Hello, and welcome to the discussion guides for Beyond Brokeback: The Impact of a Film. We have posted here two sets of questions to start things off, but we'll add additional questions and are not opposed to taking things in new and different directions. As with the entire Brokeback phenomenon, "there ain't no reins on this one."
Beyond the Book: a Roundtable Discussion
For those of you new to the book, there is no set beginning, middle, and end in the traditional narrative sense, though I do think there are major themes and threads that weave the whole together. Although the stories/posts published were arranged in broad categories, they are not meant to be hard and fast divisions. One could read starting from anywhere between the two covers, but it would be best to try to read all of these stories for the clearest sense of the grand sweep of the epic landscape that inspired them.
1. Many of the pieces in Beyond Brokeback read like short-story fiction, inspired as they were by the award-winning short story by Annie Proulx and the film by Ang Lee. Indeed, Ang Lee himself commented on this phenomenon when he accepted one of his many awards for Best Director, "I want to thank two people who don't even exist, or should I say, they do exist ..Their names are Ennis and Jack ." (Academy Awards®, March 6, 2006) To what extent have the lines between fact and fiction, memory and mythology been blurred, and perhaps, reconfigured?
2. Along similar lines, it is said that "history" belongs to those who write it. Hagiagraphy, on the other hand, is associated with tribal, or collectivized memory of the past, and tends to blur precise "time-stamping." It is viewed as a combination of fact and fiction-mythopoeic history, or history through storytelling-with a beginning, middle and end and a theme uniting them. Gay people's "stories" have rarely been rendered at all, let alone woven into the cultural fabric, and Brokeback Mountain and Beyond Brokeback may signal a beginning (like the beginning of the film in "Signal, Wyoming") of a GLBT hagiagraphy. Many memories were awakened, but is that all: "We've dealt with our memories, now let's move on"?
3. As a possible comparison, consider that many, many people were profoundly affected by the tragedy of 9/11, even though they may not have known anyone even remotely connected to the people in The World Trade Center, or even in New York City or Washington, D.C. There were, however, the images of the planes going into the buildings and their shocking collapse an hour or so later, that played over and over and over on "the small screen"-not unlike multiple viewings of the film for some people "on the big screen." Is there any comparison? The events viewed by millions on September 11, 2001, actually happened; but what hundred of thousands of people viewed in the winter of 2006, did not, yet something changed/shifted.
How is it possible that Brokeback Mountain, a film, could be a triggering event in people's lives? How could it be something that people referred to as "happening to" them? What happened, on one level, was sitting in a theater and watching celluloid images on a white screen projected before them. Can a work of art (which imitates life) be a life-altering event? Can life imitate art?
4. Transformation is an important theme in many of the stories and comments in Beyond Brokeback, and the triggering event was the film. One of the issues parlayed in Beyond Brokeback has to do with whether or not a shift has or is occurring on a cultural level, or whether the changes reported are entirely personal and parochial (limited to the GLBT community and their friends/family). If it is true that one or a few people can effect change on a larger scale, then how could so many individuals be changed and that not have an effect on the broader culture?
5. One of the themes in Brokeback Mountain on a subtler level and overtly in Beyond Brokeback concerns the crippling effect of "normative masculinity" on males and their relationships. Some wrote that the male psyche was portrayed as never before and cracked open not a few hard shells in the psyches of those who saw it and themselves, in the words of the poet: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" (T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets). Is it possible that men could actually change their masculine self-concept? Could gay men in particular, and even heterosexual men, "change their spots" when it comes to their intimate relationships-if "men are from Mars, and women are from Venus"?
6. Many religious people also were deeply affected by the film and shared their perspectives in the Forum, some of which were represented in Beyond Brokeback. Many felt moved to share their experiences with their respective churches/faith communities. Could such "grass roots" prophets affect the view of the larger denominations? Will they be welcomed or shunned ("from their own country," so to speak). In Buddhism, there is the story of the murderer, Angulimala (whose name means "necklace of thumbs"), who became one of the historical Buddha's greatest disciples. Or, there is the story of the Roman Centurion, Paul, who persecuted Christians, before his transformation on the Road to Damascus, to become "the father of Christianity." Will mainstream churches that now shun GLBT relationships one day champion them? Is such an attempt worthwhile?
7. Women were represented in the film and in these stories with rather remarkable perspectives on and contribution to the "story." Some found Brokeback Mountain to be universal enough to include themselves, or see themselves, in the characters of Jack and Ennis. Ang Lee certainly felt inspired to render the Annie Proulx' "Brokeback Mountain" in terms he considered universal-"the greatness of love itself," he said. Many women writing about the film's impact on them remarked on how the story applied to their lives, and not only from the point of view of the men in their lives. Is it asking too much of a single character or two in an 11-page short-story (as originally published in The New Yorker) to stand for "every man" in the sense of "everyone"? Is this an example of the "poetic fallacy"-reading too much into one thing-or is this legitimately a case of "see[ing] the world in a grain of sand" (William Blake)?
Once again, this is just a beginning, in my view. Feel free to suggest other thematic areas. It isn't even necessary to remain tied to the book, as I feel one thing will lead to others. "One leads to two which leads to three which leads to the ten thousand things." (Tao Te Ching)
Faith and Homosexuality: Discussion Questions
The membership of The Ultimate Brokeback Forum includes people of many faiths. Discussion threads emerged as the movie prompted questions concerning the church, personal faith, and their impact on society's view and treatment of the GLBT community.
As you read and answer the questions below, consider taking them to your church for group discussion. These questions can be the jumping point to deeper conversation and a better understanding of how faith shapes our response to sexual orientation. Even if you agree to disagree, at least you're talking! Let's get this topic out of the closet.
1. Does Brokeback Mountain portray homosexuality in a way that conflicts with your views or experience? Has reading about its impact on others changed the way you feel about same-sex relationships?
2. The contributors to Beyond Brokeback have one thing in common: a profound response to the central characters' loss. How do you think the writers' faith might help them? How might it hurt them in their attempts to resolve the impact of the film?
3. After hearing Jack's description of the "Pentecost," how do you think his family's religious views affected his self image? How has your family's religious views affected your own? Did you find that you had to reject your family's view in order to accept your sexual orientation? Are there other inborn traits that have a similar effect?
4. Does your own faith -not your church's- constrain you from doing things you feel are a part of you? If so, how do you reconcile it with your faith views?
5. There appear to be conflicts between the Old Testament and New Testament views of godly behavior. Have you reconciled the differences? Do you have peace with the answers you have found?
6. Do you find condemnation or acceptance in your personal understanding of God?
7. How has your understanding of God affected your behavior? Your sense of self?
8. Has someone personally threatened or rejected you on religious grounds for any reason? How did it affect you?
9. How important is it to you to be included in the rituals of the church? Are your feelings due to personal experience or your world view?
10. Is it desirable to sublimate one's sexuality in order to lead a more spiritual existence? Is this true for all sexual orientations?
11. If you believe God created you for a purpose, how does your orientation conflict with/help fulfill that purpose?
12. If your denomination views homosexuality as sinful, is it sinful as a trait or as a behavior? Does it teach that being celibate allows a person who is gay to accept communion? How do you believe? How does that belief affect your life, if at all?
13. Have you ever spoken up with an opinion on homosexuality in a church setting? How was it received? How did that response affect your behavior?
14. Does the church you attend adhere to the doctrine on homosexuality established by its denomination? Is it clear in the message given in the pulpit and by the members?
15. Does the church you attend welcome all sexual orientations? Is the message overt or covert? Do you feel it would make a difference if a member made it clear s/he was gay?
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