Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two people who fall in love and, because of the circumstances of their lives, cannot really be together. The fact that the characters are both men does not make it any sort of message movie or niche film (although, as you may know, it has acquired the unfair label of being ďthe gay cowboy movieĒ). The most beautiful thing about this film Ė which is full of beautiful things Ė is that itís a love story through and through. Humanity, not sexuality, is the heart of this tale.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jack Twist and Heath Ledger is Ennis Del Mar. Theyíre two cowboys in 1963, hired by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to spend the summer guarding his sheep. At their camp on the titular mountain, they cook beans, talk about their lives, and joke around. Months drag on; they have no one for company but each other. What happens next surprises even them. Sharing a tent on a cold night leads to an act of physical intimacy. The men donít discuss it or analyze it. Ennis initially tries to pass it off as a one-time deal, but itís clear that a door has been opened. The relationship between Jack and Ennis has evolved.
At the end of the summer, they go their separate ways, only to meet again four years later. Ennis has married Alma (Michelle Williams) and they have children. Jack is involved with Lureen (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a wealthy farm equipment salesman. When they are reunited, sparks immediately fly. Alma sees what is happening but is too shocked to say anything about it. Ennis tells her that he and his old buddy are going fishing; she knows thatís not true.
Jack and Ennis continue to meet a few times a year for a period spanning over a decade. Their marriages fall apart, their happiness wanes, yet when they are together both come suddenly alive. Jack repeatedly talks about them running off together to open a ranch. Ennis shoots the idea down, afraid of the prejudice (and possible violence) they will face. Itís clear that the men would be happiest together, if only they could get around the things that stand in their way. Jack ultimately wants more than regular monthly rendezvous. He confronts Ennis in a scene that is powerful because it brings to light how trapped these guys are. They want what they want, but because of the time, society makes it hard to get it. In todayís world, they could easily run off together because, in general, our modern world is more accepting. In the 60ís and 70ís, it was a slightly different story.
Although it may seem like it on the surface, Brokeback Mountain doesnít come with any agenda; it simply tells the heartfelt story of two people who have a big obstacle to overcome in order pursue what is important to them. They notice the sneering looks of people like Joe Aguirre, who just canít see beyond the surface. Thereís also the issue of violence. Ennis recalls the time his father took him to see the body of a murdered gay man. He remembers this vividly, and the thought of anyone doing that to him (or, more importantly, to Jack) is unfathomable. These hurdles Ė combined with the anticipated reaction of family and friends Ė are enough to force them to release their true feelings only in mountains, away from everyone else.
I like how the movie puts some focus on the charactersí lives back home. Ennis and Jack both attempt to fulfill ďtraditionalĒ male roles as husbands, fathers, and breadwinners. This is what society expects of men in their time. Whether or nor that expectation is indicative of who Jack and Ennis really are is another matter. You can especially see this in the scenes between Ennis and Alma. She knows her husband is in love with another man; it comes between them, yet it takes her a long time to rock the boat. Just as Ennis tries to live a domesticated life, Alma tries to play along with the charade. Theyíre both living a lie.
The performances are all outstanding, but the best comes from Heath Ledger. The actor shows the pain Ennis feels in trying to hide his true feelings, and also shows how Ennis feels an almost intoxicating happiness when he and Jack are together. As the movie goes on, Ledgerís performance becomes more and more emotional. We feel the weight of Ennisís fear of societal rejection as well as his realization that days, months, and years with the one he loves are quickly being lost.
Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Hulk) shoots the outdoor scenes with great beauty, making the mountain seem like a safe place for Jack and Ennis to be themselves; itís their utopia. The relationship between the men is sensitively drawn. We can feel the heartache when they canít be together, just as we can feel the joy (bordering on relief) when they do find the time to run off. Brokeback Mountain takes the time to portray the intense pressure that these characters are under. They donít feel they have the freedom to live as they choose, and that lack of freedom comes with a price.
Brokeback Mountain really works as a love story; I was moved by the gentleness of its storytelling approach. It would be wrong to divulge where the story leads, but the final scenes say a lot about the depth of feeling between Ennis and Jack. Yes, they are both men, and no, neither considered himself to be gay beforehand. These men meet and feel an attraction that canít be easily put into words. Isnít that what love is anyway? Can any of us really explain what it is that makes us feel so passionately about another? All that matters is that we are capable of loving. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are definitely capable of it, and that realization changes both men forever.
( out of four)
Brokeback Mountain is rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.
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