Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

By Amy Lamare, December 8, 2005

To simply call Brokeback Mountain (BRKMT) a gay western is to deny the core of the movie’s message. Sure Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger (HLEDG)) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal (JGYLL)) are men. But the struggle they face is not one exclusive to homosexual relationships. Rather, their struggle is a human condition. It is a struggle of strength and faith in who you are and your ability, your courage, to live up to your potential. Though the fact that this ranch hand and rodeo cowboy also happen to love each other deeply is as central to the story as their affair is, it is not anywhere near the whole story. It underscores their pain and the loss they’ve had throughout their entire lives.

The story opens in a rural Wyoming town in 1963. The sky and mountain vistas are vast and two young cowboys wait for the ranch office to open. They size each other up. They pose. They grunt. They do not talk. In fact, for the first act of the film there is not much conversation. Instead their burgeoning relationship and friendship are displayed through Jack’s gestures and Ennis’ stillness and powerful gaze. The more noise Jack makes, the quieter and more droll Ennis becomes. The more Jack pushes, the more Ennis retreats. This is a theme to his entire life.

They are waiting for local rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid (RQUAI)) to show up. They need jobs, you see, and Aguirre has a flock of 1,000 sheep that need herding up on Brokeback Mountain. Ennis and Jack are hired and set off for the wilderness. Set against the beauty and vastness of the Wyoming mountains, this intimate tale gets off to a slow and somewhat awkward start. Ennis is quiet, full of meaningful stares and inspired grunts. Jack is a bit of a clown, jabbering away when not playing his harmonica. There is an innocence and sweetness to the way the men come to know each other. Their backgrounds are revealed in bits and pieces. They know their place in the world. This is the 60s. They live in a small town with a narrow, repressed view of the world. They will marry women, have children, make a living off the land. And if they are lucky, they’ll have some small measure of happiness.

Then one cold and stormy night their relationship takes a turn toward the intimate. At the time, the abruptness of this change was jarring, but in retrospect, it completely works with the theme of the movie. Do you have the courage to act on things, to be who you really are? Do you confront life? Or run from it?

The summer ends and the men return home. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams (MWILL)) and they have two daughters. Jack returns to Texas and meets a wealthy rodeo queen named Lureen (Anne Hathaway (AHATH).They marry and have a son. Four years later Jack reappears in Ennis’ life and they pick up where they left off, much to the dismay of Alma. In the years that follow, the men struggle with their feelings for each other and how to deny them when apart, revive them when together. How will keeping such a big secret from their wives affect them, change them?

The characters are richly drawn and woven into the framework of the story and the specific era it takes place in. Alma, for instance, is a small town girl whose life’s ambition was to be a wife and mother. She has no frame of reference for what she saw pass between Ennis and Jack. She cannot process it, and from that point forward, we see Williams’ Alma evolve like a butterfly from its chrysalis. She’s been protected her entire life from the realities of the changing world. And with one embrace, one kiss, a renewed sense of energy and joy in her husband, all that changed. And so too, must she change to protect herself and her daughters.

Ledger is brilliant as the withdrawn and brooding Ennis Del Mar. He has a stillness to his performance that is almost creepy. His childhood was tough, orphaned at a young age, he more or less had to fend for himself. From the moment Ennis appears on the screen you know this is a man who did not have the influence of a mother in his life. His entire persona exudes the history of his character. In the instances where Ennis is forced (by Jack, by Alma) to deal with reality, to show some emotion – you can see the turmoil churning in his eyes and his jaw and the eventual outpouring seems to be torn from some damaged place deep within Heath Ledger’s soul.

Brokeback Mountain is a love story. The themes of love, loss, fidelity and trust run rampant through the script. Marketing will be tough in the current socially conservative climate in the U.S. Do yourself a favor: don’t pre-judge this film. Go see it, feel it, relate it to your own experience in life as best you can. To deny yourself the beauty of this story because it involves two men in love is to do yourself a huge disservice. Love and courage are universal – they are not dependent on sexual orientation.

Now ask yourself: Do you have the strength to be who you really are?

Brokeback Mountain opens in limited release December 9.

This work is the property of Stock Exchange and Amy Lamare. It is not to be reused, reprinted or stolen under any conditions.

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