Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams
Oscar Wins: Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay (Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana), Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Heath Ledger), Best Supporting Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto)
SUMMARY: In Wyoming in 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet when both are hired to guide and watch sheep for the summer. The job requires the two to stay on Brokeback Mountain for several months with only the other man (and the sheep) for company. The experience forces the men to bond quickly, and a friendship develops. One evening, Ennis has too much to drink, and ends up staying at the base camp instead of heading out to the sheep (where he’s supposed to sleep in a pup tent). When it gets cold he goes into the tent with Jack, and in the middle of the night Jack makes a pass at him. Ennis immediately recoils, but Jack persists, and Ennis eventually gives in. Later, Ennis tells Jack that the incident was a one-time-only thing, but shortly thereafter he comes on to Jack. The two then develop a full-blown affair, completely free because nobody else is around. However, when a major storm front moves toward the mountain their boss decides to bring the sheep in a month early, effectively ending the affair. Both men are upset at this, and get into a brief fistfight where both get blood on their shirts; Ennis later discovers that he accidentally left this shirt on the mountain. In the fall, Ennis marries his fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams), finds work on various ranches, and has two daughters. Jack tries to go back to Brokeback the next summer, but is not rehired; he learns that Ennis has not been there, anyway. Jack eventually goes back to the rodeo until he meets Lureen (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a farm-machinery magnate. Despite her father’s disapproval, the two soon marry and have a son. Four years after their first meeting, Jack sends Ennis a postcard. A visit is quickly arranged, and Jack comes to Wyoming. Upon seeing each other again the two men engage in a passionate kiss in what they think is a secluded location. Unfortunately for them, Alma sees them, and this marks the beginning of the end for the Del Mar marriage. Jack wants to buy a ranch with Ennis so that both can truly be happy, but Ennis refuses to do this. As a child, he was forced to see the body of a man tortured and brutalized to death because of suspected homosexuality; he is afraid that the same thing will happen to him and Jack. He also refuses to leave his two daughters and Alma. Over the years, though, the two continue to meet for “fishing trips”, where they spend several days in the mountains together.
Ennis and Alma’s marriage goes downhill, and they ultimately divorce in 1975. Jack and Lureen stay married, but grow more distant; both join her father’s business. When Jack hears about Ennis’s divorce he again suggests the ranch idea, but Ennis again shoots it down, saying that he cannot abandon his daughters. Jack is so upset that he leaves immediately and goes to Mexico, where he seeks out male prostitutes. Alma remarries, but she and Ennis are cordial, and see each other often for the sake of their children. One evening, Alma finally tells Ennis that she knows what was really going on with the fishing trips. He has an extreme reaction, which effectively ends the relationship between the two, though Ennis still sees his daughters regularly. Some years later, he has a brief relationship with a local waitress. Meanwhile, Jack and Lureen meet a ranching couple in Texas and begin hanging out with them. Jack tells Ennis that he is having an affair with the wife, but in reality he is having an affair with the husband. During this same meeting, Ennis tells Jack that he cannot make their assumed next fishing trip because of work. Jack takes it badly, claiming that Ennis has always made things unnecessarily difficult for them; Ennis replies that if it weren’t for Jack, he wouldn’t even be in the situation. Some time later, Ennis sends Jack a postcard to arrange their next trip, but it is returned with a “Deceased” stamp. Ennis calls Lureen and learns that Jack died when a tire he was changing blew up in his face. However, Ennis imagines that Jack was beaten and tortured by men who knew his secret, like the incident from his childhood. He also learns that Jack wanted some of his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain, but since Lureen did not know where that was, she sent the ashes to his parents. Ennis next goes to the Twist house, where both parents seem to realize who Ennis is. Ennis offers to take the ashes to Brokeback, but Mr. Twist insists that Jack will be buried in the family plot like his relatives. Mrs. Twist offers to let Ennis see Jack’s childhood room; when he accepts, he looks in the closet and finds Jack’s bloody shirt from that summer fight on Brokeback hanging over his own bloody shirt (that he thought he lost). Ennis cradles both shirts to his face, then takes them downstairs, where Jack’s mother silently agrees to let him keep them. Some time later, Ennis’s oldest daughter visits to tell him that she is getting married, and wants him to attend. Ennis initially says he has to work, but then changes his mind and decides to quit if necessary. After receiving reassurance from his daughter that her fiancé really does love her, Ennis and his daughter have a toast. After she leaves, Ennis opens his closet and looks at the two shirts hanging together under a picture of Brokeback Mountain, with tears in his eyes.
MY TAKE: Boy, I can remember what a fuss this movie caused when it first came out. People were in an absolute uproar over it, so I think it speaks to the quality of the movie — and the progress of our world — that ten years later, it is not still a “taboo” movie, and is actually very well respected. There was a lot of controversy at that year’s Oscars, because Crash beat this film for Best Picture. Crash was, ironically, the film I reviewed yesterday; I thought both movies were deserving of the award, so I didn’t have a problem with the decision. However, the Academy apparently revoted in 2015 (just for fun), and selected Brokeback as Best Picture. The theory was, at the time, that this film was too controversial, so again, it’s a sign of the times and the quality of the movie that this is no longer the case. Ang Lee did a terrific job of taking a difficult and controversial story and turning it into a legitimate movie that didn’t play into any of that, or any stereotypes. Everybody called it the “gay cowboy movie”, but that’s not the feeling I got when I watched it. It isn’t like the guys are flamboyantly gay — they lived in Wyoming in 1963, after all. In fact, I couldn’t figure out the sexuality of either man completely. It simply came down to the fact that they fell in love with each other. I’m pretty sure it’s not what either one wanted, given the times and their distance from each other (not to mention the wives and children), so it speaks to their love for each other that they kept things going for twenty years. I think the movie also showcased the great talent and bravery of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, both of whom are straight in real life. Given the furor surrounding the movie, I was surprised at the time that neither actor really experienced any backlash. Now, I can see that it was probably because both, although Ledger in particular, just did an exceptional job. Jack is a lot more vocal in general, and particularly about his feelings, than Ennis, but Ennis is the one who will probably make you want to cry. It’s pretty clear that the relationship has put enormous strain on him over the years, and he probably wishes (at times) that it had never happened. But when you see his reaction upon finding his old shirt hanging with Jack’s, you can tell that the feelings were real. Seriously, I almost cried, and I never cry at movies. The ending is bittersweet, but I guess I’m sort of happy with it: I was sure that things would not end happily, given the time period, and I was just hoping that something terrible (like the torture thing, or public humiliation) would not happen to either man. Not that a tire blowing up in your face isn’t terrible, but it wasn’t a hate crime or anything. And there wasn’t any horrible breakup scene. Of all the possible endings, I guess I feel that this was one of the better ones.
Fun fact: That waitress that Ennis dates for a while? That’s Linda Cardellini, who played Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies and Chutney, the real culprit, in Legally Blonde.
MY TAKE: Lots deeper than you expect.