WEB EXCLUSIVE: ‘Brokeback Mountain’: just as good as everyone says it is

Andrew Hampp

Let’s face it. At this point, there are two types of people who are going to see Brokeback Mountain: Those who want to see a genuinely good movie and those who just want to see Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal get it on. To an extent, both groups will not be disappointed after one viewing of Ang Lee’s minor masterpiece.

By now you’re probably familiar with the basic premise: Two cowboys spend the summer of 1963 herding sheep in the titular Wyoming mountains and eventually embark on a homosexual relationship neither of them can describe.

But there’s a little more to the genesis of Brokeback Mountain‘s love story than just two otherwise straight men striking up a gay love affair on a whim. For the film’s first half hour, Lee takes time to build the attraction and camaraderie between Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) through mostly wordless scenes of sheep herding, food preparation and Jack stealing glances at Ennis during his bath time.

It could be argued that this is the weakest part of the two-and-a-half hour mini-epic, but considering the events that follow are much more lively, it’s hard to complain about a set-up with a huge cinematic pay off.

And what a pay off it is. The scenes that follow Ennis and Jack’s climactic love scene during a particularly cold night on Brokeback Mountain more than make up for the first quarter’s near lack of dialogue.

The two characters carry on their love affair for the next two decades with varying amounts of correspondence. Ennis, the more masculine of the pair, marries his fiancee Alma (an astounding Michelle Williams) the following fall and never travels outside his home state of Wyoming. Jack returns to his career as a burgeoning rodeo cowboy in Texas, making biannual trips up to Brokeback with Ennis.

The first reunion between the cowboys, in fact, is among the film’s most powerful moments. Ennis can barely contain his excitement for his old friend’s arrival, running up to greet him outside of his pickup truck and cornering him out by the garage for a quick make-out session. Williams’ look of devastated surprise when she stumbles upon her husband from the kitchen window is reason enough to guarantee her an Oscar nomination at the end of the month.

Also on hand is Anne Hathaway, who plays the more feisty role of Jack’s wife, Lureen. Where Williams’ Alma is suspicious and confrontational of her husband’s affair, Hathaway’s Lureen is career-oriented and deliberately naA_ve. And try not to blush when the star of The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted does an aggressive love scene with Gyllenhaal.

As the years progress, Ennis and Jack’s relationship never evolves into anything more than a few yearly trysts in the mountain. The visits become fewer and farther between and the strain on their respective families continues to take its toll. Both actors age expertly, both physically and emotionally, with Ledger coming off as a particularly believable 40-year-old.

The events all lead up, however, to an ending that is both sad and serves an all-too-accurate statement on societal acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuality.

In short, Brokeback Mountain is full of astonishing moments that all add up to one of the best cinematic love stories told in years, gay or straight. So believe the hype.

Contact campus editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].


Brokeback Mountain

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris

Directed by Ang Lee

Distributed by Focus Features

Rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence

Stater Rating (out of five): ****1/2