Believe the hype — this movie is as good as you've heard. It may even be better. Brokeback Mountain is a sweeping tale of stymied love spanning twenty years, directed by the master of uncomfortable, unfulfilled love stories (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Ang Lee. Lee knows how to wrangle pain from his actors, and here he is in his element with two characters who have spent their lives tamping down the feelings that could get them killed.
Yes, if you have to label everything and tie up the characters and story into neat little packages, then okay: Brokeback Mountain is about gay cowboys (but before you ask, alas, no pudding). But writing this film off with a few controversial labels doesn't do it justice. If nothing else, one hopes that this movie can help to shed light on the notion that labels and stereotypes are often inadequate when it comes to sexuality. Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist are men (fully realized in tremendous, career-making performances by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall in love, but does it make them gay? Are we defined by labels, or by the actions in our lives?
Part of the controversy surrounding this film lies in the perception that the movie is encouraging homosexual men to marry and live out “traditional” lives with a wife and children, the nuclear family American dream. There seems to be some feeling that this is a particularly unhealthy idea to propagate now when the delicate issue of gay rights is being debated across the country. What these people don’t seem to realize is that this film doesn’t advocate anything except the idea that being true to one’s self is difficult in any time and any place – and everyone struggles with that, homo- or heterosexual, male or female, rich or poor. For Ennis and Jack, their inability (due to upbringing, culture, and society) to live out the lives they might have otherwise chosen is their downfall. There’s nothing in the film that encourages gay men to act “straight.”
Nor is the film some sort of flamboyant cavalcade of homosexuality that some would like you to think. It’s difficult for me to refer to Ennis and Jack with the accepted labels of sexuality because sexuality is a rich facet of our selves, multi-layered and deep. It is not a simple question for many, and that struggle is one of the story’s strengths. Is Brokeback Mountain really about “gay cowboys?”