Running time: 134 minutes
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, et al
Director: Ang Lee
Was it a wrong day of the week for seeing a new film? Wrong kind of cinema? Wrong time of the night (a late-night show as versus a late-evening one)? Or was it the film itself? Exactly what was wrong? Why were there only six people in the cinema hall?
I never thought Brokeback Mountain – the winner of 51 awards (including Golden Globes and Oscars) would have only six viewers for its Friday night show on the day it was released. Was it too, well, gay?
Let’s decide for ourselves. Bring on the Gay, people.
Brokeback Mountain begins – like Ang Lee’s films do – on a quiet and placid note. No resounding James Bond-like openings with digitally-enhanced sound effects, super villains or computer-generated image overload playing on the screen while a diva belts out the title track. No, Brokeback Mountain begins in 1963, in a one-(or probably two) horse town in Wyoming, under a cornflower-blue sky that silvers where it tapers into the horizon. It is here that Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet for the first time as they are hired, Ennis as a ranch hand and Jack as sheep-herder.
It’s a tough life for Jack and Ennis up there on Brokeback Mountain with no one for company except collies, coyotes, the cold, sheep, more sheep and still more sheep. And yes, each other.
Now, the tropes and themes in Ang Lee’s films usually are open to interpretation and the getting together of Ennis and Jack is no less. You wonder if the loneliness got too much to bear, or was there something more in the covert looks they cast at each other. You may even wonder if that was reason enough for cowboys (the stereotypical epitome of the macho, the male, the masculine) to turn gay. The doubt is heightened in the post-coital dialogue:
Ennis: I ain't gay
Jack: Me neither
Denial is a river in Africa, boys.
And thus begins a relationship rendered turbulent by the sheer intensity of emotion felt by Ennis and Jack, a relationship that lasts over 20 years despite the tragedy inherent in such an odd pairing.
One of the extraordinary things about the film is that not just the sex scenes but for the entire film itself, it will not bother you that Jack and Ennis are two men. No, they are just two people who were thrown together by circumstance and start loving each other despite their families, the conventions of their times, and even themselves.
Naturally, therein lies the tragedy – one is tied down by the fear of ostracism and backlash and the other is held back by the choices of his partner.
You feel deeply for Ennis - the taciturn and hard-working orphan with strong opinions on “right” and “wrong” – so torn throughout his life by his feelings and fears, by what he wants to do and what needs to be done.
But Jack’s tragedy is far more poignant and can be summed up in his despairing words to Ennis, towards the end of the film: “I wish I could quit you”.
The film is long and slow, but very riveting. It is really no wonder that Ang Lee has won so many awards already for the man’s touch has made a film like this work, and work so well!
Michelle Williams – Heath Ledger’s real-life girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Matilda – has done a fantastic job as Ennis’s wife Alma who stumbles upon her husband’s extra-marital affair. Anne Hathaway is pretty good eye-candy as Jack’s wife, Lurleen.
The locales are – simply put – mind-blowing. You may even find yourself wondering if all those colours in the scenery are latter-day additions but they are not, rest assured. The score is grand and haunting and really ought to be purchased by everyone.
The language of the film is coarse and quite honestly, the film deserves the ‘A’ certification more for the profanities than for the sex scenes.
The only problem? The accents. They are – though quite authentic – difficult to follow in many places. You may have to watch it a couple of times to get the gist of what is being said. But that shouldn’t bother you because Brokeback Mountain is worth it.