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
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.