My only hope for this movie is that as we approach Oscar season, the movie is not pigeon-holed as a great "gay" love story and lauded purely for its groundbreaking subject matter (sure, that is important, especially in times of homophobic social conservatism). But, Brokeback Mountain is quite simply a gorgeous, heart-wrenching love story.
Brokeback Mountain follows the development of an amorous relationship between two Wyoming cowboys: Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). The two cowpokes spend a lonely, but fulfilling summer on Brokeback Mountain as they herd sheep and explore their mutual attraction. As summer greens turn to autumnal yellows, Del Mar fulfills an earlier promise to marry his longtime sweetheart and Twist returns to riding bulls. Both remember their summer together fondly, even as they find acceptable loves and start families. Years later, Twist reestablishes contact with Del Mar, and the relationship is renewed (a perfectly lovely scene where a giddy Ledger anxiously awaits Twist's arrival effectively captures the nature of their relationship). Over the next few years, they take semi-regular and not so covert "fishing trips" together. Even though their lives unfold in the outside world (children, divorce), these fishing trips become touching and romantic moments where time is arrested and their love remains unfettered. Like all great love stories, tragedy is everpresent.
Lee channels tested, but not overly cliched, narrative devices that demonstrate how love finds ways to grow despite external forces and social mores. This is Lee's second venture into exploring issues of homosexual love amidst cultural norms that militate against such relationships. The first film, the Wedding Banquet, examines how a gay Chinese man keeps his sexual identity and his boyfriend hidden from his conservative family. Unlike the Wedding Banquet, where the sexual politics are made obvious, Brokeback Mountain thrives on subtilty. Lee tells such an effective and moving (and universal) love story that the characters' gender is rendered transparent; we even forget that this relationship is between two men (I couldn't help but think how there are some parallels between this film's depiction of love and that found in Kong) . Even the film's depictions of homophobia highlights the indirectness with which such prejudices operate.
The screenplay, written by Larry McMurtry (celebrated author of Lonesome Dove and other westerns, but also the screenwriter/author of Hud and the Last Picture Show), relies on spartan, but realistic, dialogue that is sustained by exemplary cinematography (a sublime scene where Twist resists the temptation to look at a naked Del Mar is bathing himself expresses a respectful love that could only be cheapened by the most furtive of glances). Both acting performances are Oscar-worthy. Although Ledger is getting the greater press (he is more of the lead), Gyllenhaal, for my money, is the better of the two performances. I guess I am somewhat troubled by the release of Casanova (starring Heath Ledger as history's greatest womanizer) so close to Brokeback Mountain. I can almost hear Ledger's publicist saying, "I just want everyone to know that Heath is not gay...not that there is anything wrong with that."
Beautiful film. Breathtaking setting. Quality acting. It deserves all the praise it is receiving.
Loved it...not that there is anything wrong with that...