#197 Brokeback Mountain

(2005, Ang Lee)

“I wish I knew how to quit you”

It’s that time of year where, in honour of the Stonewall Riots that acted as a the catalyst for much of the gay rights movement, Gay Pride festivals are celebrated around the world. And as I post this, historic steps were taken only a few days ago towards legalising gay marriage in the US. In respect to all of this, here’s a movie about gay cowboys, in fact the movie generally considered to be the best movie about gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain.

In 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired to herd sheep over the summer. During their time working together, the two develop a sexual relationship. Due to the time and the location (Wyoming), the two cannot pursue this relationship publicly for fear of persecution, so they go their separate ways at the end of the summer. This leads Ennis to marry his long-term fiancée Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and Jack to meet and marry rodeo rider Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway).

However, over the years the two meet for infrequent “fishing trips”, where they journey back to Brokeback Mountain, the place their relationship started, and deal with the emotional turmoil of their relationship being so difficult to pursue.

So, this movie is controversial, simply because it has gay cowboys in it, which is sad because gay cowboys don’t get covered much in mainstream movies, and there’s plenty of ground to cover there. It’s actually pretty refreshing to see something like this. And remember, I’m the guy who doesn’t like Westerns, so making the two leads a gay couple adds something new to make it interesting. Yes, even if you’re not gay, since I enjoyed it despite not being gay myself.

First of all, the story is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. It doesn’t really offer up much that’s particularly surprising overall. The relationship between two men at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in some parts of the Western world and in a rural and notoriously anti-gay part of the United States unfolds as you’d expect – lots of hiding in false marriages and covert fishing trips to hide themselves, and things inevitably don’t end happily – but ultimately, it does all work as a good solid package.

Both actors are very good. Ledger is great as the ultra-macho-in-public Ennis, all stiff movements and serious faces, mumbling his way through his lines in a way that presents him as stoic, before becoming a giggly schoolgirl when Jack rolls into town after four years. Gyllenhaal, however, presents a character who feels a lot more comfortable with his sexuality than Ennis, and he does it very well, able to present a cool and jokey front at any given moment. In fact, the vast differences in their characters made them interesting to watch, although nothing is ever explicitly said about these differences.

After all, subtlety is this movie’s entire mission statement. It tells a story over time, never presenting everything on screen but giving us enough hints for the audience to piece together. You can spend hours analysing these two characters and their motivations, and in fact many have, debating endlessly about them being bisexual, or gay and good at hiding it (well, Jack is, not so much Ennis) because they need to. We never really learn their ultimate fate, and that somehow makes things work better. We tell more about characters through subtle hints on their faces rather than anything said explicitly. Essentially, everything works, both story-wise and character-wise. Even the incredibly slow pacing helps, since it’s the only way that subtlety could really work.

Where the movie doesn’t work is in its soundtrack. The entire score seems to be edited-out pieces of a long jam between an acoustic guitar player and a guy with a slide guitar. There’s no change in tone, arrangement or even key. Does it work? Not really. By never varying in any way, it just sounds repetitive and hastily added in so they could have a score. In fact, the movie works well enough without it, so it could be removed and it would probably improve things.

So that’s Brokeback Mountain. Definitely one of the best movies about gay cowboys I’ve ever seen (admittedly, it’s the only one), but it’s unlikely to win over people who have serious issues with homosexuality. But they should still watch it, because this is an excellent drama about star-crossed lovers, regardless of sexuality.

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Hathaway, Michelle Williams & Randy Quaid
Written by Annie Proulx (short story) and Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Produced by James Schamus, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Geraldine Peroni & Dylan Tichenor

Favourite Scene: A conversation late in the movie between Ennis and Jack’s wife is filled with subtleties and ambiguity and it’s all the better for it.
Scene That Bugged Me: As relevant as it was to the plot, Ennis choosing to openly kiss Jack in a place his wife was likely to see them was kind of stupid and I was baffled by that.

Watch it if: You like well-told dramas about star-crossed lovers
Avoid it if: You fear gay cowboys for some reason

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Posted on June 28, 2013, in 2000s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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