Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini
MPAA Rating: (for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence)
Running Time: 2:14
Release Date: 12/9/05
Review by Mark Dujsik
Perhaps only once in a lifetime, a person comes along who shatters you to the core, and after that moment, your life is never the same again. Brokeback Mountain is about that kind of relationship, which spans the decades, gives a man meaning, and ultimately is his downfall. That the story is one about the romance between two men is inconsequential, and while some may see it in terms of breaking down stereotypes, the film exists beyond such comparative trivialities and finds its place in the deeper sphere of timeless human connection. Director Ang Lee's elegiac study is about the power of the unspoken and how it can enrich in the moment but leave nothing but burning regret when all is said and done. It is also intently specific to its time, place, and central relationship, and perhaps because of the last, there is a certain separation from the material for those who have not experienced a similar connection. All the same, there is a more generalized universal connection present in the form of intense longing for recapturing a relationship that after time seems more ideal than it actually would have been.
It is the summer of 1963, and outside of a local rancher's office in Signal, Wyoming, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is waiting to get a job. Soon after, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives in an old beat-up pickup truck with the same intention. The two notice each other but do not say a word. Soon Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) shows up and offers them work. They will head up to Brokeback Mountain, and at night while Ennis stays behind in the camp, Jack will set up a tent with the sheep to guard them from predators. The job is simple at first, and Ennis and Jack eventually get to talking about their lives. Ennis has a sweetheart at home he's planning on marrying once he's finished here, and Jack is a rodeo cowboy who left his father's ranch to try to make it on his own. They keep talking and working, while Ennis cooks up beans for dinner before Jack's ride out to the herd. Eventually they switch jobs for a while, but one night after drinking a bit too much, Ennis stays behind in the camp, sleeping outside, freezing. Jack invites him inside the tent, and in a sudden moment, a new kind of intimacy develops.
The summer ends, and Ennis and Jack must part ways. Ennis returns home and marries Alma (Michelle Williams); they have two daughters. Jack returns to Texas, continues his rodeo career, and meets Lureen (Anne Hathaway); they marry and have a son. Something about their relationship has affected them even as the years pass. Jack returns to Signal the next year to see if Ennis comes back to work. Ennis and Alma's conjugal relations show his hidden feelings. After four years of separation, Jack contacts Ennis to meet, and Ennis instantly responds with a yes. Even after the years apart, they're able to fall right back into their relationship. Any further disclosure of the terrain the film covers would be unfair, but it progresses with a deliberate and keen eye on the characters. The film is quiet, and what these people don't say speaks volumes of their intentions and drives. Faced with the daily problems of maintaining a family while still trying to preserve their secret relationship, Ennis and Jack face as much self-inflicted adversity as they do from the potential outside backlash that could come if their bond were revealed. As a reflection of the time in which they are living, Ennis recalls a story about a man he remembers from his childhood who was beaten to death for holding a similar relationship.
So they escape the difficulty of their lives in each other secretly, but ironically, most of the trouble within their relationship arises from the fact that they must keep it a secret. The concealment affects each of them differently. Jack wants to try to thinly hide it by opening a ranch together in Texas, while Ennis still feels a strong responsibility to his family and realistically doesn't see that option as safe. There's a strong sense of one's feelings outweighing the other's, and Lee's direction is so subtle that at the end, there actually seems to be a turnaround when in fact it has always been that way. As the film advances, a lot more is said, and even though it never directly addresses the key issues behind the words, Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana's script (based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx) somewhat betrays its subtlety for melodrama. What keeps most of it pardonable are three strong performances at the film's heart. Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack at first appears the romantic of the two, naively dreaming of a possible future for him and his love at this time and this place, and Gyllenhaal encapsulates the innocence of his sentiments. Michelle Williams also stands out in a mature performance as a woman who wants to keep her family united despite a marital betrayal beyond her understanding. Heath Ledger, though, is the film's core, expressing everything with very minimal dialogue.
Lee has managed to capture more than lavish backdrops and romantic sentimentalities and arrives at the end of the film with a sad reflection on love fought for and lost. Some will find hope in the final scene of Brokeback Mountain for at least one of the characters, but the final shot leaves him exactly where he has spent the majority of his life—hopelessly stuck in the past, longing for a peace that has more than likely passed him by years and years ago.
Copyright © 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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