Brokeback Mountain Review
In Hollywood’s first homosexual cowboy movie, the two leading characters, played sensitively by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, are drawn together as shepherds in the vast wilderness of the Rocky mountains where one cold night their incoherent mumbling around the fire turns to shocking fumbling.
There is a sense when watching this film, adapted from a short story by author Annie Proulx, that it is unmasking the homoerotic strain that has permeated American culture for decades. A long line of western and buddy movies, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Midnight Cowboy have featured pure male bonding, away from the civilising effect of a woman’s presence, but none have dared fully explore its shadowy side, until now.
Admittedly, I did squirm at certain intimate moments of passion, not out of disgust, more out of awkwardness. These are not scenes we are used to as a viewer. There have been homosexuals depicted in films before, such as Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, but Brokeback has a much rougher, forbidding edge to it, much like the harsh, craggy landscape that surrounds and envelops the leading men throughout the film.
Ennis (Ledger) and Jack’s (Gyllenhaal) 20-year romance begins when they are hired in the summer of 1963 by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid), a hard-boiled rancher, to work as sheepherders on Brokeback Mountain in the Wyoming high country. Living off canned beans and whiskey, the two cowboys develop a boozy friendship by the campfire.
After an intimate fling, the two are torn apart. Ennis marries his girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams), and they have two daughters. Jack meets and marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway), a Texan rodeo queen, with whom he has a son, and joins her father’s farm-equipment business.
Four years pass before Jack, who is living in Texas, sends a postcard to Ennis, who has settled in Wyoming, saying he will be in the area and would like to visit. The instant they set eyes on each other, their suspended passion erupts again.
So begins a sporadic and tormented affair in which the two meet once or twice a year for fishing trips on which no fish are caught. Jack urges that they forsake their marriages and set up a ranch together. But Ennis, haunted by a disturbing childhood memory of homophobic violence, fights the passion he believes Jack unnaturally stirred within him.
Australian Ledger produces a brilliant performance as a tormented soul repressed by a homophobic society. Gyllanhaal is convincing as the more determined of the two, desperate to make their relationship work at all costs. The desolate landscape, beautifully shot by director Ang Lee, plays a major supporting role. However, at times it is difficult to decipher what they are saying, due to the southern drawl, and the second half of the film has a tendency to drag. This is, however, an epic worth watching.
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