REVIEW: ‘Brokeback Mountain’ remains a perfectly tragic getaway for romance

Heather Ledger (left) & Jake Gyllenhaal (right) star in the three-time Academy Award-winning film ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005), which tells the story of two ranchers in the turbulent times of the 1960s confronting their romantic love of one another. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Valentine’s Day celebrates love, although historically, society has been picky with how that love is supposed to look. Interracial, interfaith, long distance, cross-cultural, and of course, same sex love, have all been ignored and looked down upon at one time or another. In the past decades, however, great strides have been made to include love of all shapes and sizes. In the past five years, gay marriage has been legalized and 10 years prior to that, Brokeback Mountain was released. Brokeback Mountain is a story about two men and their enduring love for one another. With its moving soundtrack, engaging story, excellent acting, and heartbreaking writing, the themes of this film transcend just discussions of LGBT issues, and uncover a universal truth about love and human connection.

Set in the 60’s, this film follows Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who both happen to take a job one summer tending sheep in Wyoming. They quickly form a bond in the isolation of Brokeback Mountain, which becomes something more when they begin to engage in a relationship. Even though they tell themselves it is a purely physical bond, four years later, upon seeing each other again, both married with kids, they find themselves chasing whatever it was they found up on Brokeback Mountain.

Ang Lee (far left) directs Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2005 motion picture ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ The film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score). Both Ledger & Gyllenhaal were nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Filmed in the Rockies in Canada, this film leans into the appeal of the mountain landscape. The sweeping shots of nature and a serene acoustic score perfectly compliment the simple truths Ennis and Jack find in nature, clashing with the complex reality and expectations of everyday life. When they’re alone on Brokeback Mountain, everything seems right, emphasizing that it’s society that gets in the way and feels the need to put labels on them. Jack Twist longs for a life the two can live alone together, but Ennis Del Mar can’t overcome the deep-seated prejudice that being a man in the 60’s has taught him. The western setting that frames the film and the presentation of the two otherwise masculine and “normal” main characters challenges stereotypical ideas of what it means to be gay.

This film almost didn’t get made because many big name actors turned down the roles. Even though Ledger and Gyllenhall were the second or third choices, these actors shine in their roles as Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. The acting by the entire cast sells the feelings of longing and isolation that are central to this film. Ledger and Gyllenhaal communicate the complex feelings their characters have with both their tender moments as well as their rough ones. The connection between them is palpable, in contrast to every other character in the movie. The freedom and support they find with one another and later the heartbreak and pain is effectively shown in the actor’s portrayals. However, this connection they forge has repercussions for the rest of their lives, as both their respective wives and children have to deal with the fact that these men aren’t fully present in their families. It is clear that Jack and Ennis don’t want to hurt the people they care deeply about, but they simply can’t help what they feel toward one another. Their love transcends society’s, as well as their own, prejudices. At its core, Brokeback Mountain is about two people who just don’t know how to quit each other despite everything else telling them it’s wrong.

[Ennis & Jack’s] love transcends society’s, as well as their own, prejudices. At its core, Brokeback Mountain is about two people who just don’t know how to quit each other despite everything else telling them it’s wrong.

From the 30s to the 60s, homosexuality has been censored on the big screen with guidelines like Hays Code, which deemed these acts immoral to show to audiences. Even with censorship guidelines like this long out of commission, the effects of them are still prevalent in Hollywood to this day. Brokeback Mountain’s raw depiction of homosexuality shocked audiences and received backlash from more conservative outlets when it first came out, but still received high acclaim from critics. What makes this movie so interesting is that it seems to shy away from preaching any message about being gay. It simply demonstrates what happens when people are made to deny their own feelings and how society rejects those who don’t fit into their roles. It shows the story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist and leaves the audience to make their own conclusions on what “the right answer” might be to the questions the film poses.

Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful love story, one that gained a lot of attention for its subject matter, but also received a lot of acclaim for its heartbreakingly relatable statements about the adversity of being true to oneself. Brokeback Mountain is a perfect love story to watch this Valentine’s Day. With its wistful score, touching acting and writing, it will have you wanting to come back to the allure of Brokeback Mountain along with its characters. 

Brokeback Mountain is rated R.

Genevieve Hankins is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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