Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams
Even when one can envision what a happy ending could be, at times the world around you can forbid it. Whether it be the cultural circumstances or a wide array of hindrances, which result in it all collapsing. Brokeback Mountain presents an incredible love story, which unfortunately happened in the wrong place and time.
Seeking any work they can receive, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are paired to herd some sheep throughout a Wyoming summer. What begins as being mere acquaintances results in the two men finding a deep love for one another, which faces complications with the lives they live and the harmful places they call home.
Having the beautiful mountains of Wyoming as the background to this heartbreaking story feels apt. They create isolation and a vacuum where these two men could be themselves in a way they have never experienced in their lives. Not bound by duty or the norms of their culture, but just two people who enjoy each other’s presence. In a perfect world, the dreams they set out to achieve would be possible, but that’s not how things work.
The premise of Brokeback Mountain set up much of its backlash from those in the more ignorant side of this culture. Cowboys have always been the definition of manhood through the popularity of Westerns. Putting on that hat, large belt buckle, and the spurred boots meant something to those who sport the outfit. Think of the legacy of John Wayne and how he’s still considered by many to be the embodiment of manhood and masculinity. Taking this perception and then making a gay love story perfectly deconstructs it all because Ennis and Jack struggle with their masculinity throughout the film in different ways.
Even with their week-long excursions to the titular location, the two men live the lives expected of them. That includes a wife, children, and the responsibilities of caring for them. Ennis struggles in a financial sense where he can barely support them with the type of work he can find. It hits him hard when his wife, beautifully portrayed by Michelle Williams, confronts him about being careful about getting her pregnant, as they cannot afford another child. Meanwhile, Jack must battle being emasculated by his father-in-law, who obviously does not respect him. Each of their struggles hits a nerve as to what the typical American man should be able to do. Their struggles hold an incredible weight on them and their only respite becomes the few times a year they can meet up at Brokeback Mountain.
The work by these two leading actors cannot be understated, because they truly do something special with these characters. Specifically, Heath Ledger as Ennis has a larger share of the story and he lives a more tragic life. He’s bound to support his family, even if he does not have the means. Ennis can take the easy way out and live on the plotted land Jack wants to set up for them but responsibility keeps him with his family. Ennis hits deep lows with the feelings of his relationship with Jack because of the homophobic upbringing he had. He can never let his guard down because if anyone suspects him of these acts, it could end with a tire iron to the face. Ledger, along with the excellent makeup work, demonstrates this struggle and the weight he feels on his shoulders. Jack, at the very least, succeeds as a businessman and can afford to drive up from Texas to see Ennis up in Wyoming.
It’s impossible to walk away from this film without discussing the incredible cinematography, which sought to highlight the beautiful scenery where these two men could be at their most vulnerable. Filmed in Wyoming and parts of southern Alberta, everything looks pristine and a place no one would ever want to leave except for the blisteringly cold nights you’d suffer without a proper fire. The crystal clear water magnifies the beautiful mountains, which create a physical and emotional barrier from the outside works where Ennis and Jack can be free even for a limited time.
Brokeback Mountain remains as one of the great love stories told in the history of cinema, even with the heartbreaking moments of pain. You hope for the entire runtime that these men have the opportunity for a happy ending despite the mounting evidence pointing towards the contrary. Director Ang Lee crafts such a touching and physical film, where these two men give into their true feelings. It can be seen in their demeanor and the relief they feel when they venture up into this mountain and away from a reality unwilling to allow their happiness. This film becomes a truly engrossing experience as it spans over many years, but the love between these two men remains the same.