When the 2006 Academy Awards were taking place, Brokeback Mountain seemed to be a lock for Best Picture. Then, when the award was announced, and Crash won, there was an audible gasp uttered throughout the crowd. People were shocked, and began throwing around accusations of homophobia within the film industry. Ultimately, I don’t care who won, although I will say that I don’t think Brokeback Mountain feels like Best Picture material.
There was something not quite right about it that made me feel this way, and I think I’ve managed to figure it out. The relationship between the two main characters seems to happen too quickly for my taste. I realize that they bonded over a couple of months, but the way it was filmed, it didn’t feel that way. Time jumps without telling you, meaning it’s hard to place yourself within the story. Time advances fairly often, and at a quick pace, meaning that if you leave for just a minute, you may just miss a few years.
The main story is one of forbidden love, a love that begins to fester as two men herd sheep up in the mountains. They are hired to do this job, and it takes place over a couple of months. The pair starts off not willing to share much with one another—each one seems to have had a troubled past—and they mostly keep to themselves. Ennis (Heath Ledger) soon opens up about his childhood: “More words than you’ve spoke in the past two weeks,” Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) tells him. This is the first time we see them becoming attracted to one another.
Eventually, the summer ends and each man goes down a separate path. They each get married (to women) and have children with them. Neither one seems all that happy with their situation though. Fast forward four years in time, when Jack sends a postcard to Ellis, in hopes to rekindle the relationship they used to have. There’s just one problem with this: They live in the 1960s. In America.
Why is this a problem? Well, in that time (and arguably now), gay marriage was something that was looked down upon. It was frowned upon enough that people in smaller towns would be taken away from their homes and beaten to death by their neighbors. How do I know this? Well, Ellis describes it to us; his father made him watch this happen when he was nine years old. This is why Ellis won’t move in with Jack, and also why this is a story of “forbidden love.” This isn’t due to class differences or family issues; no, Brokeback Mountain turns on society and the hardships it places upon gay couples.
Brokeback Mountain is a very good film.
I never thought I’d say that Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting impressed me, and to be honest, it still didn’t really. He was better in Brokeback Mountain than anything else I’ve seen him in, but it still wasn’t an incredibly impressive performance. I was more in awe of Heath Ledger and his less boasting performance. Gyllenhaal gets the louder character, while Ledger’s is more reserved, and is also more interesting to watch. We get to know what Jack is thinking at all hours of the day, while Ellis has to be prodded in order to open up.
The contrast in the characters is one of the more interesting parts of the film, but so was the contrast between Hollywood’s typical depiction of homosexual characters, and how they are shown here. Both Jack and Ellis are tough guys, macho men in their own right, and they fight, drink, and smoke at almost every possible opportunity. This is intriguing to me, because it subverts the usual portrayal of gays on-screen, and I believe that’s something to be admired.
And yet, Brokeback Mountain wasn’t as amazing as I had been led to believe, which brings me back to my thoughts on it being “snubbed” at the Academy Awards. It still doesn’t feel like a Best Picture winner to me, and, aside from the issues I’ve mentioned previously, I think there is one more reason why. This reason is in some of the scenes throughout, where there is almost no real drama or tension.
Some scenes are brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but there are times where it gets really boring due to a lack of conflict. This is especially true in the first 40 or so minutes, where there isn’t any tension. It doesn’t start off all that well, failing to draw me in, and there are some characters, like the one played by Anne Hathaway, who failed to warrant any emotional response from me.
Brokeback Mountain is a great film, I’m not going to deny that. The characters were deep and interesting, the story told is simple, yet intriguing enough to keep your attention, and the forbidden romance aspect—this time involving a gay couple—is something worth watching. Director Ang Lee portrays the two leads as tough men, changing up the typical Hollywood portrayal of homosexual males. I liked Brokeback Mountain, not enough to call it the best film of 2005, but enough to say it deserves a watch.
Conclusion: Brokeback Mountain is a great film that sidesteps Hollywood’s typical portrayal of homosexual men.
Recommendation: Watch Brokeback Mountain.
- Rating - 8/108/10