Plot: “The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.” (imdb.com)
Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger
Genre: Romance, Drama
Brokeback Mountain has been described throughout the years as “that gay cowboy film”. Well, it’s much more than that. It’s a forbidden love between two men who are forced to hide their true feelings for decades and decades. It’s a love story and yet, the word “love” is so desperately unspoken.
The story begins in Wyoming in the early 1960s. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) are young men, only around 19, when they first meet and get a job together as sheep herders on the mountainside. They become friends and then grow closer, indulging in an idyllic romance. As the summer ends and they part ways, they realise the true depth of their feelings. The years pass and they are both unhappily married with children. When Jack goes to visit Ennis back in Wyoming though, they both quickly realise that the love between them has not faded away. They plan “fishing trips” so they can spend some time together and thus begins a decades-long affair.
It’s almost as if they are numb every time they are apart, spending their days doing what they are supposed to do; be husbands and fathers, have jobs they don’t like, celebrate holidays. But as soon as they get back together for a few stolen days here and there, they look like they are alive again. The thing is, this film could have been ruined so easily. It could have been “that gay cowboy film”, full of unnecessary melodrama. Instead, they have handled the love between those two characters in a gentle, subtle and respectful way. There are no grand love confessions, no unrealistically happy endings. The two men know their love is doomed because of the time and place and they are both reserved and desperately try to repress their feelings, knowing that they will never be able to be together for real.
Of course there is always the issue about casting straight actors to play gay roles. When straight actors are called to play gay characters, most of the times they overdo it by acting and talking in an effeminate way and doing a lot of unnecessary, over-the-top hand gestures. Gay actors exist (and the times they have lost jobs because they are gay are not that few) so why not cast them instead? However, although I’m sure two gay actors would have been equally good, the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. They portrayed their characters with such delicacy, depth and complexity.
In many ways, Brokeback Mountain is a sad and tragic love story but a beautiful and moving one as well. The two men are far from perfect; they are two flawed individuals struggling with their feelings, stuck in unhappy marriages. The film is wonderfully acted with a heartbreaking ending. No matter how many times I watch it, even though I know how their story is going to end, I can’t help but tear up.