Love is a Force of Nature
A gripping tale of forbidden love and prejudice, Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as two star-crossed lovers whose affection can never be made public because of the raging homophobia prominent in West America between the 1960s and 1980s, where the story is set.
During a summer in Wyoming spent working together as herdsmen, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) engage in a passionate sexual and romantic relationship hidden from the outside world. While they both agree on it being a one-time thing and take separate ways, settling down with women in different parts of the country, their love haunts them for the rest of their lives along with Ennis’ memory of the beaten-to-death bodies of a couple of homosexual men his father showed him as a child. The conflict between their feelings for each other and the expectation and discrimination of the society they lived in, reflected in Ennis’ recollection, forces them to conceal their illicit romance and contemporarily watch their respective marriages disintegrate.
Ang Lee skillfully directs a singular story of an impossible love, which, in its individuality, recounts the universal tale of the suppression of one’s own desires when faced with the prejudices and preconceptions held by a community. Brokeback Mountain may be set in the last decades of 20th century, but portrays the perennial tragedy of the oppression of the individual to satisfy the norms of a society.
Whilst the mere mention of gay cowboys is bound to launch a barrage of schoolboy jokes and fits of giggling from the back rows, Ang Lee’s film attracted much acclaim upon its release in 2006.
It is easy to see why both critics and audiences were so impressed with this utterly beguiling story of forbidden love between two young men, Ennis (Heath Ledger) a ranch hand and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) an aspiring rodeo bull rider. The pair are sent to work together herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain where they embark on an affair which will define their lives for the next nineteen years as they fight against their feelings and try to conceal their relationship from a society for whom same-sex relationships are still the ultimate taboo, as well as from their own wives and families.
Gyllenhaal gives a career defining and charismatic performance as the seducer of the piece, and Ennis is one of Ledger’s most memorable characters. Many critics have drawn parallels between the story of Jack and Ennis and that of Romeo and Juliet, and the tragedy of their inevitably doomed affair certainly justifies the comparison. The power, of Brokeback Mountain lies not in the fact that its two lead characters are gay, but in their relationship to a society which would not even understand their existence, something that Legder and Gyllenhall carry off perfectly. However, it is not only the actors who shine in this film; Ang Lee is at the peak of his directing powers in this heartbreaking story of forbidden love.
Set in contemporary Wyoming against a backdrop of sweeping landscapes, a Wyoming ranch handler and cowboy from Texas meet whilst shepherding the flocks on Brokeback Mountain. What follows is one of the purest and most honest love stories to ever be portrayed in film. Homosexuality has both everything and nothing to do with the film at the same time. It would be patronising to suggest that the film is out to solely portray the problems homosexuals encountered in traditional American society, as it is much more than that. It is love at its purest.
From the outset, Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal) have a connection to each other. Herding the flocks up Brokeback Mountain for an employer who pays them little for wearisome work, a friendship blossoms into a secret and life-long bond. Finishing their work, Ennis and Jack are reluctant to leave the mountain and try to minimize the strong feelings they have for each other. While Jack drives away from him, Ennis breaks down into tears marking the start of a four-year separation between them. During the separation both men marry and have children but long to return to Brokeback. When Ennis receives a postcard from Jack suggesting a meet-up, so begins a long-enduring journey of hardship and difficulty. Jack arrives and Ennis’ wife (Williams) discovers their secret and lives with it until their divorce. The wives are not at all demonised and are shown to be as affected by this relationship as the men. All the while, Jack and Ennis are still seeing each other; Jack, the idealist, frustrated that they cannot be together and Ennis trying to reason with his lover and society at the same time, saying that they’ll have to stand an unfixable situation. The hard-hitting turn of events at the film’s climax show just how far each man’s love for the other went.
Ledger and Gyllenhaal excel in their roles and Ledger gives the performance of a lifetime. Portraying a man of little words, he mumbles and expresses himself mainly through body language and it is an Oscar-worthy performance. The film itself is beautifully done, with a brilliant script and a cleverly seductive soundtrack and it will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Screenings of this film:
|2005/2006 Summer Term – (35mm)|
|2005/2006 Summer Term – (35mm)|
|2009/2010 Autumn Term – (35mm)|
|2016/2017 Spring Term – (digital)|
|2021/2022 Autumn Term – (35mm)|