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Mixed moral messages

From: Josey Foo, Farmington, NM

Roger Ebert's article "The fury of the Crash-lash" was a disappointment to read, partly because he was dismissive of all arguments that didn't place “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crash” in the same class. He noted that Kenneth Turan, Nikki Finke and others must have an agenda because they failed to mention the other nominated films. He then dismissed their arguments because, in his opinion, their opinions (as to which film was more deserving on the merits) were not sincere.

I'm a heterosexual woman who really enjoyed “Crash.” That movie was exciting, and all the scenes featuring Terence Howard were riveting, even profound. I liked that the moviemakers had put the unspeakable on the screen. It seemed courageous. Its message, however, changes depending on where you stand on the question of racism. At the end, the one person who is clearly not racist (Ryan Phillipe) kills a black man by mistake and compounds the evil by covering it up.

The message to liberals seems to be to lighten up about imperfect humanity because it could happen to you. The message to racists seems to be what Matt Dillon tells Ryan Phillipe -- that he knows better having been on the job longer, that those like Phillipe who condemn racism are in for a rude awakening, which comes to pass. The redemption sequences -- for example, Dillon saving from a burning car the beautiful black woman he previously molested - should cause audiences to have more sympathy for the rehabilitation of the criminal-minded, but it does not. It cheapens the act of molestation performed by Dillon earlier, and it confuses the victim (Thandie Newton). Again, I enjoyed the movie. It was fast-paced, kinetic, filled with intriguing, even titillating situations (carjacking, molestation, murder).

I remember leaving the theater after watching “Brokeback Mountain” with very unsettled emotions. My friends each had different immediate reactions ranging from anger (at Ang Lee) to disappointment at the ordinariness of the story, to confusion. A few hours later, after we thought about the film more, we called each other up and talked a long time. The effect of the film was slow and open-ended. It led us in no particular direction but caused subtle adjustments, at least in myself, that had little to do with gay themes. I found myself, and still find myself, very joyful about the minute observation of ordinary needs, small choices, and western rural life in the film. The characters and their stories continue to resonate. I don't think I've seen a movie so demanding of my own life, in terms of personal responsibility, in a long time.

In the final analysis, it's “Brokeback Mountain” for me by a mile, and not because of any agenda.

The friends I went with were two women -- a political science professor, the director of a battered women's long term shelter -- and my husband, a heating and cooling repair man. I'm an attorney in the local legal aid office. The town we live in is in the high desert in New Mexico, a western town of oil, gas, coal extraction, wilderness and ranches.

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