on which the audience can paint various philosophies, but only in muted tones.22 Brokeback Mountain lacks the crisp philosophic exactitude of Objectivist fiction. As such, objections can be raised to the Objectivist perspective detailed above.

Although not the choice in Lee's film, two interpretations of the screenplay could raise the objection that Jack (but not Ennis) is a gay man. The screenplay could be interpreted such that Jack made a pivotal, but not dramatized, decision between 1963 and 1967: He decided to change his value system and pursue a queer lifestyle.

What evidence do we have of this? First we should consider Jack's sexual experience prior to his 1963 employment on Brokeback. The film contains no explicit statement that either man had sexual experience prior to Brokeback.23 The Lee/Gyllenhaal characterization, however, provides a subtle clue that Jack may have been experienced in homosexual activities prior to Ennis. In their discussion of the Pentecost, Jack says, "I don't know what the Pentecost is. [...] I guess it's when the world ends and fellas like you and me, we march off to hell." A grinning Ennis replies, "Speak for yourself. You may be a sinner but I ain't yet had the opportunity." Although difficult to catch given the wide shot, Gyllenhaal chuckles in a seemingly knowing and guilty manner.24

After his initial separation from Ennis in 1963, Jack decides to pursue other men for homosexual sex. The film includes a scene (probably set in 1964 or 1965) in which Jack unsuccessfully tries to pick up a man in a bar. In his first reunion with Ennis, while trying to convince Ennis to leave Alma and live with him, Jack has a line that could be delivered with scathing derision, indicating that Jack has altered his value system. Criticizing Ennis' marriage Jack says, "You and Alma, that's a life?", to which Ennis replies, "Now you shut up about Alma." Ledger plays the scene as a man protecting his turf, but in this potentially informative scene, Gyllenhaal remains ambiguous in delivering his moment. That moment could have offered valuable insight into Jack's internal life. Lee leaves it to the audience to fill in the blank.

The interpretation that Jack's value system changed quickly after the summer of 1963 presents a critical problem: If he decided to pursue a queer lifestyle, why did he marry? It couldn't have been an instance of social metaphysics or a lack of opportunity as Proulx provides evidence that even in the mid-1960's men such as Jack had at least some idea of where to go if they wanted to pursue a queer lifestyle.25 The script offers no evidence that Jack attempted or desired to move to such an area. Did he marry for Lureen's money? If so, why didn't he accept the bribe from his father-in-law and leave his marriage at the first opportunity, assuming Jack's father-in-law offered such a deal?

Another interpretation is that Jack's value system gradually erodes with Jack slowly coming to realize that he is a gay man. The script is clear, late in the story, that Jack engages in homosexual romance with at least one man other than Ennis. Jack plans to leave his wife and move to Lightning Flat with this new male lover. The strongest textual evidence for this interpretation is found in Jack's final confrontation with Ennis. Jack argues that they "ought to go to Mexico". Both know a gay subculture exists in Mexico, and Ennis angrily confronts Jack about Jack's brief journeys into that subculture.

To instantiate either of these interpretations, the onus of Jack's requisite character transition falls on the actor and director. The Ang Lee production provides little indication that Jack's core value system of 1963 changes over the course of the film. The script could support an actor playing Jack as a gay man, but the ambiguous plot and character development of Brokeback Mountain handicaps any director in providing his cast with an appropriate super-objective26 for the piece. A lack of super-objective creates an impossible situation for an actor's development of character and determination of a through line of actions.27 If Lee articulated the interpretation that Jack changed his value system and wished to live as a gay man, Gyllenhaal's performance fails to evince his director's desired character transition. Although a subjective call, the Lee/Gyllenhaal creation does not seem to support these objections.

Another potential objection involves male bonding. Neither Jack nor Ennis exhibits the "traditional" male bonding one would expect to see in men with their value system. The script provides no evidence that these characters bond to any heterosexual male friends or relatives. Ennis suspects his father of murder; Jack has a distant relationship with his father whom Jack admits he "can't please" and who "[n]ever taught [Jack] a thing, never once came to see [Jack] ride" in the rodeo.28 Jack's relationship with his father-in-law is equally tense. Lureen states that Jack had friends,29 but the script does not reveal the sexual orientation of those friends and Jack's dramatized interactions with potential male friends are focused solely on Jack's pursuit of homosexual sex. Ennis mentions only one male character who might be Ennis' friend: Don Wroe, whose identity remains a mystery. Incongruent with the characters' value system, this lack of male bonding is a valid objection.

As is the 1983-to-1963 flashback embrace. Although the characters do not embrace face-to-face (or even look each other in the face after the embrace),30 the scene is out of character for Ennis. A man who throws punches at gender transcendence would not embrace Jack in that way except, perhaps, in a sexual situation. This is another example of how Brokeback Mountain is an inconsistent philosophic stew.

One may raise the objection that Ennis' fear of anti-homosexual violence is an instance of succumbing to social metaphysics. It's not. It is an instantiation of one of Rand's teachings:
Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every "is" implies an "ought." Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.31
There is a murderous anti-homosexual element in the men's environment, therefore they ought to avoid falling victim to it. Ennis' advice to Jack that "if you can't fix gotta stand it" is a first cousin of Rand's "Every is implies an ought." This provides more evidence that Ennis is the most Objectivist-like character in the drama.

A final potential objection is puzzling, and remains nascent and underdeveloped in this article. The objection derives from the question: How much of the plot of Brokeback Mountain does Proulx intend to be "real" within the context of the fiction and how much, if any, is a lie-of-the-mind? Toward the end of writing this article, I discovered an anomaly in the structure of Brokeback Mountain: All of the many geographic references in the film are real32 with the exception of three locations which appear to be fictitious: Brokeback Mountain; a town called Rutters where Jack claims his "mistress" lives, although the mistress is probably one of Jack's fabrications; and the town of Signal, Wyoming where the film begins. Wyoming has a Signal Mountain located within the Grand Teton National Park borders of 1963, but I could find no listing for a town called Signal. As part of a national park, Signal Mountain could have been under the control of the Forest Service (referred to in the script) and it might have served as the setting for Brokeback Mountain.33

Why employ careful research, setting your story in geographically accurate locations, only to have your most august relationship develop on a fictitious mountain? Why fabricate a couple of towns, details that would be caught only by someone who meticulously examines drama looking for such clues? The message Proulx is trying to send—if any—remains unknown. Is it just a literary device, a metaphor between a mysterious relationship and an elusive mountain? Or was Descartes' Evil Deceiver lurking in Proulx's Wyoming and Texas of 1963 to 1983, justifying audience members' random dismissal of whole scenes at will? Let's hope not. One could raise any objection, no matter how irrational, to anyone's analysis of Brokeback Mountain. When a writer opens a door allowing anyone to call any scene a phantasm, anything goes. Such a writer takes no moral, social or epistemic stand, and no interpretation of that writer's work has any validity. A writer who engages in such philosophic treason is worse than the modern "artists" who hang blank canvases hoping viewers will project whatever the viewers wish on their nonsensical "creations." At least with the modern artists we can quickly look elsewhere; the dramatist who engages in such behavior pilfers two hours and fifteen minutes of our lives.


While no character in Brokeback Mountain can be considered an Objectivist and the film is philosophically muddied and inconsistent, Brokeback Mountain contains and engenders more Objectivist thought than the vast majority of analysts have realized. Although not written in the genre of Romantic Realism34 and seriously flawed in philosophy, morality, construction and execution, Brokeback Mountain does, if evaluated carefully through eyes untainted by social metaphysics, fulfill a principal goal of Objectivist aesthetics: the augmentation of the viewer's psycho-epistemology.


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1. This article employs the definition of "gay" and "queer" as a social/political/sexual identity necessarily including (but not limited to) at least some degree of gender role transcendence, liberal (or "left-wing") politics and world-view, and a preference for homosexual sex.
2. Most notably, Jack Twist exhibits a much darker morality and Ennis Del Mar has less of the psycho-epistemological development he displays in the film. Sexuality and the characters' ability to "give in" to social metaphysics differ also.
3. Source:
4. Ayn Rand died on 6 March 1982.
5. Source:
6. Rumors persist that Rand was bisexual. I, however, have been unable to find any evidence to confirm this. I suspect this rumor is the result of a bizarre misinterpretation of Rand's assertion that her favorite television show was Charlie's Angels. Rand was clear, however, that she was attracted to the show's characters and the obstacles those characters overcame. I'm unaware of Rand's claiming to be physically attracted to the actresses playing the characters.
7. The epistemology of Objectivism is steeped in empiricism.
8. Source: "The Argument from Intimidation" in The Virtue of Selfishness, page 141.
9. Source: "The Psychology of Pleasure" in The Virtue of Selfishness, pages 65-66.
10. The imagery is the short story is stronger, with Proulx writing that Ennis "laid the ministering angel [Jack] out in the wild columbine, wings folded."
11. This is another area in which the short story and the film contrast. The homosexual sex in the short story is not an analog of consensual heterosexual sex with its expected intimacy, comfort and mutually respectful release. The short story's homosexual copulations are extremely aggressive, an event seemingly without much parallel to heterosexual encounters. For example, when the men kiss, they draw blood. Proulx appears to be casting the homosexual encounters not as a "substitute" for heterosexual intercourse, but as a distinct activity that satisfies needs different from the men's heterosexual encounters. The homosexual encounters depicted in the film, however, could have been played believably by a man and a woman.
12. Joe Aguirre, as played by Randy Quaid, appears clear about his contempt for Jack when he refuses him work based on his observations of Jack's behavior. In the case of John Twist, we must induce his contempt through his toying with Ennis over the other man Jack planned to live with and the demeanor with which Peter McRobbie plays John Twist. The short story is more explicit; Proulx states that John "star[ed] at Ennis with an angry knowing expression."
13. One may be inclined to include in this category Ennis' confrontation with his wife Alma and his telephone conversation with Jack's wife Lureen. A careful analysis of those scenes, however, reveals that the wives do not exhibit contempt. As played by Michelle Williams, Alma appears to exhibit betrayal, but she falls short of expressing contempt. She is interrupted by Ennis' self-aborted assault before the audience has an opportunity to learn her judgment of Ennis' behavior. Lureen also fails to express contempt; she appears to vacillate between betrayal and compassion. For example, when Ennis tells her "we was herdin' sheep up on Brokeback one summer back in ‘63", and we can assume that she fathoms his relationship to her late husband, actress Anne Hathaway tears up. Lureen even encourages Ennis to pursue Jack's ashes.
14. In the short story Joe Aguirre is justified in not hiring Jack on the sole fact that Jack failed to fulfill his employment obligations in 1963. Once the men began their sexual relationship, "both knew how it would go for the rest of the summer, sheep be damned." It's much the same in the film. Although the men in the film do not ignore the sheep, they do spend some nights together, away from the sheep, in violation of their employment agreement. In both the short story and the film, Joe did not obtain the returning number and quality of sheep he expected. Giving Joe this justification not to hire Jack while at the same time taking a stab at the anti-homosexual angle is another example of Brokeback Mountain's lack of moral specificity.
15. Psycho-epistemology is man's ability to assimilate the perceptions of his conscious mind into his subconscious such that his cognitive processes become automatic. For more information, see
16. For more information on the nature of compromise, see "Doesn't Life Require Compromise?" in The Virtue of Selfishness.
17. Rand's play Night of January 16th has an optional ending somewhat like the imaginary one described here: Karen Andre, the central character, announces her intention to commit suicide rather than continue in a society that mandates values that will prevent her life from being heroic. Similar to John Galt, she tells society, "I have nothing to seek in your world."
18. This is likely a lie, as Jack is involved with another man.
19. Note that he does not say "...boys like us...."
20. But not for Jack in the short story. When Ennis tells Jack that he wanted a son, Jack replies, "I didn't want none a either kind....Nothin never come to my hand the right way." Omitting this line from the film bolsters the thesis of this article.
21. This lack of proper character development could have been a marketing decision, as portraying Jack true to the script may have proved less popular than casting him in Hollywood "pretty-boy" mode. If this is the case, we have a situation of characters that do not give in to social metaphysics, but producers and a director who do!
22. At least one more derivative work is planned. The New York City Opera intends to stage an operatic version of Brokeback Mountain, composed by Charles Wuorinen, in 2013. Analyzing that production with respect to this article's assertions should prove interesting.
23. The short story, however, is clear that Ennis had sodomized no man prior to Jack. Regarding Jack and Ennis' first sexual encounter, Proulx describes it as "nothing [Ennis had] done before".
24. The short story offers evidence that Jack is promiscuous. The motel scene includes this exchange: "[Ennis says,] ‘I never had no thoughts [of] doin it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you. You do it with other guys? Jack?' ‘Shit no,' said Jack, who had been riding more than bulls, not rolling his own."
25. The short story indicates that Denver is a possibility.
26. For an explanation of the super-objective see "The Super-Objective and the Through Line of Actions" in Moore's The Stanislavski System.
27. For an explanation of the through line of actions and its importance to an actor, see "The Super-Objective and the Through Line of Actions" in Moore's The Stanislavski System.
28. In the short story, the relationships are worse. Proulx includes a scene in which the father violently urinates on a three or four year-old Jack. In the motel scene, Ennis claims that if his father saw the two of them in bed, Ennis' father would "go get his tire iron" and kill both of them.
29. The short story implies that Jack had friends in the rodeo, or at least men from whom he was friendly enough to borrow substantially.
30. The short story offers more insight: "Ennis would not then embrace [Jack] face to face because he did not want to see nor feel that it was Jack he held."
31. Source: "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness, page 21.
32. Wyoming: Sage, Worland, Lightning Flat, Riverton, Cody, Lake Kemp, Bighorn Mountains, Casper (Even Dead Horse Road exists, mentioned in the short story as the road on which Ennis' parents died.); Texas: Lubbock, Childress; Mexico; Las Vegas; California; Montana
34. Romantic Realism is the code of aesthetics for Objectivism. See Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto.
33. If the town of Signal proves not to have existed, another layer of complexity is added to the short story: In 1983, while smoking a joint with Jack, Ennis claims he has a girlfriend, a barmaid he's "been putting the blocks to". In the film, this woman is dramatized as the character Cassie Cartwright and she is from the geographically accurate town of Riverton. In the short story, however, this girlfriend is from the town of Signal. Could the short story's Ennis be fabricating his girlfriend? If so, it is completely out of character for the Ennis the reader has come to know. Proulx ends the scene stating that the men spent their evening telling "truths and lies", but what is true remains unrevealed.