A ‘mountain’ of romantic discontent

What a cowboy romance taught Postscript about the harsh reality of love

If only love were this picture-perfect ...
If only love were this picture-perfect ...
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Photo courtesy of moviesonline.ca

We live in a world of high expectations.

Thanks to the media and its highly sophisticated airbrushing, blemishes can be taken out in every possible context. Even romance is bleached faultless—love conquers all, inevitably, at the end. Lavishly, handsomely, youthfully.

Movies often support this type of fantasy very well, and we walk into the theatre expecting a lot. If it’s not perfection in the characters’ lives, it will be perfection in the special effects or in the actors’ rock-hard physiques and impeccable wardrobe.

Then something comes along that shatters many of those expectations to the ground, and you’re left speechless. Or, in my case, so full of shock that I ended up talking about that seemingly safe syndrome of love for the next 10 blocks, stunned. This is what Brokeback Mountain did to me.

Set against the backdrop of the magnificent but haughty mountains of the interior U.S., the love that grew between the young rodeo hand and the gruff ranch hand was nowhere near a blessing, but something that they could only express on short “fishing trips” away from prying eyes. Watching their overwhelming and almost animalistic desire to be with each other—despite all their best efforts to the contrary—bewildered me. Love was not a solution. Love was not even a phenomenon filled with beauty.

Is love the ultimate human weakness that blinds our hindsight?

The artist Francis Bacon, famous for his distorted depictions of popes and other stark images, quipped about love: “Being in love in that extreme way—being totally, physically obsessed by someone—is like having some dreadful disease. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Given the fact that one of Bacon’s chief objects of affection was his own cousin and taking into account that Bacon’s father severed ties with him because of his homosexuality, love did not spell happiness for this modern artist, either. But he, too, understood the inescapable human attraction to the feeling: “I think that all human actions are designed to seduce, to please. I don’t give a toss about that anymore. But maybe at the beginning, I painted to be loved yes, that’s certainly right. It’s so nice being loved. Now I don’t give a toss, I’m old.” So perhaps love is nothing more than a hideous, helpless attraction that slowly lures one into dependence. Then why do we fall for it over and over again? Why are we constantly being tempted into yet another chance, which will (probably) end up a failure anyway?

One intellectual in my life articulated—and reconciled—this problem in yet another discussion about love with me. “We’re in love because we already live in it,” he said.

Human interactions inevitably lead us into bonds we cannot escape, because we cannot evolve separately from others, he said. And because of this rather holistic view on the puzzling phenomenon, he concluded by telling me: “Love is quite a bit like everything and nothing all at the same time, for better or for worse.” Not butterflies, not the special feelings of light-headedness, but the simple act of being. Could it be? If so, then should love stop being a source of excitement, but a matter-of-fact cycle?

In a world where we no longer try to express such singular sentiments into yet another line of bland poetry or another bad greeting card, we might not need to witness Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar collapse in sorrow—silently, but strongly—to remind ourselves that sometimes language is but a futility. After all, how many times do we say “I understand” to many things we really don’t, even when it sounds beautiful and we like the way it’s described?

Maybe, if love didn’t receive the ornamentation and commercialization that have been heaped upon it for centuries, we might not need the harsh and gut-wrenching deconstruction shown in Brokeback Mountain to remind us that real-life love can be something other than perfect and beautiful.

We might not need 50 per cent (and up) divorce rates to tell us that every relationship needs work. We might not need to lament the fact that our ways of displaying love to one another have become so commercialized as to be meaningless.

Maybe love could be so much more if we just left it alone. But the fact stands: it took Brokeback Mountain to snap me out of my high expectations—when honestly, I was initially looking forward to the shallow, aesthetic entertainment of two beautiful men together—and examine love and its complexity under the unflattering, harsh light of reality.

And what a harsh reality it is, indeed.

—With files from francis-bacon.cx

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