‘Brokeback Mountain’ is a lovely gay love story, and that’s not a bad thing

Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams in 'Brokeback Mountain'
Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams in ‘Brokeback Mountain’

Before I even got an opportunity to see Brokeback Mountain I’d heard all the jokes. All the gay cracks, all the “Poke-in-the-Back Mountain” puns. Every snide comments and ridiculous homophobic rant.

Yet most of the people I knew who had actually seen the film thought it was terrific. A beautiful story told well. So, putting those jokes aside, when I finally sat down to watch Brokeback on DVD, I didn’t quite know what I was going to think. Would I get turned away by the homosexual storyline, or would I be able to enjoy it for what it was — a tragic love story.

To those that would attack the film for being about two gay cowboys, the film actually features only one love scene, and while it’s passionate, it’s brief. After that, there’s more female nudity than male. And even those bizarre criticisms of how Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist seduces Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar are kind of silly, since that’s really a result of misinterpreting a scene in the film where Ennis blames Jack for what happened.

I think it’s silly to call this film anything but a gay love story. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a story about two men who are in love, but separated because of societal prejudices. If you switched this tale and made it a man and a woman, it wouldn’t work. However, the feelings these two men feel for one another and the sorrow it causes are not strictly gay feelings, they’re human emotions. WhatBrokeback Mountain does successfully do is portray the two cowboys as human beings — something people tend to forget when they make gay jokes or strive to pass laws that do nothing by restrict the rights of individuals.

While Brokeback strikes some cords right, it does get off key. I saw it after it lost the Best Picture Oscar, and I have to admit, I don’t really think it deserved it. It’s two leads were too young for their roles, and don’t quite pull off aging very well at all. Near the end, as Ledger is talking to his character’s twenty-something daughter, they both look about the same age. And Gyllenhaal takes on the appearance of a … well, a gay cowboy with sideburns and a mustache. He doesn’t appear to get any older either, nor do either of these character “feel” older. Nearly two decades supposedly goes by in this film, but neither Ledger or Gyllenhaal effectively emote the passage of time.

I also felt the ending was something of a cheat (this portion of the review could be considered a spoiler, so skip the next paragraph if you wish).

Without revealing too much, one of the characters does die at the end. What bothered me about this was that it is done off screen, and so dismissively that any emotion is completely sapped. The power of the scene and the death is undermined. It seemed to me that the film tries very hard to skirt the edge of being a film about two gay men that won’t turn off a heterosexual audience. Had it dealt with the character’s death head on, it would have been forced to say something more about gays and the prejudice they face. It would have been more of a in-your-face statement than the subtle one it strived to convey. It’s like the filmmakers felt straight people in the audience would have been turned off, or felt as if they were getting a sermon. And that’s a shame, because they hurt the film in the process.

The film’s DVD features only a few extras, including an interview with screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Ang Lee discusses making the film, and there is also a standard “making of” featurette. Another extra discusses the life of a cowboy.

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