Brokeback Mountain tells the tale of two men in love. While some people are still put off by the concept, the only shocking aspect in the film is how universal the story is, no different than any other love forbidden by society whether interracial, interfaith or familial rivals.
The story begins in 1963 when Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist meet while herding sheep in Wyoming. Unfortunately, they fall in love at a time and place that literally could cost them their lives. Jack is willing to risk it. He has ideas of them getting a ranch together, but Ennis refuses because as a young child he was shown the body of a man killed for being gay. Instead, they assume their expected societal roles by getting married and starting families. However, they continue to see each other over the years, going on secluded camp-outs, away from prying eyes. Each reunion becomes tougher; they happen with less frequency and the men fight due to their frustration of not being able to be together.
Brokeback Mountain excels on many levels. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking love story filled with realistic characters. Heath Ledger as Ennis delivers a stellar performance. He rarely speaks, but is able to convey the character’s thoughts and emotion. Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack does a good job, but I didn’t find his character completely authentic for the early ‘60s. He seemed too modern, and more city than rural, but that may have come from his travels on the rodeo circuit. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway play their respective wives. The range of their performances illustrates what talented actresses they both are.
The story presents an intriguing contrast between the main characters. Jack is comfortable with his identity, which must stem form his involvement in other homosexual relationships, while this is the first and only relationship in which Ennis has had feelings for a man. I most appreciated seeing Ennis and Jack no different from straight men. Instead of the stereotypical homosexual caricatures that saturate the media of men lilting, lisping, and flitting about, they drive trucks, ride bulls, and fish. They act no different from “regular” Western cowboys because they aren't.
Ang Lee’s direction is brilliant. He gets the most out of every participant of the cast and crew, which is why the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The film has many memorable visuals created by Lee and his cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, from the expansive scenes of herding of sheep to the touching close-up of Ennis embracing Jack’s shirt, but the standout is Ennis in the foreground with the fireworks in the sky. The image alone is fantastic and is made all the more powerful by conveying Ennis’ inner turmoil.
Previously released in a bare-bones edition, Brokeback Mountain is now being released with new bonus features that explore its creation and accomplishments. “Sharing The Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain” is a special from Logo, a cable channel whose target audience is the LGBT community. It follows the filmmakers from start to finish through interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. “A Groundbreaking Success” was put together after the film became a cultural phenomenon. Members of the cast, crew, and press offer their initial thoughts about the film, whose script had been floating around Hollywood since 1997, before its release and how it surpassed all expectations.
There are also features that examine the areas in which the film won its three Academy Awards. The film’s screenwriters discuss adapting Annie Proulx’s short story to the screen in “From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana.” While the DVD has no commentary track, “Directing From The Heart: Ang Lee” offers a profile of the man. He talks about the film and the cast and crew talk about his process. Gustavo Santaolalla’s contribution is covered in “Music From The Mountain.” He created seven pieces before the film was shot, which helped Lee envision what the West would have looked like. Other artists like Rufus Wainwright, Mary McBride, and Steve Earle discuss their involvement with the songs.