Subverting Connotations of Wilderness in Brokeback Mountain

While reading for another class, I found a portion of the text that discussed the film Brokeback Mountain. After I finished the novella, I read this passage again and found that these concepts tie into the book as well; they explore how Brokeback Mountain subverts historical conceptions of a sexualized wilderness, in which pure, virginal land serve as a place of domination for heterosexual men.

In the book Ecocriticism, the evolution of connotations of the wilderness throughout literature and film are explored. The author asserts that Brokeback Mountain as a novella subverts some of culturally pervasive connotations of wilderness: “The film challenges the heteronormative assumptions underlying both the construction of ‘cowboy’ masculinities and, more subtly, the sexual coding of wilderness as a virile, heterosexual space” (Gerrard 60). The wilderness plays a large role in the film and novella, specifically acting as symbol of Ennis and Jack’s attraction, both sexual and romantic. Historically, both in real life and in literature, the wilderness is often viewed as a place of domination and conquest for heterosexual men. In Brokeback Mountain, it is seen by Jack and Ennis as a safe space for queer sexual acts (though this does not translate into a safe space for queer identities for either of the men). Jack perceives the land as not just providing a space for these actions, but a direct influence on them. Jack says to Ennis, “Old Brokeback got us good and it sure ain’t over” (Proulx 26). Instead of the men having dominion over the land, the land has power over them. Not only does the wilderness influence the men to “transgress” from the “norm” of heterosexuality in regard to their sexual acts, but it also allows for romantic tenderness that cannot exist elsewhere: “What Jack remembered and craved in a way that he could neither help not understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger” (Proulx 43). Ennis can only allow himself to reciprocate Jack’s romantic desire for him in the mountains, away from civilization, where they feel invisible and protected by the wilderness.

One thought on “Subverting Connotations of Wilderness in Brokeback Mountain”

  1. You mentioned how, “instead of the men having dominion over the land, the land has power over them,” and I’m not sure if this goes against your previous point, that “Brokeback Mountain subverts historical conceptions of a sexualized wilderness, in which pure, virginal land serves as a place of domination for heterosexual men.” It’s not clear whether the land exerts any more power over Jack and Ennis than the typical heterosexual man. Jack and Ennis’ relationship may subvert the idea of a sexualized nature in how, rather than seek to dominate nature, they find some type of harmony. It may also be worth further exploring how notions of domination interplay with the mountain and what might be implied from Jack and Ennis’ submissive relationship with nature.

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