Review: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain

Rating



Director

Ang Lee

Screenplay

Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana (Short Story: Annie Proulx)

Length

134 min.

Starring

Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris

MPAA Rating

R (For sexuality, nudity, language and some violence)

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

William Shakespeare wrote about love that could not be shared with the world. His most famous romantic play, Romeo and Juliet , told the story of two houses divided by a love shared between them. Brokeback Mountain shares a similar experience with its audience. It is the story of two cowboys who find forbidden love in the mountains of Wyoming and are forced to hide their true feelings in order to appease a culture of hate and revulsion.

The story opens in 1963 as two young ranchers looking for work hire on to herd sheep for the summer and fall. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) ride onto Brokeback Mountain where they develop a friendship despite the adverse conditions in which they are forced to live. The weather’s brisk, the food is served from cans and cooked over an open fire, and the wildlife isn’t afraid to bare its teeth.

Their relationship is born out of desperation on a bitterly cold night. Ennis and Jack share a raw encounter that is followed by self-reproach and loathing. Jack doesn’t seem shaken by their “immoral” pleasure but Ennis refuses to admit he may have feelings for another man. Without uttering a single word, Ennis’ actions seem to say “I’m a man and men don’t do things like that.” Over time, he comes to understand his passion and accept it as part of his existence, despite his knowledge that society cannot deal with such “perversion.”

When he returns to a life outside the mountain where he must reintegrate into the culture, Ennis picks up his masculinity and struts back into the supposedly civilized world. There he meets Alma (Michelle Williams), gets married and has kids, thus securing his position as a “socially acceptable” person.

Likewise, Jack finds his own wife (Anne Hathaway) and has his own kids. The problem is that Jack cannot help but remember his past and feel that he’s left a hole in his life that only Ennis can fill. Jack writes Ennis a postcard and they agree to meet on a regular basis away from the world on Brokeback Mountain where they met. There, they will share their love where no one can put them down.

Brokeback Mountain is as much about a gay romance as Schindler’s List is about a war. There is no dispute that the central focus of the film is love between two men. However, it is important to understand that the film is about far more than that. It’s about two people who, because society says it’s immoral, feel embarrassed and ashamed of something as pure as love. They are so afraid of what others might say or do that they hide the truth, lying to those whom they love and respect, just so they don’t have to face the consequences of their outward declaration.

The power of the film comes from the great performances of its actors. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are fantastic. Without relying on dialogue to convey emotions, each create a rich and haunted character whose inner grief and anguish are captured succinctly in their varied expressions. Ledger gives one of the most emotive and riveting performance in years. Not since Ian McKellen brilliantly portrayed film director James Whale in Gods and Monsters has there been a better performance given by an actor.

The men aren’t the only performers to render vivid characters. Williams gives a wonderful performance as Ennis’ lonely wife. She must survive alone, knowing that there may be more between those old chums than a simple friendship. Her character slowly falls apart and Williams keeps the audience aware of that all the way to the bitter end.

Brokeback Mountain is the perfect Oscar contender. Its performances are rich and raw, the storytelling is tight and controlled, the direction is solid and flawless, and the deft handling of the subject matter should bolster the careers of its stars, not hinder them.

Audiences will be torn when they reach the theater. Anyone who understands the force of love and how it bears upon our lives will recognize and relate to the film. Those who can accept and embrace that love doesn’t require a man and a woman will be able to see Brokeback Mountain as a testament to the indomitable power of love.

Review Written

December 22, 2005

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