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"Courageously and magnificently explores a new frontier."
"Lee strips away all the pizzazz for something that is much more pure - a rough and tough emotional journey."
"Carefully mixes old-fashioned storytelling and conflict with modern values and human emotions."
Brokeback Mountain  

Cast

Ennis Del Mar: Heath Ledger
Jack Twist: Jake Gyllenhaal
Alma Del Mar: Michelle Williams
Lureen Twist: Anne Hathaway
Joe Aguirre: Rnady Quaid
Review December 2005

Orson Welles once wrote, "We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone." As humans, we all have the need for love - to find someone who inspires us, comforts us, and fulfills us. And it is that yearning, that desire to create such an illusion, that echoes throughout Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's moving short story, "Brokeback Mountain." In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger star as two young cowboys hired to herd sheep in the title location, but who end up forming an unorthodox relationship that is difficult to shake. Upon their return to the real world, each struggles to fit into society and establish relationships with the opposite sex, all the while seeking ways to rekindle their feelings for one another. Beautifully cinematic and simple, the film profoundly engages the emotions associated with unrequited love, a love that must be kept under careful lock and key. And with passion, conflict, and gritty determination, "Brokeback Mountain" courageously and magnificently explores a new frontier.

The story begins in 1963, on one early morning in Signal, Wyoming. Desperate and distant, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar arrive at the same spot, seeking employment from local rancher, Joe Aguirre. They come from different walks of life, have different experiences, and noticeably, very different personalities. Jack is more or less, the outspoken one, while Ennis very rarely speaks. Regardless, Aguirre dispatches them to Brokeback Mountain to work as sheep herders. There, all alone under the big sky, the two share responsibilities, cooking meals and protecting the sheep from wolves and other threats. And on one particularly cold night, they share a tent and subsequently develop an intimacy that goes beyond friendship.

The following morning, each dismisses the incident as a one-time thing. And upon summer's end, they come down from Brokeback and go their separate ways. Ennis eventually marries his longtime sweetheart Alma while Jack finds romance with a rodeo queen named Lureen Newsome. And both relationships result in children, family commitments, and attempts at normalcy. Then, some four years later, Ennis receives an unexpected postcard from Jack, who is on his way to Wyoming. The two get together and share a trip back to Brokeback Mountain only to realize that their passion for each other is stronger than ever. And upon this realization, they agree to meet several times a year, convincing their spouses that they are old fishing buddies instead of lovers. But ultimately, all good things must end. And as their relationship is threatened, they must confront issues of fidelity and responsibility that take precedence over their own happiness.

"Brokeback Mountain" is a poetically, engaging love story. Highly original and emotionally potent, the film tackles a complex subject with grace and understanding. In fact, it's the kind of sensitivity that can only be attributed to experience. And that experience comes from Ang Lee, an Academy Award winning filmmaker who has repeatedly shown an understanding of character conflict and the hidden complexities within human relationships. Whether it was 1993's "The Wedding Banquet," in which a gay New Yorker fakes a marriage to cover up his homosexuality; "The Ice Storm," in which a wealthy Connecticut family slowly implodes; or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," in which a kung fu master approaches retirement while quietly contemplating revenge - Ang Lee frames his films around his characters first and foremost. And in "Brokeback Mountain," Lee strips away all the pizzazz for something that is much more pure - a rough and tough emotional journey.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx and adapted to screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, "Brokeback Mountain" is a slow moving, fluid study of isolation with feelings ranging from joy to regret and loss. Such feelings are universal in nature, easily experienced by someone who is forced into an arranged marriage, an athlete disallowed from participating in an important game, or a young man who must go to medical school like his father instead of pursuing another career. It's a story about people who experience certain feelings but are unable to have those feelings or express them publicly; instead, they must convince themselves that they shouldn't be having them. And anyone who has been denied a certain need or desire can associate. The question is really whether or not one has the strength to continue with those needs unfulfilled.

Of course, the most noticeable aspect of "Brokeback Mountain" is the spectacular panoramas caught crisply on film by cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto. Shot on location in the Canadian Rockies, much of the story is conveyed through the landscape, an idyllic place far away from society or any kind of judgment - a place where Jack and Ennis can be free. There are sweeping views of the desolate plains, the rugged foothills, and long, uninterrupted shots of Brokeback Mountain. And the color palette used is one that subtracts color, giving the film a texture as dull and worn as a faded pair of blue jeans.

In "Brokeback Mountain," the Australian born Heath Ledger turns in one of the finest performances of his career. Ledger plays Ennis, a loner who keeps to himself and who is forced to suppress his emotions for the one person he loves most in the world. The role is beautifully underplayed, allowing Ledger to project sorrow, fear, and vulnerability with very few words. "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it," he tells Jack. Powerful words that reveal a lot about a character whose image and attitude act as a cover for sexuality and emotion. In fact, it's no surprise that the name Ennis literally means "island," bringing to mind that great song by Simon and Garfunkel. Along with Ledger is Jake Gyllenhaal, who delivers another courageous and troubled character with great articulation. Jack Twist is the antithesis of Ennis, outspoken and temperamental. "You have no idea how bad it gets," he tells Ennis, showing his comfort with his own sexuality, but his inability to contain it.

Yet, as attentive as the filmmakers are to the feelings and emotions of Jack and Ennis, there is a sense that the supporting characters and their concerns are far less developed, underutilized, and ignored. Especially when it comes to the women. For instance, Alma spies Jack and Ennis kissing at their first rendezvous, but does nothing, and says nothing until long after they are divorced. Likewise, Lureen behaves in much the same way, choosing words carefully in a final conversation with Ennis over the phone. In fact, the most direct confrontation comes from Joe Aguirre. "You weren't getting paid to let the dogs guard the sheep while you stemmed the rose," he says, ultimately deciding not to rehire them. Additionally, the film suffers ever so slightly from a transition of short story to feature length film, particularly when trips to Brokeback become repetitive, accomplishing nothing more than eschewing scenery without nary a word.

Like many tragic love stories such as "Romeo and Juliet," "A Tale of Two Cities," and "Titanic," "Brokeback Mountain" depicts a love that can never be realized. Mostly because the common views society holds against class, race, or sexual preference dictate our behavior. But also because of the need or desire to fit in. And the willingness to convince ourselves otherwise. This is a universal sentiment and one that director Ang Lee is proficient at delivering. Rising above simple stereotypes, the film carefully mixes old-fashioned storytelling and conflict with modern values and human emotions. Stripped down and handsomely picturesque, it's a profound look at two human beings who make a connection and fight to protect their love. No matter how different. No matter how unpopular. And no matter how misunderstood.



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