Brokeback Mountain, 2005.
Directed by Ang Lee.
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Linda Cardellini and Randy Quaid.
An epic American love story about a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy who meet in the summer of 1963 and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection.
Dubbed at the time of release ‘The Gay Cowboy Movie’, you wonder why there was such controversy around Brokeback Mountain, a beautifully heart wrenching and poignant film from acclaimed director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)– there is nothing ‘controversial’ about it. It’s a love story – plain and simple.
‘60’s Texas and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) pulls his truck up outside Joe Aguirre’s (Randy Quaid) cabin, looking for work on Brokeback Mountain. He exchanges a few glances with ranch-hand Ennis Del Mar (the late Heath Ledger), who’s also looking for work, and then a handshake, after the two men are given their duties for herding sheep for the summer, both completely oblivious to the life bond they will share for the next twenty years.
Little to no dialogue in the half hour where the camera sweeps through the backdrop of Brokeback and captures the romanticized colours of the greenery while Ennis and Jack go about their assigned jobs is the perfect fitting for the bubbling tension in the men’s relationship where we are invited into their private world.
Brokeback Mountain serves as a key character in the story – When Ennis and Jack are on Brokeback; they can be themselves, without worrying about the outside world because they are together – something they do for the many years to come.
“This is nobody’s business but ours.” Jake says as he gazes out at Brokeback, referring to the night before where he and Ennis shared an intimate moment together. This is all that needs to be said between the two of them, before the summer of ’63 eventually ends and they go their separate ways and back to their ‘normal’ lives.
In the four years that pass, Ennis gets married to childhood sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) and has two kids, while Jack meets rodeo princess Lureen (Anne Hathaway) marries, and the two, like Ennis, start a family.
After replying to an unexpected postcard from Jack, Ennis waits anxiously for him to arrive, and when he hears Jack’s truck pull up outside, he darts down the steps and embraces him in an unbreakable hug, checking that no one is around before pinning him to the wall where the two passionately kiss. You feel the pain of their longing; the time that has gone by that the two haven’t been able to see each other aches as much in you as it does for Jack and Ennis.
The two make a pact – every four years, they will meet for fishing trips up on Brokeback – and as the years drift by, Ennis’s family life crumbles. He and Alma get a divorce, leaving Ennis alone with the company of his brief fling with Cassie (Linda Cardellini), while Jack and Lureen’s marriage is neither here nor there; they live together as roommates, barely conversing. Where Ennis and Jack have aged in their socially acceptable lives, their love hasn’t.
Brokeback Mountain’s screenplay (based on Annie Proulx’s tender short story) had been bunging around Hollywood for years, only to get the attention of Ang Lee and rightfully so – in the hands of another director, Brokeback wouldn’t have been the same film.
Ang Lee’s subtle but assured direction and breakout performances from Ledger and Gyllenhaal mark Ennis and Jack as the modern day Romeo and Juliet – a love that you root for every step of the way but you know as much as them that it can never be because of what society deems acceptable.