film review ****: ...Brokeback... Hits the Bull...s Eye
Ledger and Gyllenhaal Powerfully Portray Star-crossed Lovers
By Andrew Guerra
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
Hollywood seems incapable of letting two people simply fall in love. Poor Bridget Jones was plagued by Herculean bouts of neuroticism and, in the sequel, a drug trafficking charge. “Love, Actually” featured a dizzying array of complications ranging from language barriers to the unfortunate circumstance of being married to one’s best friend. Jack and Rose triumphed over social conventions and a sinking ship only to be torn apart by cold water. In this sense, “Brokeback Mountain” follows faithfully in the footsteps of its Hollywood love story predecessors. All that stand between Ennis and Jack are the remaining characters in the film.
“Brokeback Mountain” is based on a short story written by Annie Proulx and originally published in “The New Yorker” in 1997. The film tells the story of two young ranchers, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet while herding sheep during the summer of 1963 on the titular mountain in Wyoming. As the summer progresses, so does the relationship between the two men. Initially only friends, it soon becomes clear that the two have fallen in love, even if they don’t realize it themselves.
When the summer ends, however, the two go their separate ways. Ennis returns to his fianc e, Alma (Michelle Williams), has two daughters, and finds work at various ranches in Wyoming. Jack moves down to Texas and rides bulls on the rodeo circuit until he catches the eye of Lureen (Anne Hathaway), whom he marries after the couple has a son. Four years pass; when Jack sends Ennis a postcard, they begin to meet up for intentionally fruitless fishing expeditions.
Yet the tone of the film does depart strongly from the majority of Hollywood love stories that have come before. The entire film has a gritty realism to it, a sense of Spartan beauty and simplicity that matches the source material perfectly. The cinematography captures the severity of the Wyoming landscape, at once awe-inspiring and abrasive, beautiful and brutal. The film’s score furthers this effect, as vast stretches of silence are broken by simple acoustic guitar playing and occasional period-appropriate country western songs.
Finally, Ang Lee’s direction combines these elements into a cohesive whole, lingering on certain shots for emphasis or control of the pace of the film. This gritty realism both repudiates the idea that relationships such as the one between Jack and Ennis didn’t exist simply because they were ignored by society, and allows for an honest portrayal of the relationship. Lee avoids clich techniques to evoke sentimentality such as sudden swells of strings or scenes where one character is seen through the loving eyes of the other. Instead, the audience is trusted to fall in love with Ennis and Jack as the characters fall in love with each other, and though Lee takes a risk, it pays off as the film subtly and genuinely evokes emotion instead of pandering to extract tears.
Naturally, the most important aspect of “Brokeback Mountain” is the love story itself. It falls to Ledger and Gyllenhaal to convincingly depict the relationship between their characters, and despite some reservations, they both manage to pull off believable portrayals. Ledger in particular, has a somewhat less impressive acting history, but manages to fill out the most demanding character in the film, acquitting himself magnificently in some later scenes. The complexity of the relationship is also depicted well, as the film does not neglect to reveal the damage that Jack and Ennis’ relationship does to their marriages. Lureen retreats further into herself as the film progresses, turning into a bitter, hollow parody of the vivacious woman she was when she met Jack. In contrast, Alma seems incapable or unwilling to suffer silently, her rage and misery coming to the surface. The relationships between the characters expose the multiple meanings of fidelity both in regard to the two men and to their marriages. In addition, traditional concepts of masculinity are examined through the actions of the two men compared to those of other male characters in the film. The men’s relationship is also subtly explored through symbolism; Brokeback Mountain itself is a symbol of the Eden that Jack and Ennis once had, and a pair of mementos that resurface at the end of the film illustrate beautifully the nature and depth of the relationship between the two.
“Brokeback Mountain” has been called revolutionary for being a mainstream movie about cowboys who fall in love with each other, but ironically, the story is in truth incredibly simple. At its heart “Brokeback Mountain” is a beautifully crafted film that tells a story strikingly similar to some of the oldest tales of love in our society.