This week I watched two movies that I expected to be westerns. One was. One was not. Both though dealt with the same core theme-- even though when I had finished them, I didn't immediately see how they related to each other.
An Unfinished Life is the story of a bitter old rancher (Robert Redford) who has lost his son to a tragic accident. He blames his daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez) and they have been estranged for many years until she is forced to reconnect with him to protect her and the granddaughter he never knew he had. Morgan Freeman plays a ranch hand who is also Redford's best friend and has been mauled by a bear. I like the movie; and although it plays out pretty predictably, that's not always a bad thing. The interaction between the two old men, with many years of friendship between them, is wonderful and humorous. The scenery is beautiful. The acting first rate. Redford looks great as a strong old man. Freeman is always good, and Lopez is believable as a woman wrapped in guilt-- although her dialogue could have been improved to bring more understanding of her character.
Brokeback Mountain is the love story of two men (Ennis played by Heath Ledger and Jack by Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet when they are young, have a passion for each other that Ennis cannot live with but he can dabble in, and let it spoil everything else he could have had in his life. Jack would step out and live with it but it's not just his choice alone. The film is intense, very beautifully filmed and accurate to the country and times. The short story it comes from is in the book Close Range by Annie Proulx, and it improves the enjoyment in the film to have read it. I would not call it a western even though the two men are cowboys and it's set in the west.
In both films, passion is allegorically shown through nature-- in the first a grizzly, the same one that mauled Freeman's character; and in the latter, fast moving rivers. I read one critic who found fault with the fast moving water that he took to be suggesting homosexual love was superior to heterosexual which was represented by flat boring land. I believe that critic missed the point. The point is passion is that river with rapids; and yes, it's more threatening, as shown also by the bear, because it represents risk. In the case of Unfinished, the old man had for a time drowned his passion, which was at that time all about anger, in liquor. When he saw the damage that was doing, he just was left with the bitterness until he opened up again to full feeling and risk.
I recommend both very strongly. I know a lot won't see Brokeback because men have sex in it, they kiss each other like lovers, which they are. The sex didn't bother me anymore than watching heterosexual couples. I am not a fan of graphic sexual content in any film. To me, it's too much like being a voyeur. There are better ways to show passion between lovers; but in this movie, it was probably needed to show the nature of the men's relationship and not shown more than required nor offensively (to me) at all. Any nudity was kept to non-sexual moments. Many men I know seem to be scared of seeing it. The same guys could watch two women kiss but heaven forbid (and of course some believe that literally) that two men should. Hey guys, it's not catching.
If one watches these films with an open mind, both can help someone realize their own passion more fully. Both films illustrate the risks of living with passion but they also show the cost of denying it. I believe passion is not about romantic love or even some mighty cause. It's about being aware of and following the inner voice, about fully living, being true to who you are whether it's popular or not, taking the risk, and sometimes putting pain aside to fully move on with your life-- even knowing you might be hurt again. It is fast moving water and a wild bear on a ridge.