Adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx, this heartrending film is in essence the story of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist; country boys turned cattle ranchers who tend the sheep on Brokeback Mountain by day, only to end up tending to each other by night. And nothing wrong with that, I hear you add. Only this is Wyoming 1960s style, a time when lonesome cowboys were expected to seek sexual relief from the women of the nearby town and certainly not in the arms of each other as lovers.
Sacrificing the opportunity to live openly together in the relatively few urban pockets of sexual freedom that did exist in America in the era of pre-Stonewall liberation, both men resort to the sham of marriage for the benefit of social integration. Ennis having married his childhood sweetheart Alma to live in relative poverty, whereas Jack finds himself in with the rich set, having moved to Texas to marry rising rodeo star Lureen, whose father happens to own a thriving farm equipment business.
Four years later however, they meet again, only to find their love for each other far from having diminished, has grown stronger. Yet it is the forbidden love between the two during the years that follow, that makes this feature ride high over its crude notation of 'that gay cowboy movie.' For this is a beautiful work, as Ennis finds himself falling in homosexual love, emotions that this near-monosyllabic man knows not how to express and if anything fears, having witnessed as a boy the brutal reality of homosexual hatred.
Thus it is of no surprise that when love beckons in a film of this kind, one has to question whether tragedy lies just around the corner. Yet the real tragedy of the shocking and gut-wrenching conclusion to this work, is that such is not confined to fiction. Certainly not in the State of Wyoming. That said, Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist deliver pitch-perfect portrayals of two men in love with each other but who are forced to live apart by the ingrained homophobia of the period; performances that are nicely matched by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as their respective wives, together with Randy Quaid as ever on fine form in the role of local rancher Joe Aguirre.
As a poignant portrayal of homosexual love, director Ang Lee delivered a small arthouse film that went on to win 4 Golden Globe® awards, 4 BAFTA® awards and 3 Academy® awards including the Academy® Award for Best Director. And yet it equally marked the first occasion in which a film that had won the noted Writer's Guild, Producer's Guild and Director's Guild of America awards did not go on to receive the Academy® Award for Best Picture.
That said, the string of major awards that Brokeback Mountain did receive, are remarkable. Then again, this should be of no surprise, given this is but an ode to human feelings, one that tugs at the heartstrings by contrasting true love against prejudice and outright homophobia. And whilst a gay love story; albeit one told in an almost laconic style, this also became a film that crossed over to mainstream cinema by tapping into the universal plight of two people who simply can't live without each other, but must do so for their very survival. In doing so, this feature made genuine homosexual love and not the candy floss variant of such that Hollywood so often delivers, finally arrive at a multiplex near you! Frankly this deeply emotional work deserved every award it got and one inparticular that it didn't receive. Yet it also proved what a great loss to the acting fraternity the tragic death of Heath Ledger marked; a fine actor who had so much more to give and who here brilliantly captures the very essence of and in the words of the song itself, a love that will never grow old.
Heathcliff Andrew Ledger | 1979 - 2008 | Good Memories.
UK Premiere 30.Dec.2005 | UK General Release 06.Jan.2006
available on DVD as part of the Entertainment in Video catalogue
starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini,
Anna Faris, David Harbour, Kate Mara, Valerie Planche, Scott Michael Campbell,
Roberta Maxwell, Peter McRobbie