Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Right now I'm writing
what I'm hoping will be
an interesting and somewhat important essay
on the value film can (and should) have
for the work of theology.
Some of you may already have heard some about it.

More on that later.

Right now I'm wondering
Should I conclude the paper with a discussion of
Philadelphia or Brokeback Mountain?

What do you all think?

Obviously, both films deal with homosexuality
and in certain (religious) communities,
that makes them controversial.

But (I would argue) if religion is about proclaiming the truths of love and justice,
then how could theologians not get behind these two films?
(here I'm thinking particularly of Catholic theologians, but it doesn't have to be that explicit.)

Philadelphia tells the story of a lawyer (Tom Hanks) working in the city of brotherly love. He's rather successful. And he's a good man. He's just been given this really big, important case, so you know his bosses trust him. And even though he's working every day late into the night, he still takes time to greet (with what seems to be genuine good will) the doorman, various secretaries, co-workers, etc. And he seems to have a good relationship with his family. We quickly learn that he has AIDS - by that time, he's been fired from his job. So he sues. In a strange twist of fate, his case is taken up by a homophobic lawyer (Denzel Washington). The viewer by watching the film - whatever his or her stance on AIDS and homosexuality was before watching the film - is given the chance to reevaluate that stance and at the very least to empathize more closely with the protagonist and others like him who face mortal situations like his. At one point, Tom Hanks' character (Andrew Beckett) points out what makes AIDS horrible, besides the threat of physical death, is the threat, due to the fears and prejudices surrounding AIDS, of "social death." It's something to think about.

Brokeback Mountain you've probably heard of, but (perhaps) have yet to see. Two sheep herders are contracted out to watch a herd of sheep up in the hills of Wyoming. Early on, the movie moves slow and clearly emphasizes the beauty of their forested mountain setting. It is as if the filmmakers hoped to encourage viewers to thoughtfully contemplate the context for the story to follow. It is as if they wanted you to think about the delicate truths of the situation, to see beyond what might otherwise seem disgusting or ugly to any given viewer. I can't be sure, but that's what seemed to be the case to me. After sharing with one another their histories (both involving broken relationships with their parents, particularly their fathers), the rodeo cowboy (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the ranch hand (Heath Ledger) have a brief sexual encounter. The rest of the film is them trying to navigate the great variety of sticky situations life throws at them, though they have very clearly fallen in love with one another. It's dealing with their pasts, with their conceptions of themselves (they both believe, before going up into the mountains, that they are straight, and that definition of self doesn't really ever explicitly change), with their relationships with their wives (the film also seems to do justice to at least the agony that one wife feels when she witnesses the two men kissing) as well as their relationships with their children, friends, and family. This movie also ends tragically.

Did I mention, both films are based on real-life stories?
The families of those characters portrayed both in Philadelphia and in Brokeback Mountain were not exactly pleased to have their stories projected up onto the big screen for everyone to see. But that is a separate (moral) issue.

The point is, both these films (I believe)
try to tell a story that is difficult to tell
but worth telling because of the ethical questions it raises in the minds of viewers.

The question is, if I only have room to discuss one of these films in my paper,
which should it be?

[Footnote: For those who'd prefer to read a review than watch the movie, here are two I could recommend, one of Philadelphia and one of Brokeback Mountain.]

1 comment:

  1. I have watched both of these movies and enjoyed both and the music from them as well. I'm getting too old in life to scoff at love no matter where you find it. Love is love and sex is sex. In some ways I don't believe they go together. Love is all God asks of us. If we did, everything would fall into place.