Iconic cowboys in love: the contradictions of Brokeback Mountain
It feels like the last taboo, an unwritten law: Thou shalt not depict gay cowboys. Yet by calmly and meticulously doing just that, Ang Lee gets the last laugh at all of those insecure heterosexual guys who have their masculinity threatened by the topic. Yet, when watching
Brokeback Mountain begins simply enough with Jack and Ennis (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) meeting awkwardly in 1963 as they take on a summer job herding sheep across Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Randy Quaid plays the gruff, suspicious fellow who hires them, and the two cowboys spend much of the beginning of the film wishing they had something else to eat beside beans as they ride horses and carry baby sheep across mountain streams. At high altitudes, the weather gets cold, so they are obliged to share a tent where Jack initiates an intimacy between them that Ennis initially wants to deny, but finds he really can’t.
I had thought the whole film would take place up on the mountain and the story would get coy and melodramatic fast, but screenwriter Larry McMurtry, working from a short story by Annie Proulx, quickly separates the two men once the summer ends, and they lead more typical heterosexual lives for years. Conflicted by his attraction to Jack, Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams), and fathers two girls in rapid succession. Jack returns to his life of rodeo riding, but both men can’t seem to shake
As iconic as a Marlboro Man, Heath Ledger is good at looking away and squinting into the sunlit distance. His character can express himself by beating up some random guy in a truck or by smoking cigarettes and drinking beer all night in a bar, but his relationship with Jack does not compute. When he was young, his father led him out to see a man who had been savagely tortured, dismembered, and killed once his fellow cowboys figured out that his “friend” was gay, so Ennis’s whole cultural upbringing does not allow his sexual orientation to really exist, and yet it does anyway.
The film very carefully does not tilt its bias in any direction, refusing to allow anyone to appear the easy villain. Much of the time,
Within its gorgeous cinematography and graceful understated acting,