Around February 2006 my parents and I were just idly talking about movies and Brokeback Mountain casually entered the conversation, to which they immediately advised me, “You shouldn’t see that movie.” I had seen it just the week before, I told them. There was a moment where they looked at me like I had just come home from either a war zone or a whore house, as if with one film all my innocence had shattered and a piece of my soul chipped away. I don’t think my parents are homophobic, but they sure got the wrong idea about Brokeback Mountain.
The story centers on Enus Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gylenhaal), two young men who work as sheepherders on Brokeback Mountain for a summer. To sum them up in one word, they’re cowboys. Enus is very quiet and more reserved than wannabe rodeo star, Jack, but Jack is better at and has a real need for communication. Their work is hard and lonesome, so once the two finally break enough ice to talk, the summer passes too quickly.
Alright, everyone wants to know about the dreaded tent scene. The best way I can describe it is that the scene depicts sex as a natural urge. Prior to the scene, there are no advances or flirtations between the two and whatever attraction there is, they don’t even realize it or just write it off as friendship. The event happens in the middle of the night, both men about half asleep and completely consensual. They realize what happened in the morning and are immediately uncomfortable, “You know I ain’t queer.”
When the summer ends, Enus gets married and Jack plays the rodeo game a while before settling down. Jack marries Lureen(Anne Hathaway) who’s family is rich while Enus and Alma (Michelle Williams) are struggling and live above a laundromat. It’s years before Enus receives Jack’s first postcard proposing a fishing trip to Brokeback. Enus drops everything, including a few jobs, to go on trips with Jack.
The first time Alma sees Jack, Enus is kissing him. He’s obviously more excited and passionate about seeing Jack than he ever could be with Alma. What does a Wyoming girl in the late sixties think when she sees her husband kissing another man? Is it jealousy, fear, disgust? Or is it worse?
At Brokeback, Jack proposes his great idea; he wants to run a ranch with Enus. Work together. Live together. And they could be real successful doing so, no problem. But Enus realizes the social implications that would have. People would see them differently and talk about them. He remembers what happened to two ranchers living together when he was just a boy. They were murdered and mutilated as the killers saw fit. Enus’s father made sure his boys saw the full extent of what can happen.
So the extent of their relationship stays a secret, but rules their lives. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
Brokeback isn’t an easy ride, but it sure is beautiful. Director Ang Lee has a wonderful gift bringing the natural scenery to its grandeur on the screen. The mountains, the clear lakes, the sprawling plains are just breathtaking. For someone who’s never been west of the Mississippi, it’s mind blowing to imagine such beauty and such silent repression in the same place.
The immature and the homophobes will still make their jokes, no doubt about that, but I imagine Brokeback Mountain to become a classic and upheld for its modest, quiet push for America’s current gay rights movement. The film’s tagline sums it all up, “Love Is A Force of Nature.”