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Brokeback Mountain (Movie 2005): Gay Cowboy Romance Partially Succeeds

20 minutes read

Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain with Heath Ledger.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is without a doubt a culturally significant motion picture. The same-sex romantic drama won numerous awards, it was discussed all over the media upon its release, and has been labeled “groundbreaking” by numerous film critics.

Of course, the fact that those critics’ knowledge of film history goes as far back as Revenge of the Sith should not be held against Lee’s film. Yet, except for a few touching moments in Brokeback Mountain‘s second half, I was unable to become fully involved in the film chiefly because I felt its central relationship – between a Wyoming ranch hand and a second-rate rodeo cowboy – remained stubbornly underdeveloped.

Although screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana have elongated E. Annie Proulx’s terse short story considerably more than necessary – Brokeback Mountain clocks in at 134 minutes – they have failed to convey the emotional basis for the undying bond between the two men. Compounding matters, stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal share precious little chemistry in their moments together, thus leaving it up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the story’s romantic gaps.

Besides Rodrigo Prieto’s lyrical cinematography and Gustavo Santaolalla’s sublimely haunting score, what helps to lift Brokeback Mountain from the realm of averageness is not its “subversive” approach to the Western genre, but its underlying theme of the high cost of a life denied.

Generally remaining quite faithful to Proulx’s story, first published in The New Yorker in October 1997, McMurtry and Ossana’s screenplay follows the mostly long-distance, twenty-year love affair between the stoic Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and the lively Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal), who get acquainted while herding sheep on Wyoming’s majestic (and fictitious) Brokeback Mountain in the summer of 1963. (The film was actually shot in Alberta, Canada.)

Missing from the screenplay, however, is a crucial detail found in the short story: A (however brief) description of encroaching intimacy, for Ennis and Jack fall in love after having formed a deep emotional and psychological bond – the result of several nights chatting by the campfire. In the film, Ennis is so uptight he hardly ever utters a word, and when he does talk – in a thick-as-mud drawl – he does it through his teeth, making the little he says nearly unintelligible.

Besides manly good looks, the on-screen Ennis doesn’t offer much else that would justify Jack’s strong attraction to him. Additionally, I saw no sparks between the two men that could have indicated any sort of mutual carnal interest. Thus, when Ennis and Jack’s first moment of physical closeness comes along, I found it as gratuitous as it is absurd.

Staged like similar sequences in hardcore films – a problem also found in Proulx’s story – there’s little that’s tentative about the sexual encounter even though it’s supposed to be their first ever: Ennis, after a little necking, is all ready to go. He unbuttons his pants and penetrates Jack, who, instead of hollering in pain, takes it all in like a real Man of the West – or rather, like any number of well-rehearsed adult-film stars. Mercifully, the scene ends before Jack can moan “gun’s goin’ off” as he does in the story. (Those who think of sex between cowboys as a “subversive” novelty surely have never heard of gay erotica.)

The next day, Ennis and Jack are in love. Magnificent landscapes and great sex can truly work wonders in the human heart. Even so, the two young men are loath to think of themselves as “queer.” But really, aside from some activists who welcome the label, who can blame them?

Once their summer job is over, Ennis and Jack part ways. During a brief reunion four years later, Jack is ready to set up house with Ennis, who refuses because he is terrified of being found out. That phobia comes from a backstory in which Ennis, while still a boy, is shown a purported gay man who had been tortured and killed by bigoted Westerners – as if such trauma would be necessary to justify a small-town man’s desire to keep his homosexual inclinations hidden deeply in the closet. (In a shameless plot contrivance, Ennis’ fears turn out to be, let’s say, potentially prophetic.)

Jack’s frustration with Ennis leads to excessive drinking and to the search for companionship elsewhere. “You have no idea how bad it gets!” he yells at Ennis in the film’s climactic confrontation scene. “… I wish I knew how to quit you.” Such all-consuming yearning is meant to be the result of a communion of souls, but that communion is nowhere to be found in the interplay between the two characters. Part of the problem lies with Ang Lee’s direction.

First I must say that Lee, who has dealt with similar themes before in The Wedding Banquet and The Ice Storm, does a generally good job in terms of skirting melodramatic pitfalls and, with the assistance of Rodrigo Prieto’s miraculous lenses, in capturing the magic of Brokeback Mountain and the vastness of the American West. The film’s first shot, later repeated under radically different circumstances, is one of the most striking ever put on screen.

Nonetheless, Lee fails to bring out the heat of passion when Ennis and Jack are together, and their inner emptiness when they are not. Their longing for one another is communicated through the dialogue, a handful of moments (e.g., Ennis’ throwing up after their first separation), and a couple of bear hugs and kisses, but it’s noticeably absent from the film’s atmosphere until its final sequence. To be fair, I’d also say that the two leading men are equally to blame for those shortcomings.

Much of the publicity surrounding Brokeback Mountain focused on presenting Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as hetero off-screen studs playing homo on-screen studs, as if “playing gay” – a couple of rough kissing scenes and a simulated sex act – is per se both a display of thespian courage and an example of great screen acting. Whatever those actors’ sexual orientation, perhaps it’s true that they were brave to tackle those roles.

That said, in their scenes together Ledger and Gyllenhaal are utterly incapable of conveying, whether through a sparkle in the eye or a quivering in the voice, the passion that Ennis and Jack are supposed to feel for one another. The chemistry between the two stars, an absolute must in such a film, is painfully lacking in Brokeback Mountain. (For real chemistry between two guys on-screen, check out Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke in Stephen Frears’ 1985 drama My Beautiful Laundrette, or Yehuda Levi and Ohad Knoller in Eytan Fox’s 2002 – talk about subversive – anti-military drama Yossi & Jagger.)

There are other problems with Ledger’s and Gyllenhaal’s performances as well, though of the two Ledger comes off best. Despite a few lapses, most notably during Ennis’ emotional confrontation with Jack near the film’s finale, the Australian Ledger creates a convincing Wyoming cowpoke, and his dramatic range is at times quite impressive. Ledger’s final moment in Brokeback Mountain, for instance, is nothing short of masterful. On the down side, he never makes his archetypal silent cowboy either mysterious or alluring enough to justify Jack’s perennial longing for him.

Gyllenhaal, for his part, succeeds only in showing the earnest efforts of a mellow big-city actor trying to pass for a rough cowboy. I should add that in Proulx’s short story, those men are not only truly rough, they’re also unattractive. Ennis and Jack were considerably softened and prettified for the screen.

Moreover, the role of the emotionally torn Jack Twist is way beyond Gyllenhaal’s range. When Jack has a climactic outburst during his last meeting with Ennis at Brokeback, Gyllenhaal gives his all but, tripping on his erratic Texanized accent, he fails to fully express Jack’s final eruption of anger, sadness, and despair. Also, though in their mid-20s, neither actor is at all believable as a teenager in the beginning of the film or as a man in his late 30s at the film’s conclusion. (The poor make-up job, especially on Gyllenhaal’s face, doesn’t help matters any.)

Ironically, Ledger has great chemistry in his scenes with (his then real-life partner) Michelle Williams, who, as Ennis’ frustrated wife, Alma, provides Brokeback Mountain with its most touching performance.

Williams’ reaction when she sees her husband kissing Jack in front of their apartment building is a classic moment of great screen acting; the actress alone gives pathos to a scene that could easily have derailed into farce. As a plus, she makes palpable Alma’s sense of confusion – knowing too much while being incapable of expressing her feelings to her husband or possibly even to herself. The reasons for her silence are never explained, but the actress carries her simmering resentment with such dignity that her motives almost don’t matter.

As cuckolded wife number two, Lureen, Anne Hathaway has some good light moments at first, but once her character goes dramatic she is thrown completely out of her element. On the other hand, Randy Quaid is outstanding in a few brief scenes as the tough rancher who gets Ennis and Jack their fateful summer job, while Kate Mara does a lovely turn as Ennis’ eldest daughter, Alma Jr.

One way of looking at Brokeback Mountain is to interpret the feelings those men have for one another as a love less for who they really are than for what they represent. For starters, McMurtry, Ossana, and Lee make sure we understand that heterosexual couples lead a hellish life; what with obnoxious in-laws, bratty little children, unfulfilling jobs, and worst of all, no one around the house with whom tough guys can do a little macho wrestling. (Michelle Williams’ Woman of the West is just too damn soft for such fun stuff. I swear, where was Mercedes McCambridge when you most needed her?)

Also telling is that in Proulx’s short story the two lovers never return to Brokeback Mountain after their initial meeting, though the locale remains the symbol of their thwarted relationship. In the film, they return to that serenely beautiful landscape each time they can escape from their respective real lives. One “negative” question the film avoids is: How long would Ennis and Jack’s love have lasted had they chosen to spend more than a couple of times a year together?

Instead, Brokeback Mountain opts for a “positive” – though, admittedly, equally valid – question. How much more fulfilling would have been the lives of those two cowboys had the pathologically uptight Ennis gotten over his fear of coming out of the closet? Even if their relationship failed to last, they would at least have known that they did try.

In the film’s heart-wrenching final scene, as Gustavo Santaolalla’s strings play one of the saddest slow crescendos on record, Ennis is by himself in his trailer, with the life he chose not to live represented by two blood-stained shirts and a faded picture of Brokeback Mountain hanging on his closet door. Outside, out of his reach, lies a patch of green grass.

“What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart!” Nathaniel Hawthorne inquires in The House of the Seven Gables. “What jailer so inexorable as one’s self!” The uninvolving Ennis & Jack romance may form the core of Brokeback Mountain, but what gives the film its emotional resonance is the underlying tragedy of a self-imposed unrealized life. Through Ennis’ self-imprisonment, Brokeback Mountain reminds us all – regardless of sexual orientation – of the opportunities we have chosen to miss in our lives in order to conform. And of how our existence has been diminished as a result.

Photos: Focus Features

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005). Director: Ang Lee. Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Kate Mara. Screenplay: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; from E. Annie Proulx’s short story.

Awards and nominations

Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain awards & nominations

Unless otherwise stated, all awards/nominations for Brokeback Mountain are for the year 2005. (Image: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.)

Academy Awards: 3 wins (best director, Ang Lee; best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best original score, Gustavo Santaolalla);

  • 5 additional nominations (best film; best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto)

American Cinema Editors: 1 nomination (best-edited dramatic feature, Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor)

American Society of Cinematographers: 1 nomination (best cinematography – feature film, Rodrigo Prieto)

Australian Film Institute (AFI) (2006): 1 win (best actor – foreign film, Heath Ledger)

Boston Society of Film Critics: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee);

  • also, runner-up for best actor (Heath Ledger)

British Academy Awards: 4 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana);

  • 5 additional nominations (best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto; best editing, Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor; best music, Gustavo Santaolalla)

Broadcast Film Critics Association: 3 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; and best supporting actress, Michelle Williams, tied with Amy Adams in Junebug);

  • 5 additional nominations (best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best writing, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best composer, Gustavo Santaolalla; best song, “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” by Gustavo Santaolalla and Bernie Taupin)

Central Ohio Film Critics Association: 3 wins (best actor, Heath Ledger; actor of the year, Heath Ledger, also for Casanova, Lords of Dogtown, and The Brothers Grimm; best screenplay,Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana);

  • also runner-up for best film, best director (Ang Lee), and best formal design

César (French Academy) Awards (2006): 1 nomination (best foreign film)

Chicago Film Critics Association: 2 wins (best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto; best original score, Gustavo Santaolalla);

  • 6 additional nominations (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana)

Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association: 4 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto);

  • also, runner-up for best actor (Heath Ledger) and best supporting actress (Michelle Williams), and third place for best supporting actor (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Danish Film Critics Association Bodil Awards: 1 nomination (best U.S. film)

David di Donatello (Italian Academy) Awards: 1 nomination (best foreign film)

Directors Guild of America: 1 win (best director, Ang Lee)

European Film Awards: 1 nomination (Prix Screen International for best foreign film)

Florida Film Critics Circle: 4 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto)

Golden Globes: 4 wins (best film – drama; best director, Ang Lee; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best song, “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” by Gustavo Santaolalla and Bernie Taupin);

  • 3 additional nominations (best actor – drama, Heath Ledger; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best music, Gustavo Santaolalla)

Gotham Awards: 2 nominations (best film; best ensemble)

Independent Film Spirit: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee);

  • 2 additional nominations (best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams)

Iowa Film Critics: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee)

Las Vegas Film Critics Society: 4 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger; best score, Gustavo Santaolalla)

London Film Critics’ Circle: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee);

  • 2 additional nominations (best actor, Heath Ledger; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee);

  • also, runner-up for best actor (Heath Ledger)

National Board of Review: 2 wins (best director, Ang Lee; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal);

  • also, one of the year’s top-ten films

National Society of Film Critics: Third place for best actor (Heath Ledger)

Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

New York Film Critics Circle: 3 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger)

New York Film Critics Online: One of the year’s top-ten films

Norwegian Film Institute Amanda Awards: 1 nomination (best foreign film)

Online Film Critics Society: 2 wins (best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best score, Gustavo Santaolalla);

  • 6 additional nominations (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto)

Phoenix Film Critics Society: 5 wins (best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams; best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana; best cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto);

  • also, one of the year’s top-ten films

Producers Guild of America: 1 win (best production, Diana Ossana and James Schamus)

St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association: 4 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger; best screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana)

San Diego Film Critics Society: 1 win (body of work award, Jake Gyllenhaal – also for Jarhead and Proof)

San Francisco Film Critics Circle: 3 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best actor, Heath Ledger)

Screen Actors Guild: 4 nominations (best ensemble; best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actor, Jake Gyllenhaal; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams)

Sight & Sound: 1 win (best film)

Southeastern Film Critics Association: 3 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee; best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana)

USC Scripter Award: 1 nomination (best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, from E. Annie Proulx’s short story)

Utah Film Critics Society: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee); also, runner-up for best actor (Heath Ledger)

Vancouver Film Critics Circle: 2 wins (best film; best director, Ang Lee);

  • 2 additional nominations (best actor, Heath Ledger; best supporting actress, Michelle Williams)

Venice Film Festival: 1 win (best film)

Writers Guild of America: 1 win (best adapted screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana)


E. Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” was originally published in the October 13, 1997, issue of The New Yorker. A prologue was added to the tale when it was included in Proulx’s collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Proulx won a Pulitzer for her 1994 novel, The Shipping News.


“’Brokeback Mountain’ was/is one of a number of stories examining rural Western social situations. I was trained as an historian (French Annales school), and most of my writing is focused on rural North American hinterlands. The story was not ‘inspired,’ but the result of years of subliminal observation and thought, eventually brought to the point of writing.” E. Annie Proulx, interviewed by Matthew Testa for Planet Jackson Hole.


Long before Brokeback Mountain, there was Song of the Loon. Directed by Andrew Herbert, and with a cast of unknowns (including John Iverson, Morgan Royce, Lancer Ward, Jon Evans, and Brad Fredericks), this no-budget 1970 film also revolves around a male homosexual romance set in the American West. Richard Amory (a nom de plume, as per the Arsenal Pulp Press) wrote the screenplay, based on his own 1966 novel.

As per the IMDb, Andrew Herbert worked as a sound editor in several films of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and as a film editor in the first half of the ’70s. (Among his credits is the 1975 dramatic comedy Mr. Sycamore, starring Jason Robards, Sandy Dennis, and Jean Simmons.)

Box Office

During its first weekend of release in five North American theaters, Brokeback Mountain earned US$109,485 per screen. According to, only 9 other films (all animated) had higher per-screen grosses since such tracking began in 1982. Adjusting for inflation, Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Evita (1996) had higher per-screen averages, though they were playing in only two theaters. (The fewer the number of theaters, the easier it is for a film to achieve higher per-screen figures.)

Academy Awards

“For me, Brokeback isn’t rebellious at all. It’s a very ordinary movie. People call it groundbreaking or what not. It puts a lot of pressure on me. But I didn’t feel this way when I was making the movie. This is the way gays are. It’s just that they have been distorted. When two people are in love and are scared, that’s the way they are.” Director Ang Lee, quoted in the Associated Press. In the article, Lee expresses his disappointment that Brokeback Mountain failed to win the Academy Award for best picture.


According to a Taiwan News editorial, when Ang Lee won the best director Academy Award, the People’s Republic of China’s media made no mention of the fact that he was born in Taiwan. The director was described as “Chinese” or “Chinese-American.” The editorial added that Mainland China’s media “refused to report or dubbed out the director’s expression of gratitude of ‘Thank you, Taiwan!’ to his homeland upon receiving his Oscar.”


“We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash – excuse me – Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver.” Author E. Annie Proulx in “Blood on the Red Carpet” for The Guardian.


“What you didn’t see [at the Academy Awards]: Backstage workers gasp as Crash wins over favorite Brokeback Mountain. When presenter Jack Nicholson is asked if he is surprised by the win, he says, ‘I didn’t expect it because you heard so much about Brokeback,’ before confiding, ‘and that’s who I voted for.’” “The Academy Awards show you never saw” in USA Today.


The GLBT Community Center of Utah asked for a boycott of the holdings of Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, whose Jordan Commons Megaplex pulled out Brokeback Mountain right before the film was to open.

Among the films deemed morally acceptable by the Jordan Megaplex powers-that-be were the gory horror movie Hostel, the raunchy (hetero) sex comedy Grandma Boy, and even Thomas Bezucha’s very pro-gay The Family Stone, which probably passed the megaplex’s censorship board because it has no homosex scenes in it.

The Utah Film Critics Society was one of the many US-based critics’ groups that picked Brokeback Mountain as the best film of 2005.


Despite fierce opposition from Christian churches, Brokeback Mountain opened at one movie theater in Jamaica in late February 2006. The picture was given an adult 21 rating.

Brokeback Mountain was banned in the People’s Republic of China. In Taiwan, however, the film became a hit, earning more than US$1 million (by early March 2006) as per Taiwan News.



According to a Apr. 8, 2006, Reuters report, “a Massachusetts correctional officer is being disciplined for showing the gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain to inmates at the state’s largest prison because his boss determined that the film includes content inappropriate for a prison setting.”

Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Who Killed Jack Twist?

Possibly no one. The phone scene between Ennis and Lureen is edited so that we see Jack Twist being beaten to death through Ennis’ twisted imagination.

That said, Ang Lee directed Anne Hathaway in such a way that Lureen seems to be lying. One could see Lee’s touch as one of welcome ambiguity or as a contrived way of showing that Ennis may well have been right all along – a relatively open gay man is a dead man.

Some people have wondered if Lureen’s father ordered Jack killed. That seems highly unlikely, as it is implied in the film that her father has died – that’s why she becomes the head of the family business. In E. Annie Proulx’s short story, it is stated that Lureen’s father dies.

Ennis’ (barely audible) last words are: “Jack, I swear. . .”

Brokeback Mountain opera

June 2008 update: Variety reports that the New York City Opera has commissioned Charles Wuorinen to compose an opera based on Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain,” the source of Ang Lee’s acclaimed 2005 film.

“Ever since encountering Annie Proulx’s extraordinary story I have wanted to make an opera on it,” Wuorinen was quoted as saying. The composer had previously been commissioned by the New York City Opera for the 2004 production of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which was based on Salman Rushdie’s novel.

The Brokeback Mountain opera is scheduled to premiere in the 2013 spring season.

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Leese -

I wish you had a part two where we found out jack was alive- these two deserved a happy ending- made me sad to see jack die.

pampi adhikary -

sexually m straight…..but i just loved this movie….it made me cry….they were awesome in the movie….


Para empezar no sabes analizar una pelicula, tu revision esta superficial ,barata y absurda.

suzycreamcheese -

thanks jake and heath. you were so brave.

Roland Paul -

I re-read your initial review and have a few more comments. As you might suspect, “Brokeback” is my favorite film.
Watch the first 40 minutes carefully. There is a carefully developed arc from Jack initially staring at Ennis to the sexual encounter. It’s clear to me that Jack is gay and probably sexually experienced. We see him later picking up a male prostitute and have reason to think that the previous summer on BBM he might have had sex. He is clearly deeply attracted to Ennis. Ang Lee does not hit you over the heard with operatic gestures, especially since one of the two protagonists is so laconic. But it is clear that Ennis likes Jack and, for the first time in his life, has someone who actually listens to him.
You say the sex scene is gratuitous and absurd. But don’t forget that they were both drunk that night, a great slayer of inhibitions. Ennis, true to form, resists going into the tent until the bitter cold drives him there. Jack takes the initiative and shows Ennis manually that he’s aroused. Ennis jumps back but Jack basically offers himself. Ennis won’t kiss him but proceeds to have sex. Is it so hard to believe that a 19 year old virile man hormonally driven would accept sex if it’s offered? The whiskey, the cold, and (of course) the hormones make the scene very believable. No porn film takes so much care with dramatic credibility.
Ang Lee adds the scene of the next night in the tent which is not found in Proulx’s story. After the scene of physical lust, he wanted to show the tenderness of the relationship. I mentioned in the previous e-mail that Ennis (on the bottom) sighs in Jack’s arms and makes it clear he has something he longed for unknowingly.
And this tenderness is made clear in the magnificent flashback scene after Ennis and Jack have their final fight. Jack remembers the moment 20 years before when Ennis came up to him and held him and sang a lullaby to him. The dissolve of Jack’s young face into the middle aged man’s face is extraordinary. The sadness of unfulfilled hopes on that face is palpable.
For six years, hundreds of people on the Dave Cullen website have dialogued about every facet of this film. If you watch it more carefully, it can deeply affect your own life.

Andre -

Thanks, Roland.
I’m all for subtlety in storytelling, so I’d be ironic if I missed all those clues you mentioned in your comment.
Can’t say I’ll find the sex scene believable, but I’ll keep your remarks in mind when I rewatch “Brokeback Mountain.”
As an aside: some gay (and hetero) XXX films — the early ones — actually made a point of adding psychological and emotional insights to the proceedings.
I remember visiting Dave Cullen’s “Brokeback” pages. In fact, I believe Cullen is one of my Facebook friends…

Roland Paul -

Ang Lee is a subtle but great director. Watch his film more closely and you will see how well he presents this tragic love affair. From the first moment Jack sees Ennis, he is mesmerized. He stares at Ennis but soon realizes that this introverted man living in his own emotional cocoon will never respond to the direct approach. So next we see Jack continuing to look at Ennis in the rear view mirror of his truck as he shaves.
Later when Ennis visits his dead lover’s room, we see a small cowboy figurine. This has been Jack’s ideal since childhood and Ennis perfectly embodies his “type.”
Another subtle touch occurs in one of the “fireside chats” they have. At one point the taciturn Ennis talks for a long time (for him) about his parents being killed and the hard life he’s led. It’s the first time he breaks out of the cocoon. Lee shows Jack looking at him intently and it is clear to me that he has fallen in love (and not just lust) with this broken man. I think that’s what he continues to love for twenty years: the wounded child in this tough, beautiful man.
A similar subtle moment tells you a great deal about Ennis. He is clearly worried about the sex after the first night and we see him the next night sitting at the fire. He knows he should go back to the sheep but rises and deliberately and slowly moves toward Jack. Jack holds him and embraces and kisses him. As they fall back in one another’s arms, Ennis sighs. It is almost as if he’s breathing for the first time in his life. Jack gives him something he has longed for without knowing it.
The sadness of the story is that Ennis can never break free of the homophobia he’d been taught. He remains a homophobic man who is deeply in love with another man. Jack wants more but takes Ennis in the limited way he’s able to give himself. At the end the relationship, he certainly has been hurt by Ennis’ attitude, but in their final encounter when Ennis starts crying (violating every norm he’d been taught about “being a man”), Jack simply hugs him and tries to comfort him. After Jack’s death, Ennis finally realizes his deep love (a word he was never able to use) and how much he’s lost. This is an unforgettable love story told by a master filmmaker.

Andre -

Roland, James,
First of all, thank you for writing.
Your perceptive insights and remarks are much appreciated. I’ll keep them in mind next time I check out “Brokeback Mountain.” That should be happening soon. It’s been a while…
Best regards.

James Eilers -

I am troubled by some of the same things that troubled Andre Soares about the film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, but my love for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is not diminished. I agree with all who feel it would have been preferable if the actors chosen had looked like the real life people who worked at those kinds of jobs, as realistic as the descriptions in the story, not pretty actors, but my feeling was that Ang Lee had given gay people a romantic picture such as heterosexuals enjoy in the dozens. In those thousands of films, too, the characters do not look like most of the people we know. In fact, in most films you see actors who look like actors! But why shouldn’t gay people have a classic romantic film, with two men standing in for Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, where we can go to have a good cry about matters that are nevertheless real to us.
However, I think the film had something much more profoundly original than the usual romantic film. True, the film lacks the nitty-gritty working class reality of Proulx’s story — the film we might have had if Gus van Sant had directed it — one of those rumored as being possible directors. I cannot remember if van Sant backed out or was simply not chosen. It may be that producers would only back the film if Ang Lee was willing to direct it?
Those who loved BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN first as a short story surely knew that such subtle writing had to be transformed into something else if it was to be a film; a film could not convey her language, although it was wonderful that much of the dialogue was from the story. There was little choice but to flesh out the story more extensively as the short story in itself could not result in a two-hour movie, and I think the script writers did a good job of imagining other parts of the lives of Jack and Ennis.
Soars’ notion is that the communication between Jack and Ennis was not rich enough for it to have led to their sexual encounter, as filmed, and that they could not, therefore, lacking such a level of dialogue, have held on to their relationship over years, but this supposes them to be urban gay lovers, probably college-education and steeped in cultural interests in lively environments. But these were simple working class men whose communications would have been about simple matters, but not without their own kind of depth of a sort unfamiliar to many sophisticated people — and that is one of the wonders of the film, that it describes the world our urban-dominated culture fails to recognize or portray in any way recognizable to those who live in those environments. If the beauty of the western landscape, daily work routines, and the rough challenges of their labors created the nature of their bond, it makes them the same as millions, both gay and straight, whose life poetry may be objectified in an old work shirt — that homely symbol that required no spoken sentiment to have epic import for everyone coming to that moment at the end of Pouxl’s story.
What I loved most about the film was that for the first time it represented that other gay world that many urban gays don’t know or even disdain, having no empathy for the tens of thousands of gay people born into isolation. Ennis’ near inability to speak (in Heath Ledger’s great performance) was the perfect metaphor for the oppressive silence imposed on those gays who are scattered around in places where they are isolated and unable to speak about their feelings, let alone find a way to express them. I do not object, as Soares does, to the inclusion of a gay person being beaten to death, as it may take that to make the unaware understand the terror of “coming out” in wilderness places. Unable to know how to express their alien feelings, even with each other, only intensifies those feelings so that the love can be strong even without the verbal dialogue Soares would seem to require. It could be that if they had been more free to be themselves, the relationship would have lost much of its power — but that is just another level of their oppression, deprived even of the possible discovery about whether their love would or would not have lasted for long, and whether, once accepting their natures, they might have moved on to some other relationships: that is the sort of double deprivation of experience described.
Soares wonders why Jack does not cry out in pain when first penetrated by Ennis, and one woman friend of mine disliked the movie because of this “rape.” However, we come to realize that Jack is already somewhat experienced, and he is clearly leading Ennis to his first experience, and in his manner, Gyllenhaal gives Jack the air of being more experienced, so that it does not seem to be Jack’s first experience; in other words, Jack has probably been fucked before and so is beyond the pain of initial anal penetration.
Yes, it may be true that Jack and Ennis would not have survived if they had been able to live together, but they are “deprived” of that disillusion by the fact the social oppression stops them a few steps before that. Still, I doubt if any homosexual has not had the experience, and would not understand Jack’s obsession with Ennis’ more innocent state, the more experienced gay man empathizing with the still confused man’s inability to realize his own nature. I suppose most gay men have had the experience of deluding themselves that such a man as Ennis might change, as Jack seems to believe. Besides that, Ennis becomes even more difficult to reach as he is further inhibited once he is in the impossible trap experienced by men who have married and had children before they acknowledge their homosexuality. Ennis has the values of the ordinary man, not the sophisticate, where integrity is lost if you fail to meet the responsibilities you have assumed, even if they turn out to be the result of a wrong choice. We may be confounded by his willingness go on being entrapped, but no more than we are confounded by the millions of Americans willing to sacrifice their children to obscene wars — because of the simple citizen’s often misguided sense of duty and willingness to embrace the ignorance of “belief.”
I cannot see why Soares thinks that Ang Lee was not a good director for this film. (In fact, I think we owe him a mighty debt of gratitude for presenting two homosexuals are thoroughly recognizeable as flawed human beings.) I think he must also have recruited a good team to help him, creating the kinds of scenes and objects that we recognize as the homely details that Prouxl excels at describing in her stories. Perhaps you have to have lived in a small town to be struck by the brilliance of a scene such as the one where Ennis, isolated, destined to be forever alone, is sitting in a cafe, eating that piece of cafe pie that looks like it must taste like cardboard, the everyday hell of the mundane. Ang Lee or his team seem to have the same eye as Annie Prouxl for the ordinary American reality, the scenes and objects that epitomize the pathos in the culturally deprived, stimulus-starved environment of the Americans who live in the middle ground of the U.S.A.
In truth, if it were only for Heath Ledger’s performance, I would have to call it a great film. I enjoyed that Gyllenhaal’s character could provide the script writers with a chance to show the audience that part of the “gay world” that is the cruising outsider, and the apparently married men who are gay on the “down low.”

Roy J Patterson -

Alot of film critics have written every comment under the Sun about the movie Brokeback Mountain_But none ever seem to write from the aspect of how the viewer sees the movie_I’m one of those viewers and trust me I thought that Brokeback Mountain would be an awsome gay cowboy movie_Man my heart was changed 180 degrees and I still to this day believe Brokeback Mountain is a great love story and the greatest story ever told_I wrote a 9 page essay entitled MY BROKEBACK JOURNEY_The first six pages critque the movie from the first scene with the transport travelling along the Trans Canada Interstate in 1963 till both Jack and Ennis meet for the last time in 1983_The last three pages is when the tears begin to flow_From the climax which is when Jack and Ennis have their confrontation to when Ennis opens his closet door to reveal the two shirts both cowboys wore on Brokeback in the summer of 1963_The part that got to me was when Jack utters with a tearing up voice “Ennis I wish I knew how to quit you” and Ennis with tears and a broken voice replies “Why don’t you it’s because of you Jack I’m like this”_When Ennis uttered those words and him crying a full grown man crying especially a cowboy_I was tought that ment don’t cry but man the tears began to flow and I began to sob my heart melted like a knife throght soft butter_Right to this day I have a hard time with that scene anyone whom has ever been in love with someone would know what I’m talking about_Another scene takes the viewer to Jack’s parents place a ranch just outside of Lightening Flat, Wyoming_Of course Jack’s dad mentions to Ennis that Jack’s ashes would be buried in the family plot out back_However when Ennis goes upstairs to visit Jack’s room he noticed the wooden horse carving atop the desk he made Jack 20 years earlier while on Brokeback_Ennis sat on a small bench beside Jack’s bed and sat there for a moment of reflection then Ennis noticed the pair of old worn out cowboy boots that Jack had worn on Brokeback in 1963 inside the back of Jack’s closet_Ennis noticed Jack’s blue shirt that he wore while on Brokeback and the shirt seemed heavy_As Ennis was removing Jack’s shirt from the closet Ennis noticed his old plaid shirt underneath Jack’s shirt_Ennis began to embrace the shirts and the tears really began to flow_I knew than that Jack Twist was a very good man and he was totally in love with Ennis and I knew how Ennis really loved Jack_Even though their relationship seemed detached both Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar were devoted to one another_The last scene really took me away and Alma Jr had just left but she left her sweater behind and Ennis went to place the sweater inside the closet what came next caused me to sob even more_When Ennis opened the closet door and on a simple finihing nail was a hanger with the two shirts from Brokeback_To the top right of the shirts was a post card of Brokeback Mountain fasten with a thumntack_Ennis snapped a button on Jack’s old blue denim shirt and he utters the words “Jack I Swear”_Man the tears flowed but I knew then that Ennis would never leave his one and only true friend from Brokeback Mountain_I’ve never seen even till this day a movie end so sad so very sad in all my days_I realized this was just the beginning of MY BROKEBACK JOURNEY and I now have more questions than answers_However I believe we all have a Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar inside our hearts_Annie Proulx you the author and an awsome screenplay from Larry Mc Murtry and Dianna Ossana thank you so very much_Roy J Patterson


i absolutely loved this movie, as a 27 yo gay male, i just want to say it was about time somebody really showed what some of us gay men go through. i loved it and hopefully this director brings another awesome movie like this again.

Bianca -

This really cleared up Jack’s death for me. I didn’t imagine it to be so thoughtful. I thought it would be a simple answer of who-done-it. That was a very thought provoking answer and now that I think about it, it was obvious Jack died the way Ennis imagined, especially after the scene with Jack walking into the shadows with that man made it clear that he was in fact openly gay.

William Sommerwerck -

Of the “negative” reviews I’ve read, yours makes the most sense. Though I feel Brokeback Mountain is a truly great film (I’ve been watching movies for over 50 years), you identified most of the reservations I had about both the story and film. (That is, I Iargely agree with your analysis, but not your final judgement.)

One of the film’s problems stems from the spareness of the story, and the way this has been faithfully carried over to the screenplay and direction. It’s difficult to portray the inner lives of people who don’t talk — or think — very much, especially when you’re trying to “skirt melodramatic pitfalls”. As Ms. Proulx said, Ennis would have problems with this film. But so would Joseph L. Mankiewicz, though for dramatic reasons — his characters fully reveal every inner feeling in dialog, which is far more “unnatural” than Ennis’s laconicness.

But when you complain that we don’t “undestand” why Ennis and Jack are so attracted to each other, you are demanding something of same-sex relationships you don’t demand of opposite-sex relationships. Do we question why Scarlett & Rhett, or Rick & Elsa, find each other interesting? Of course not. Homoerotic attraction is common among nominally heterosexual males, and the probability of two young men who are near the edge “falling over” is not implausible. (The film suggests that Jack is from the start (possibly unconsciously) attracted to Ennis; the short story does not.)

Creating a plausible back story to “explain” this attraction (other than to portray Ennis and Jack as lonely and “damaged”, a common-enough human condition) would only submerge the drama in cheap psychology and make it pretentiously implausible. The short story does this for Jack, in a scene that was (fortunately) removed from the film.

Contrast Psycho with Peeping Tom. The former gives a simple explanation for Norman’s behavior and leaves it until the last moments of the film (where its cold rationality makes Norman’s last scene all the more creepy), while the latter develops a horribly complex — and wholly unbelievable — scenario for the development of Mark’s pathology that renders the film ludicrous. As many Powell/Pressberger films, it’s remarkably bad, and I wonder why it has received so much praise.

But the film of Brokeback Mountain is missing a scene that’s begun in the short story, but not completed. This scene would correct (or at least bandage over) most of the problems you’ve elucidated. To wit…

The film tends to show Ennis and Jack’s relationship in a state of slow decline after their four-year reunion. McMurtry, Osanna, and Lee seem to feel that, as we’ve already seen them huggin’ an’ kissin’ an’ humpin, there’s no need to show it again (the humpin’, in particular). But if, before the Big Confrontation, we’d seen them spending that last weekend together, being affectionate with each other, horsing around, and — yes — having sex — there would be no question about how they really feel about each other. What follows would then be all the more pathetic (as in truly sad).

In exploring subject matter funadamentally alien to most people, Brokeback Mountain necessarily runs the risk of looking artifice-ial, “manufactured”, or hyperbolic. The average viewer has to transpose the material into experiences he’s familiar with — and it doesn’t quite fit. But, of course, it doesn’t have to.

I don’t much care for the DVD (original or “collector’s” edition). It’s too bright and clean. The dark, dingy look of many interior scenes has been lost.

Thanks for your time.

PS: Mercedes McCambridge playing Lureen is rich. When will we have a DVD of Johnny Guitar? (By the way, if you’ve never seen Calamity Jane, do so. The crypto-lesbian subtext is startling.)

georrge n. crymes jr -

thank you; for the wonderfull ;;–“”critique;;–“” of brokeback muontain;;–”


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