Synopsis: Two ranch hands fall in love in 1960’s Wyoming.
When director Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was released in 2005, early buzz had dubbed it the “gay cowboy” movie, leaving moviegoers wondering what to make of a seeming oxymoron. In America’s macho code, cowboys were designated as raging heterosexuals. Sure, fashion designers and hair stylists whose beautifying work often finds them in the company of women, could be gay, but men in traditionally men-only professions like soldiering and construction had to be straight. They wouldn’t want anyone thinking they enjoyed each other’s company too much.
Brokeback Mountain would upend stereotypes. Once critics and audience saw the movie, snickering about gay cowboys ceased; well, at least for openminded people who love great moviemaking. Riveting, romantic and tragic, the movie bursts with glorious Wyoming (actually Canadian) landscapes and two magnificent performances by leads Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both men had been knocking around in hunky young men roles in films like Ten Things I Hate About You for Heath and The Day After Tomorrow for Jake. Brokeback gave them a chance to prove their acting mettle. If it were an acting competition for who was better in Brokeback— which it’s not, of course — I’d have to get the authenticity edge to Heath because, unlike Jake, he looks like he actually knew how to ride a horse. And Jake talks at too fast of a clip to sound like a real Westerner. While I’m at it, Anne Hathaway is rather good if you don’t know her character is supposed to be from Texas. She absolutely did not give off a vibe or sound of being from anywhere in Texas.
Brokeback Mountain is based on a short story by Annie Proulx about two young men who fall in love in the mid-century American West. The screenplay was adapted by Texans Larry McMurtry (Pulitzer prize winner for Lonesome Dove) and Diana Ossana. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) hails from a poor ranching family and comes to Wyoming looking for work. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) ekes out a living bronco riding at rodeos and cowboying. Jack is as voluble as Ennis is taciturn. They land summer work driving sheep from one remote grazing area to the next, all in the shadow of Brokeback Mountain.
Ok, so two gorgeous men alone together in a wild Eden. And they are gay– whether they realize it or not. I think the writing is on the wall. While we bide our time waiting for them to kiss or at least wink at each other, the movie smashes all sorts of gay stereotypes. Well-dressed? Nope, too poor for that. But they both look fit in (non-skinny) jeans. Epicures? Come on, they’re camping out. They seem to live on canned beans and cheap whiskey. And their housewares suck. No coffee mugs emblazoned with clever sayings, no glamping-level tent.
But Jack and Ennis make the best of things. They take turns riding out to guard the sheep, while the other cooks and keeps camp. They sit up late at night talking and drinking. During the day they take breaks from work with some manly horseplay. One night their mutual attraction finally takes them by storm. The next morning things are AWKWARD. Soon, they manage to talk things out, following a heteronormative script: each asserts that he’s not queer and in fact, they’ve got a hankering for sex with women. Well, when they’re not under the spell of Brokeback Mountain. And there isn’t an irresistible man around.
Poor Jack and Ennis, they can’t even put a name to what they’re feeling. But they both have a powerful need for self-preservation and can’t accommodate who they are. I felt sorry for them and wished they could take a life lesson from their horses who couldn’t give a damn what they were up to, seeing as it didn’t affect them. But people are not like that and tend to get up in others’ business. In particular, if a bunch of tough, hetero cowpokes knew they were screwing each other instead of ladies, like the Lord intended, they’d have to do their Christian duty and kick the sh** out of them.
All summer they revel in each other. But seasons change and they part ways. Jack finds rodeo work and gets involved with a rich Texas gal (Anne Hathaway) while Ennis tries to start a life with a naive and devoted country girl played with heartbreaking grace by Michelle Williams. Wow, did she come a long way from Dawson’s Creek.
If you are familiar with the lore of Brokeback Mountain, you will know that Jack wishes he could quit Ennis. And that, in real life, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams fell in love while shooting the movie and went on to have a child together. The movie has a few scenes that will make you feel like crying. If you are unmoved by the last scene, you are made of stone as hard as the igneous and metamorphic rock of Brokeback Mountain!
Now that I’m done wiping away tears, I want to let you know that there is funny stuff too… like when Jack finally tells a complete SOB that he’s put up with for years, to sit down or he’ll knock him on his ass…or when Jack pulls up to take Ennis camping and the latter virtually flies through his little abode, gathering up a toothbrush, jacket and a few other essentials in a minute flat.
I bet that Brokeback Mountain will put you under its spell, like it did for Jack and Ennis. I’ve returned there a few times myself over the years
P.S. 2006 Academy Award wins for: Best Adapted Screenplay, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana; Best Director, Ang Lee and; Best Original Music Score, Gustavo Santaolalla.
* Movember = to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. The Movember Foundation’s emblem is a moustache. In November, men (or anyone with potential for hirsutism) are encouraged to grow a moustache in solidarity with each other to show support for physical and mental health issues that men have traditionally kept quiet about.