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USA 2005
Directed by
Ang Lee
134 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars

Brokeback Mountain

Synopsis: In Wyoming in 1963 two young cowboys Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are employed to tend sheep high on Brokeback Mountain. A friendship grows, and after a sudden and brief sexual encounter they return to their lives, but the love that has been kindled endures for years, through marriages, families, fear and heartbreak.

This achingly beautiful film is about cowboys, but not the archetypes, or stereotypes with which we are familiar but rather an affecting human story about the need for belonging, comfort and self expression, and the tragedy of what happens when people are denied the opportunity to express their love. It is a film about the universal emotions of pain and loss, and that makes it something we all can relate to.

The emotional impact of this film is startling. Ang Lee is a master at tapping into his characters’ emotions. Combine his superb direction and Annie Proulx’s fine material upon which the script is based, with the first-rate performances from all the cast and you have a recipe for something special.

Brokeback Mountain represents the place in the world where Ennis and Jack can truly be themselves. Its isolation and raw beauty is their refuge and comfort, and the cinematography lends depth to the emotion by virtue of its sweeping vision. In contrast to the drabness of the towns, the mountain symbolises all that is dear to Ennis and Jack, and while the physical landscape is vast, the story it harbours is intensely intimate.

One could analyse the characters in this film endlessly; the fact that they feel so real is further testament to the power of the acting. Ledger delivers his finest performance to date. He brings both strength and vulnerability to Ennis, a man who is unwilling and unable to show his emotions. Gyllenhaal is equally outstanding in the more forward and adventurous character of Jack. Ably supporting the men are Michelle Williams as Ennis’s wife, Alma, who heart is broken when her dream of conventional marital bliss is shattered. Anne Hathaway is also a strong support as Lureen, Jack’s wife, a woman who becomes more brittle as the years of passionless marriage pass. And the passing of time is extremely well handled, as we see the characters age and believe whole-heartedly in what sadness time and circumstance have wrought on them.

The reactionary right in America is calling for the banning of this film and the usual anti-everything lobbies are getting on their bandwagon. This current backlash seems like a sad echo of the very climate portrayed in the film which leads to the tragedy which finally brings the men's story to a close. The homosexual aspect of this story, despite its centrality in the plot, is however not its over-riding theme. Rather, Brokeback Mountain is an epic and tragic love story which movingly shows the ways our lives are constrained by the mercilessness of society.




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