How Brokeback Mountain speaks of our complex modern lives

Article: Brokeback Mountain: A Gay and Universal Love Story
Author: Serlin, Ilene

Although the film Brokeback Mountain came and went with a lot of media hype at this being a major film focusing on a gay male relationship, many would have preferred the movie be used for a discussion aimed at the universal themes of relationships and alienation rather than just the “shock” of seeing a loving, homosexual relationship. Serlin (2006) strongly believes that the film could bring very relevant concepts about the human state to light, and that these concepts could help improve psychotherapy today.
Serlin’s (2006) article highlights the major themes of the movie and reflects on how these themes are interwoven with the complexity of human needs and desires. The author argues that complex—and sometimes paradoxical—needs and desires can become neglected in modern psychotherapy—which can possible oversimplify or neglect some areas in favor of others. As an example, Serlin mentions “the importance of mythic images…[to] the reality of human thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Mythic images can be used in psychotherapy as a template to see one’s own personal mythology” (Serlin, 2006).
Most therapies focus on emphasizing the positive and moving away from negative or multi-faceted factors. However, “the reality of human thoughts, feelings, and behavior” are far more integrative and complex. The author argues that these complexities and paradoxical emotions and experiences help create the drama or richness that colors our daily lives. After all, when we’re old and gray, and we look back, we hardly will remember the boring or dull, but rather, our most passionate or adrenaline-pumping experiences.
The topics that Serlin (2006) highlights as central to the Brokeback Mountain story and to the modern individual’s experiences. These emotions and conflicts have a universal reverberation. It’s important for psychotherapists to consider a sense of mixed identity or multiple roles, patriarchy and family, nonverbal communication and body language, nature versus culture, and the tension between the real and the ideal (Serlin, 2006). According to Baron, Byrne, and Branscombe (2006), “how others treat us, and how we believe they will treat us in the future, have important implications for how we think about ourselves.”
Of particular interest to today’s busy individuals are the impact and effects of multiple roles. As Serlin notes when quoting Shakespeare’s As You Like It, people increasingly find themselves trying to cope with their individuality and the many roles they play as they interact with others. This brings forward an interesting conflict between what is real and what is imagined or ideal, and between the restrictiveness of our domestic life and the grandness of the wide open spaces. It is not unusual for urbanites to spend their weekends in the great outdoors, either hiking or cycling—rather it is a natural reaction to try to balance the restrictiveness of their weekly roles with a counteractive activity.
I once read a description of complexity that said it is the conflict and coping humans experience in their need for independence and their need to belong to a social group. I definitely see this definition of complexity live and well every day, and especially, in the relationship between the two Brokeback Mountain protagonists. Meanwhile, we all can hope to cope as best we can to our ever-complex lives.

Baron, R. A., Byrne, D., and Branscombe, N. R. (2006). The Self: Understanding “Who Am I?” Social Psychology, 11th Edition, pp. 177. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Duffy, K. G., & Krolikowski, G. E. (2008) Annual Editions Social Psychology, 7th Edition. Dubuque, IA: McGraw Hill.
Serlin, I. (2006). Brokeback Mountain: A Gay and A Universal Love Story. PsycCritiques, Vol. 51 (11). American Psychological Association.