Released 2005. Director: Ang Lee
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN IS HARSH, HONEST, HAUNTING AND ULTIMATELY HEARTBREAKING. An unforgettable film and an absolute accomplishment in all aspects. It is the most awarded film in years, winning no fewer than 77 awards around the world for directing, writing, acting, music, cinematography, editing, and best film.
From its opening scene capturing a pair of distant headlights of a truck against layers of fields in twilight, accompanied by two lonely notes of a guitar, the film triumphs in its simplicity. The love that dare not speak its name has found a perfect expression in this tragic romance. In the handful of characters the story deftly explores a range of attitudes and perceptions on same-sex relationship, including the darker characteristics like ambivalence, denial and fear.
When he was still a child, Ennis’ father gave him a traumatic lesson in hating homosexuals. He has since grown into a man with problems communicating, with his emotions internalised, bordering on hating himself for what he is. Yet his forbidden love with Jack, unseen and incomprehensible by anyone but themselves, is as strong as an elemental force, from the first time they met in 1963 to its lonely conclusion some 20 years later.
The two men’s devotion to each other is much like the love between a man and a woman, which grows like a seed and in time, blossom. Those who label Brokeback Mountain as a “gay cowboy movie” are oversimplifying it and missing the point. They fail to appreciate that it’s about people who are being denied their own feelings and forced to be someone they are not. Take a step back and the film can be read as an analogy for any kind of forbidden romance, between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, those from different races, or different religions, who are sometimes forced to hide their love for each other. Lee’s gift is in making Brokeback a universal tragedy for so many people to identify with.
The characters of both Ennis’ and Jack’s wives are deep, thoughtful portrayals and occupy pivotal positions in the telling of the story. Each of them, including secondary characters like Jack’s parents, may not have much screen time but the economical direction belies the rich emotions they convey.
The film could easily have become melodramatic if not for Lee’s unsentimental approach. Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor’s editing is lean and merciless. Each time a situation builds to a point when the emotional floodgates threaten to crack, they cut the scene, respecting the characters’ privacy and dignity. Together with Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography, serene and majestic in beholding the rugged nature, knowing and embracing in nurturing the characters, these thoughtful treatments unfold Brokeback Mountain with a deeply lyrical quality. Not forgetting Gustavo Santaolalla’s moving guitar score, tinged with a sense of longing, hope and loss. Then there is the sublime and sensitive performances by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway.
Movies adapted from published materials usually need to excise a significant amount from its source. The reverse is true for Brokeback Mountain. Annie Proulx’s narrative is tightly written and richly textured. From those few pages of a short story, Lee’s direction is elegantly simple, yet expands the story’s scope and capacity with subtlety and visual poetry. The adaptation by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is crafted with a wealth of emotions. Words that manage to find a voice are just as significant as those left unspoken. Thematically compelling, technically superior, Brokeback Mountain is impeccable, a cinematic landmark.