Pride Month, Retrospective Review: Brokeback Mountain

Year: 2005
Run Time: 134 minutes
Directors: Ang Lee
Writers: Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams

By Kristy Strouse

Sometimes the notion of a “forbidden romance” in films seems tantalizing, but other times… it’s just heartbreaking. It’s really dependent on the forces keeping these two people apart. With “Brokeback Mountain,” (2005) a beautifully heart-wrenching film, it’s tragic. It’s only “forbidden” because the two don’t think they can or sometimes, should, be together. Which is what makes it so inherently effective. No matter how many times I see this movie, it always finds its mark: right through the heart.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a film everyone should see. It has a haunting score, one that’s truly skeletal in its importance to the tone of the movie, gorgeous cinematography and apt direction Ang Lee, while hitting us with phenomenal performances, including one of the late Heath Ledger’s best.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005) © Focus Features

“It is challenging to find a movie that grabs you as hard as “Brokeback Mountain” does. The story lingers long after its woeful end, ultimately showing the power of such an amazing film.”

As it often happens with love, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) weren’t looking for it. These two cowboys meet for the first time on the titular mountain in Wyoming, sharing responsibilities caring for a herd of sheep. The rough, sweeping landscape quickly brings them closer together, forming a bond right away. The sense of longing, an enormous thread that continuously grows throughout the film, begins here.

Ennis, in particular, struggles with his own desires. There’s an underlying fear, that’s understandable, that keeps him from pursuing Jack. This leads to one of many moments that is both poignant and hard to watch. There’s a honesty and struggle that can feel brutal at times because it’s so powerful.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a film everyone should see. It has a haunting score, one that’s truly skeletal in its importance to the tone of the movie, gorgeous cinematography and apt direction Ang Lee.”

When it’s time to return to their regular lives and work, they separate, not yet fully realizing the depth of their bond, and the amount of loss they’ll share. While Gyllenhaal and Ledger are amazing, the supporting roles bring their own importance to the film.

It’s easy to feel for Ennis’ wife Alma (Michelle Williams) as she slowly begins to lose her husband, at first not realizing why, but ultimately seeing the two together in an especially passionate scene.

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain (2005) © Focus Features

This repression of love fractures everything, in both of their lives, creating fissures that are reflected in their work and relationships. If one is denying a part of themselves, how can others ever expect to fully know them? Jack’s wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway) is also affected, but seems to be purposefully looking the other way.

Ang Lee crafts a delicate movie that takes its time to stretch and bend. There isn’t a frame wasted, one that doesn’t instill some sense of longing or loneliness, making us feel their distance and despair. With themes of loss and regret, we watch them over two decades, always finding one another despite time and distance.

If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.” The script, by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is also intrinsically subtle. It provides a palate for the actors to take and build from. A lot of what is said isn’t really spoken at all (though there are some truly iconic lines), but portrayed with a resounding story and strong indicators of their pain and love without verbalization.

“This repression of love fractures everything, in both of their lives, creating fissures that are reflected in their work and relationships. If one is denying a part of themselves, how can others ever expect to fully know them?”

This is ultimately a story about just that: love. This can be a strong force. It can be unbreakable, resilient, and one of the highest of highs. It can also be unrelenting even when everything else is trying to keep you apart. With “Brokeback Mountain” that is definitely the case. This film truly shows how tragic that separation can be, how two people who want to be together, can repeatedly, stay apart despite the strength of their feelings.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005) © Focus Features

It also reminds us of the cruel hand of societal pressures and judgmental ways, (as if we could forget) and the weight and toll that can have. Within the context of the 1960s, a time where things were even more difficult for the LGBTQ community, these men find passion, that burns even when others and themselves try to stomp it out. Which is why, even though this isn’t a happy story, it’s a meaningful one to behold.

It is challenging to find a movie that grabs you as hard as “Brokeback Mountain” does. The story lingers long after its woeful end, ultimately showing the power of such an amazing film, while also keeping and transferring the theme of longing to its audience.

In Their Own League dares you not to be moved by this incredible piece of cinema.

4 stars

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