Should you saddle up to “Brokeback Mountain?”
No movie in recent memory has garnered as much controversy as “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s not merely that the film involves homosexuality, the topic has been surfacing with greater frequency every year. Just this week, Golden Globe awards were given to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his portrayal of the gay title character in “Capote,” and to Felicity Huffman for playing a transsexual in “Transamerica.” “Brokeback” centers on the acted upon same sex tendencies of two young macho cowhands, portrayed by two of Hollywood’s young prominent stars. To that end, the film breaks new ground.
As one would expect from director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), the film is beautifully shot and sensitively handled. Covering a period of 20 years, “Brokeback” tells the story of impetuous Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and laconic Ennis (Heath Ledger), who meet after being hired to tend sheep in the rolling back hills of Wyoming. All alone for long periods, the men at first develop a quiet bond, and during sparse conversations we learn they have a lot in common. Rough childhoods, a disconnection with their fathers, and little concern for their religious heritage are a few of their shared experiences–they bond in a way you expect brothers would.
Then one chilly night, inexplicably, it happens.
Literally out of the blue, they act upon a sexual impulse. Oddly, the men don’t seem to know how to handle this abrupt compulsion. “I ain’t queer,” Ennis tells Jack. After their summer job is over they go back to their “normal” life. Each marries a cute wife and raises kids. When the men reunite after four years, their lustful flame rekindles and over the next 15 years, they meet repeatedly on the mountain.
The filmmakers (and the film’s fans) want the audience to consider the gay relationship as secondary, and want the film to be understood for its romantic, and ultimately tragic merits.
Nonsense. This film would never have been made had the two characters been straight. But for argument’s sake, let’s concede the notion.
Despite its sensitive yearnings, the film is not in the least bit romantic. The basis of Jack and Ennis’ relationship is purely sexual. Unless you find something admirable about liars, cheaters or adulterers, the film leaves little to like about its central characters. Despite the rather unoriginal device that is used at the end of the film to satisfy its “tragic” aspirations, Ennis and Jack are not, in fact, the primary victims of their unbridled passions. That distinction falls to the wives, dealt with only marginally but played with aplomb by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, and the children who must suffer the consequences of failed marriages and broken homes.
“Brokeback Mountain” tries to manipulate the empathy it cannot naturally provoke. There isn’t one decent heterosexual man in the film. The constant chain smoking, beer drinking, and vulgar language seem forced– as if they exist to remind us the lovers are “real” men. Did John Wayne ever have to do that? And don’t you think a wife who caught her husband making out with another man would ask him some questions– BEFORE the divorce?
The performances are universally good, maybe even great. The homosexual scenes, while likely to offend many, are not graphic or gratuitous. But if you want to see a film that tackles a similarly taboo subject with considerably more courage and tenderness, watch “Normal” with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson. “Brokeback Mountain” breaks ground but not hearts.
Rated R for sexual situations, profanity, and nudity.