Some Gay Cowboy Movie

Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), two troubled and lonely young men, struggle with a life-long homosexual attraction to each other after spending a summer herding sheep together atop Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming. Their relationship, which spans decades, strains their respective careers, ruins their heterosexual relationships, and ultimately threatens their chance at happiness.

Yes, seriously. Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. Brokeback Mountain does not glamorize homosexuality, nor does it get “preachy” about the importance of tolerance and permisiveness. It is a movie about the consequences of giving in to unbridled passion and violating the boundaries set in place by society. Whether those boundaries are, in fact, just is not directly addressed by the movie.

As of this writing, Brokeback Mountain has been nominated for eight Oscars, has won four Golden Globes, and has been showered with dozens of lesser awards and nominations. Many of these are certainly well-deserved. “Brokeback” is an impressive film. The cinematography is gorgeous, using the beauty of the Canadian wilderness to full effect as the backdrop against which much of the action takes place. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score is similarly masterful, subtly adding to the already emotionally-charged performances.

As for those performances, Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both very talented actors. They truly bring their respective characters to life, giving Jack and Ennis a depth which allows the viewer to care about them. Michelle Williams, as Ennis’s neglected wife, Alma, delivers a heartbreakingly moving performance. Aware of the true nature of her husband’s relationship with his “fishing buddy” almost from the beginning, she has no idea how to respond, suffering in silence for years.

Nevertheless, the film’s true power comes from its understated treatment of the subject. There are no hard-hitting, long-winded soliloquies decrying the evils of society or the tragedies which result from intolerance. In fact, the movie seems to take a minimalist approach to dialogue, conveying much more with a few words or a glance than some could with pages of exposition. Brokeback also makes skilled use of imagery and foreshadowing to heighten its impact. For instance, after Jack and Ennis’ first sexual encounter, Ennis discovers that one of the sheep they were supposed to be protecting has been gutted and eaten by a predator during the night. It is the first of many responsibilities that our protagonists will shirk.

Having established that Brokeback Mountain is both moving and well-made (Oscar-worthy, even), it is not without its flaws. Ledger’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters ostensibly age more than twenty years over the course of the movie. However, Ledger in particular never really seems to get any older. Without the other characters as points of reference, it would be difficult to tell that any time has passed at all as far as Ennis is concerned. This proved to be distracting when, for instance, Ennis converses with his grown-up daughter and hardly seems older than she is. Additionally, the slow, stately pace of the movie begins to feel somewhat ponderous near the end, rallying for the final scenes.

No one has gone to any pains to hide the fact that Brokeback Mountain is a film about a homosexual love affair. However, for a movie whose plot relies heavily on an ongoing sexual relationship between two men, the film practices remarkable (and admirable) restraint. Except for one dimly-lit scene containing no explicit nudity, all of the pair’s sexual encounters happen off-screen. The story that is being told here is not about lewd sensationalism, and the movie never sinks to that level.

Brokeback Mountain has been making huge waves since its release. The controversy over its subject has raged in the conservative Christian community. The cinema world has declared it a landmark masterpiece. With almost everyone, it seems, this movie has either struck a nerve or struck a chord. The issues surrounding homosexuality are becoming increasingly prevalent.

LETU itself was recently visited by Mike Haley, Director of Focus on the Family’s Gender Issues Department. Haley spoke in chapel and at the CDCL symposium on the subject of homosexuality’s impact on Christians and the church. He believes that we, as Christians, must learn to deal with homosexuals because they are not simply going to go away if left alone.

The message that audiences take away from “Brokeback” will depend largely on their preconceptions. If you go into this movie thinking that “gay is okay,” this will not change your opinion. If you go in thinking that homosexuality is an extremely destructive lifestyle, the movie might even confirm your opinion. However, to us the central theme of Brokeback Mountain is simply that, for one reason or another, homosexual relationships exist in our society and we lack the ability to effectively deal with them.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy

~ by Jared on January 31, 2006.

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