Review – Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain [2005]

Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriter: Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana


Brokeback Mountain
is a masterpiece, true and heartbreaking to its core. Never before had a film affected me on such a deep level. Never does this film step wrong. This is a testament to the entire cast and crew; the brilliant direction by Ang Lee, with such strong writing from Diana Osana and Larry McMurtrey. The acting is remarkable, and real, especially by the wonderful Heath Ledger. It stays true because the material is true.

The film follows the affair of two men, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger). One summer, they meet while working for Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid, very good in such a small role) on Brokeback Mountain. From the moment they meet, there is a connection between them. As they spend more time together, alone on the mountain, tensions rise, until they’re released when the two spend the night together.

It’s confusing for the two of them. “Gay” didn’t exist in 1950s Wyoming. Homosexuality, while known to exist, was not in the least understood. As Ennis explains, when he was a child, his father showed him the dead, mangled body of a man the town suspected of being involved with another man. The understanding was, those who did this got killed. “I ain’t no queer,” he says to Jack. “Me neither”

But their affair inevitably ends at the end of the summer, and Ennis returns to his girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams) and marries her. Jack meets a girl as well, and they get married. For a long time, Jack and Ennis don’t see or speak to each other. But eventually, Ennis receives a post card from Jack, and he comes to visit. As he arrives at Ennis’ apartment, they share a passionate embrace. And Alma sees. It is immediately clear what has happened, and yet she has less of an understanding than the two men do.

Brokeback Mountain explores territory that few, if any, other films have dared to tread in such an openly honest way. The way things unfold, we are able to connect with the characters. All of them. We see the pain Jack and Ennis go through as they struggle with their affair, and we see how true their love for each other is. But we also see the way it affects their wives. This is not a propaganda film to push a gay agenda, much as some had reduced it to being back in 2005. It is a heart-wrenchingly real love story, in the classic tradition of Romeo and Juliet. It just happens to be between two men.

I want to make a note to point out Gustavo Santaolalla’s score. Film scores tend to, at times, go underrated and under-appreciated within the circles of film criticism. But part of me doubts if some of the power this film holds would be quite the same without Santaolalla’s score. This is not a criticism; far from it. The culmination of the production, from Ang Lee’s flawless direction, to the powerful acting, especially from that of Heath Ledger, to the stunning and beautiful cinematography, to Santaolalla’s heartbreaking score, made Brokeback Mountain one of the great modern classics of our time, a true masterpiece, and undoubtedly the best film of 2005.

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