THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. You been warned.
What struck me most about Brokeback Mountain on the two occasions I saw it over the weekend wasn’t that it was a gay film, because, in a lot of ways, it wasn’t.
Leaving the theater, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Brokeback Mountain shared so many similarities with another film I’ve seen: The Age of Innocence. Both films are about all-consuming desire, a sense of propriety over a “life that must be lived,” and the danger of succumbing to bodily contact.
Although I stand with the critics of the film who suggest that it could be trimmed—especially in the first hour, which is primarily a moving postcard of Wyoming (or, literally, Alberta, Canada)—I still feel the movie is a triumph. How odd to me that this is set in the 1960s when even today there are people in the world like Ennis and Jack who are unable to express these kinds of feelings. I told my s.o. afterward, “I’m so glad I’m alive today and have the opportunity to live openly,” and he responded, “It has nothing to do with today; there are still plenty of people who can’t live like you do.” And it’s true. And that’s why Brokeback Mountain is both a success and a loss for us. Because it represents us. Because it convinces us these kinds of sacrifices are in the past.
Both Ledger and Gyllenhaal are excellent in their roles; perhaps Gyllenhaal’s character seems the easier role because he expresses more than Ledger’s does. Ledger’s performance is in the eyes, in his unmoving upper lip. I love Ang Lee for this film and for many others: Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility. I think he’s really fearless as a director, but he’s also tasteful. Lee knows this story isn’t about sex. It’s about commitment—the commitments we can make to each other and the ones we can’t. Our commitments to the world.
It’s hard to classify this as a gay film when no one in the film identifies that way; in fact, they very much do not identify as queer, although I get a sense near the end of the film that Jack has come to a kind of self-acceptance. Ultimately, it’s a film about heterosexual America. Its violence, its disappointments, and its harsh realities.