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USA 2005
Directed by
Ang Lee
134 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
5 stars

Brokeback Mountain

Synopsis: In Wyoming in 1963 two young cowboys Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are employed to tend sheep up on Brokeback Mountain. A friendship grows, and after a sudden and brief sexual encounter they return to their lives, but the love that has been kindled endures for years, through marriages, families, fear and heartbreak.

This achingly beautiful film defies genre categorisation. It is a film about cowboys, but not the archetypes with which we are familiar. Most of all it is a love story, and a human story about the need for belonging, comfort and self expression, and the tragedy of what happens when people are denied the opportunity to express their love. It is a film about the universal emotions of pain and loss, and that makes it something we all can relate to.

The emotional impact of this film is startling. Ang Lee is a master at tapping into his characters’ emotions. combine his superb direction and Annie Proulx’s fine material upon which the script is based, with the first-rate performances from all the cast and you have a recipe for something special.

Brokeback Mountain represents the place in the world where Ennis and Jack can truly be themselves. Its isolation and raw beauty is their refuge and comfort, and the cinematography lends depth to the emotion by virtue of its sweeping vision. In contrast to the drabness of the towns, the mountain symbolises all that is dear to Ennis and Jack, and while the physical landscape is vast, the story it harbours is intensely intimate.

One could analyse the characters in this film endlessly; the fact that they feel so real is further testament to the power of the acting. Ledger delivers his finest performance to date. He brings both strength and vulnerability to Ennis, a man who is terrified to show his deepest emotions. Gyllenhaal is equally outstanding in the more gung-ho character of Jack. Ably supporting the men are Michelle Williams as Ennis’s wife, Alma, who heart is broken when her dream of conventional marital bliss is shattered. Anne Hathaway is also a strong support as Lureen, Jack’s wife, a woman who becomes more brittle as the years of passionless marriage pass. And the passing of time is extremely well handled, as we see the characters age and believe whole-heartedly in what sadness time and circumstance have wrought.

The reactionary right in America is calling for the banning of this film and the usual anti-everything lobbies are getting on their bandwagon. This current backlash seems like a sad echo of the very climate portrayed in the film which leads to the tragedy. Personally speaking, I do not regard the homosexual aspect of this story as its over-riding theme, despite its centrality in the plot. What I see is an an epic and tragic love story which movingly shows the way our lives are affected by the mercilessness of society.




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