The real lessons of Brokeback Mountain

    Having lassoed eight Academy Award nominations, millions more
    Americans likely will see director Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”
    Social conservatives should be among those who catch this widely lauded
    motion picture.

    Socio-cons probably have sidestepped this so-called gay cowboy movie.
    Too bad. While it hardly screams, “family values,” “Brokeback” engages
    profound issues that merit consideration by those who think seriously
    about the challenges that families face.

    Stylistically,
    socio-cons need not fear “Brokeback” as a didactic, in-your-face, gay
    screed. “We’re here. We’re queer” it is not. Nor is this film a
    flamboyant camp-fest, like the flighty but hilarious “The Birdcage” or
    much of “The Producers,” both coincidentally starring Nathan Lane.

    Indeed, as a romance between two thoroughly masculine ranch hands,
    “Brokeback” begins to reverse the damage caused by “Queer Eye for the
    Straight Guy” and similar offerings that reinforce the stereotype that
    gay men are indispensable when one needs to select fabulous neckties or
    striking pastels for stunning interiors. How sad that such
    entertainment still elicits laughs, even as most Americans would be
    justifiably outraged at any show titled “Jewish Guy with a Banker’s
    Eye” or “The Mexican Gardening Hour.”

    Beyond equating same-sex
    affection with manliness, “Brokeback” addresses important matters on
    the political agenda. It is impossible to discuss these themes without
    revealing key plot points. So, if you have yet to see “Brokeback,”
    please do so soon, then finish this column after the credits roll.

    Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, movingly portrayed by Academy Award
    nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, respectively, find
    themselves inexplicably drawn to each other one booze-filled evening in
    1963. While huddling in a tent from Wyoming’s bracing winds, a
    spontaneous moment of intimacy triggers for Jack and Ennis a long
    summer that combines hectic days of tending sheep with tranquil nights
    of tending to each other.

    As the young men depart the mountain
    pastures when their gig ends, they split up and do what society expects
    of them. Jack competes in the Southwestern rodeo circuit where he
    meets, marries, and has a son with Lureen (Anne Hathaway), herself an
    equestrian. Ennis weds Alma (Ledger’s real-life girlfriend, Oscar
    nominee Michelle Williams), a quiet, loyal woman who raises their two
    daughters.

    After four years apart, Jack returns to Ennis’ small
    town of Riverton, Wyo. Their still-smoldering passion flares like a
    zephyr-swept campfire. They stoke these flames during periodic fishing
    trips.

    Jack’s and Ennis’ marriages grow increasingly cold,
    leading to a loveless union for the Twists and divorce and a broken
    home for the Del Mars.

    As this adulterous relationship spreads
    pain all around, one need not hark back to the Rockies of the 1960s and
    ’70s to find parallels to Jack’s and Ennis’ situation. Former New
    Jersey governor Jim McGreevey’s wife, Dina, bore him a baby girl before
    his clandestine affair with an Israeli man named Golan Cipel erupted
    into view in 2004. The McGreeveys split, and their daughter’s live-in
    dad is now just a visitor.

    Similarly, J.L. King’s book, “On the
    Down Low,” discusses seemingly heterosexual black husbands who cheat on
    their spouses with other men. The luckier wives land in divorce court;
    the most unlucky unwittingly become HIV-positive.

    “Brokeback
    Mountain” should prompt social conservatives to ponder whether it is
    good family policy to encourage gay men to live lives that are
    traditional yet untrue. Would honest gay marriages be less destructive
    than deceitful straight ones? I think so. Many disagree. Even if they
    oppose it, however, seeing this film may give heterosexual marriage
    proponents a better insight into why so many Americans advocate
    homosexual marriage.

    “Brokeback” also concerns homophobic
    violence. The October 1998 beating death of gay college student Matthew
    Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., the July 1999 fatal baseball-bat attack on
    gay Army Pvt. Barry Winchell, and the non-lethal assault on gay soldier
    Kyle Lawson last October, among other incidents, should remind
    filmgoers that this grave matter was not buried on the Great Plains
    decades ago.

    Beautifully acted, photographed, written, and
    directed, “Brokeback Mountain” quietly but powerfully asks questions
    that are relevant today. Americans left, middle and right should see
    this touching, haunting love story, then give it the thorough mulling
    over it deserves.

    (New York commentator Deroy Murdock is
    a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow
    with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)