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Photo Credit :: CTNews
Arts & Entertainment
Brokeback Mountain
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
December 10, 2005 
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Many of us remember our first reading of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain when it appeared in the New Yorker in 1997 (horribly foreshadowing the tragedy which ended Matthew Shepard’s life) and the ensuing shock of recognition that in the lives of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar a love like ours was, at long last, represented in the New Yorker’s hallowed fiction pages.  Many of us kept that issue (and some of us could probably now sell that issue for a tidy sum on eBay).  And now, eight years later, comes the film, as if to test Hollywood’s mettle in dealing honestly, at long last, with a love as old as the Greeks.  Perhaps not since the 1982 clunker Making Love has there been a major Hollywood film of a gay love story (and for which the insipid Making Love deserves at least part of the blame), and this time around, Hollywood seems determined to get it right.  Of course it helps to have Ang Lee at the helm, he of the oh-so-observant eye and the most steady of gazes, and also two break-out actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, on their way to the brass ring, as well as accolades from the rounds of film festivals (Brokeback Mountain won the Golden Lion for Best Film in Venice), and the accompanying thunder of a full-tilt press junket.  To say that the film has been anticipated, nearly as much as the film version of Rent, is akin to saying Jack and Ennis have a thing for each other.  And that’s what we’re almost afraid to see onscreen – for how often have we sat in darkened theatres and listened to the tittering and the catcalls whenever two men on the silver screen have expressed even the slightest bit of homoerotic interest in each other?  How many films have we endured where a love like ours has been the punchline of a joke – or more often, given Hollywood’s homophobia, the catalyst for tragedy. 

And while Brokeback Mountain is most definitely a tragedy, it is also, and perhaps more tellingly, a true cinematic love story, along the lines of other great heterosexual love tragedies, such as A Place in the Sun, Casablanca, The English Patient, and Titanic.  At long last, a big Hollywood love story where the voices are in the same register and neither mouth wears lipstick and there’s hair on both chests – and still, you can feel your heart beating faster and you’re holding your breath, hoping that no one around you breaks into nervous laughter or shouts obscenities at the screen when Jack and Ennis finally kiss.  And not only do they kiss, our two star-crossed lovers waste not a word as they grapple in the pup tent they share high atop Brokeback Mountain.  Lee does the film, and the story, a great service here by getting the down-and-dirty out of the way.  It’s the curiosity factor – Is that how they do it? – and Lee gives his audience a quick answer, and then moves swiftly on.  For the real story here is not so much the sexual attraction, which is indeed palpable between Jack and Ennis as played by Gyllenhaal and Ledger, but more importantly, the very real love which develops over the course of time. 

Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s screenplay (written in 1997) manages to open Proulx’s story in the most natural fashion, with scenes of Jack’s and Ennis’s respective domestic lives, and even introducing peripheral characters, and yet always the film’s focus remains on the love at the story’s center.  One testament to the screenplay’s very great strengths is that every single scene can be traced back to that which binds Jack and Ennis.  And in directing with such singular focus, Lee minimizes the titillation factor and raises the stakes for the audience’s involvement in the story’s ultimate tragedy.  And when that happens, when Ennis goes to Jack’s parents’ desolate and windswept farm, the weeping commences throughout the theatre, accented by Gustavo Santaolalla‘s haunting and plaintive theme song which both starts and ends the film.

It’s been a long time coming, but at last, we have a Hollywood love story we can call our own.