Dignity Canada Dignité
and Sacrament on
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere;
They’re in each other all along.”
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Mountain is the cinematic surprise of the year (2005).
It is surprising not only because this story of unfilled romantic
love between two young cowboys has been an outstanding commercial success, and
not just because audiences both gay and straight have been deeply touched by
this twenty-first century re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet.
Yes, a moving love story it is: a powerful illustration of the
tragic and spiraling consequences that ensue when men or women battle the very
truth of their beings in an attempt to live up to the rigid expectations of
unforgiving families and communities.
But just as surprising is that
is also a moving invitation to reconsider some
classic themes of Western spirituality and a startling meditation on Christian
Passing through Greek mythology, the Hebrew Song of Songs, the
Christian gospels and even the Suffi Muslim poet, Rumi, the creators of this
magnificent work have taken us, literally, to the heights and depths of the
It all starts on a mountain – where vision-questers go to find
their sacred visions, to discover the divine truths that actually await them,
not really on the mountain, but deep within themselves. The mountain is where
Moses conversed with the divine in a storm; where Elijah met G-d in a gentle
breeze; where the disciples discovered the true nature of Jesus and where, later
on, Jesus was executed.
The mountain is also where the followers of Dionysus went to make
passionate music and pursue their ecstatic dances to commune with the god of
wine, passion, and the mysterious, non-rational forces of life.
Dionysus was the half-brother of Apollo, the God of the sun and
masculine beauty, the defender of reason and conventional morality, the yin to
As with all gay cowboys, the wardrobe says it all. One of them
wears sun tones while the other prefers colours that evoke the mysterious depths
of the ocean.
In Euripides great play, The Bacchae, King Parmenethes, a
follower of light and reason, seeks to destroy the cult of Dionysus that has
infiltrated his kingdom. The king ends up being torn apart by the avenging
Maenads – who themselves had became mad because they had abolished all reason
from their dark forest. In a healthy soul, both Apollo and Dionysus must make
their home. A well-balanced person uses his reason, works hard and does her
duty. But he also knows how to give himself over to the ecstasy of the dance,
to risk riding a wild mare and to take leaps into the unknown.
In the gospel story of the transfiguration, Jesus takes Peter,
James and John up the mountain, where they are dazzled to see his true nature
shining through the appearances. The disciples plan to set up tents, so as to
stay there, savouring the beauty of the experience. But Jesus rebukes them and
sends them down. They must live out their experience, their vision, down on the
plains of their everyday lives. On Brokeback Mountain, when word comes that
severe storms are on their way and that the two cowboys must come down from
their idyllic experience, Ennis breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. He has set
up his tent there – he can only experience the beauty of his own truth up on the
Dionysus is the god of mystery. “Mysteries” was the way that
early (Greek-speaking) Christians described their sacraments – the sacred
symbols and rituals where men and women relive, in our daily lives, the
“mountain experiences” of our encounters with the Divine.
Mountain, Jack asks Ennis if he believes in the Pentecost.
In some Christian traditions, the Pentecost is the day when a spirit of freedom
and an experience of spiritual ecstasy filled the followers of the crucified
Jesus. But more to the point, it was the day that a band of fearful and
demoralized losers miraculously found the courage to stand proudly and speak
their of their experience.
In the closing minutes of the film, a simple piece of clothing
becomes the sacrament whereby Ennis finally experiences his own Pentecost.
Ennis is alone and despairing in his trailer. Alma, his
daughter, comes by to invite him to her wedding. At first Ennis finds excuses.
He has been hired for another ranching job; as always, he has to do his duty.
Besides, we know he is not much for dancing.
Then Ennis “lifts up his eyes to the mountain”, and he remembers
Jack. He thinks again. He stands up. And like he had done many times with his
own beloved, he pours out some spirits, sharing them with his daughter. It is
as if Jack is present. He gives
Alma leaves. Ennis goes to his closet. Inside there
is nothing but a package containing two shirts – his only remembrance of his
time on the mountain with Jack. With great reverence he unwraps them. Enfolded
in Ennis’ white and gold shirt is Jack’s deep blue one – still stained with the
blood that was shed by him and for him, blood that now runs in his own veins. It
is as if he hears Jack saying to him, “Do this in memory of me”.
“I promise”, he says.
Outside his window, the fields have turned to green. The time
for resurrection has come.
Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's
organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual
theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic
organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.