Anyway, I want to talk a little bit about the concept of sexuality in the film, because apparently it's a matter of some controversy. I was referring to the Wikipedia article on the film looking for something else and came across the question of sexuality. Apparently there's a lot of controversy as to what exactly to label the protagonists. Is it the "gay cowboy movie" or is it the "bisexual sheepherder1 movie"? Or are the characters just straight guys who happen to have sex with other men? I had to laugh when I read that, even though I know those who said it were completely in earnest; my reaction was "Like Roy Cohn!" (an allusion to Angels in America).
I find the whole controversy silly, because sexuality is a social construction. We like to make up names for the different ways it manifests itself, and we like to think that these are separate and distinct categories, but they're probably closer to points on a spectrum than anything else (I believe that's what the great Kinsey concluded). There's nothing essential about these labels that we make up and slap on people; it's just pandering to this bizarre instinctual need we humans have to categorize and classify and pigeonhole everything we encounter. But every society constructs different labels. For example, some societies would not consider Ennis to be gay because he takes the active/masculine role in his sexual relations. My understanding is that this is the case in Latin American countries, that sexuality is determined by sex role rather than gender of object choice, so maybe poor Ennis would be better off in Mexico after all.
The labels are convenient, but they're arbitrary, and when all's said and done they're not important. What's important is that there's a sexual relationship, what's important is that there's an emotional connection, what's important is that there's fear--fear of being labeled, as it happens. Fear of being damned because of that label. Now that I think about it, it's really kind of ironic that there should be such quibbles over labeling these characters, because the people who are arguing are trying to claim the characters for their own group, to take ownership of them as "one of us". That doesn't seem fair; why can't they belong to everyone? Or, to paraphrase Ennis, why can't we just let them be?
At this point I hope I've said enough about this movie during the week (and before) to prove that I believe there is much, much more to it than just the sex, because at this point I want to talk about the sex. I bring it up because deceptica was saying that she felt it was awkward and it made her uncomfortable, and I didn't feel that way at all. And I usually feel uncomfortable watching movie sex scenes, especially in a room full of strangers (and sometimes it's worse watching them with people I know, depending on who those people are). Moreover, Iris also made mention of it being awkward in the same way thinking about your parents having sex is awkward. It would have made perfect sense for me to feel that way because, as I have said before, every character in this movie reminds me of someone I know, including my parents, but for some reason, when it came to the sex scenes I was able to detach from that and temporarily stop making those associations.
I figured out recently that I watch this movie and appreciate it on two different levels.2 One level is the intellectual/emotional level, which is the level that reacts to the beauty of the story, the pain of the characters, the quality of the writing and cinematography, etc., the verisimilitude of the characterization and setting and so forth; that's the sort of thing thing I appreciate on the intellecutal/emotional level. The other level is that of the libido, which says, "WHOA! Look at those sexy, sexy men making out with each other!" and remains preoccupied with it the entire picture. I've also noticed that my emotional reaction to the end of the movie is much stronger if I don't watch the sex scene at the beginning; when I don't watch it I'm far more likely to cry at the end. In that respect, I guess, the hotness of the actors detracts somewhat from the effectiveness of the film, which is really a shame actually because they obviously put a lot of work into this movie and their acting really is quite superb. Poor things, they can't help it that they happen to be beautiful.
1See note 4 in "The Greatest Film?" entry
2I got this idea from a Daily Show sketch called "Heart v. Head" that can be seen in this segment.