After all the hype about gay cowboy love, does Brokeback Mountain really deliver?
In a nutshell: Yes.
The movie’s homosexual theme will most likely be its main attraction, as well as its main repulsion. There will be people who would want to watch it for its ability to break boundaries, and others would avoid it like the plague simply because it’s about two men who are in love with each other. But really, put the homosexual theme somewhere out of sight when watching and just take this movie on its own. You will find it extremely moving and beautiful.
Lee Ang (or rather, Ang Lee, as he prefers to be known these days) is quite the master of human emotions. When he helmed The Hulk some years back, critics pointed out that he had painted too sympathetic a picture of the jolly green monster and had neglected the action aspect. Portraying human relationships is what he is best at, and this is exactly what he has done for Brokeback.
The characters of Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are remarkably different and yet similar. Ennis is the responsible family man who tries to repress his feelings for Jack but fails. He is unwilling to break from societal norms and instead, seeks a balance between what society dictates as the “right” thing to do and his love for Jack. On the other hand, Jack is the emotional one who is willing to risk everything, even death, to be with the person he loves. In their relationship, he is always the one making the first move, never hesitating to satisfy his own needs and wants. He may be interpreted as being relatively weaker than Ennis, who personifies the typical alpha male who says little and sees himself as the sole breadwinner of the family.
Their intense love for each other is the backbone of the story and watching the movie, you start to feel wretched on their behalf upon realising that they can only express their feelings openly for each other in the wilderness of Brokeback Mountain and at only a few times a year at that. Instead of cringing inside, as Lee delivers frames of the two holding each other tenderly against the wondrous mountainous backdrop, you begin to see them as a real couple and wish that there is a way for them to be together.
Unfortunately, cowboys are not meant to fall in love with each other in those days and the unexpected, shocking tragedy can bring tears to your eyes.
The casting was fabulous and honestly, who could ever imagine Heath Ledger convincing audiences as a gay cowboy? But he was, and so was Jake Gyllenhaal, whose gorgeous blue eyes begged, implored and basically melted everyone’s hearts. Michelle Williams, as the long-suffering wife of Ennis, was wonderful too.
The movie moves at a steady pace and its lush pictures of the mountains, coupled with the generous use of silence and nature sounds, makes watching a rich and fulfilling experience. The recurrent guitar strains of the musical motif adds a sentimental and emotional angle to the scenes.
There were certain scenes, such as the first sexual encounter between Ennis and Jack as well as the lovemaking scenes of Ennis and his wife Alma, that felt redundant though. Cutting these out could make the movie tighter and easier to digest.
Judge Brokeback Mountain by its own artistic merit and you won’t be disappointed.