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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Brokeback Mountain
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)

Motion Picture Association rating: R
USCCB rating: O

Two sheep-tending cowboys in 1960s Wyoming find themselves unexpectedly falling in love and suffering the heartbreaking consequences, keeping their relationship a secret for 20 years.

I image that by now most everyone has heard about “the gay cowboy movie.” I think we’re all going to hear a lot more about it with the award season fast approaching.

Brokeback Mountain transcends labels like “the gay cowboy movie.” It’s hardly the first movie to deal with gay themes or characters. What sets this one apart is that it seeks to bring a serious portrayal of a homosexual relationship to a mainstream audience. Usually gay characters are either eccentric celebrities (Capote) or secondary characters (The Family Stone). In Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) and screenwriters Larry McMurtry (Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove) and Diana Ossana bring Annie Proulx’s story of Wyoming sheepherders to life. Young Ennis and Jack, looking for employment in the summer of 1963, find themselves herding sheep on the rugged, lonely mountains. They find themselves sharing a sleeping bag one cold night, and have sex. They fall in love, but part ways at the end of the summer. After a two year absence, they begin meeting each other for fishing trips (in which no fish ever get caught) for 20 years.

Brokeback Mountain continues to haunt me, over a week after I saw it. A friar who saw it with me claimed it was the “bleakest movie I’ve ever seen.” Undoubtedly, there is a bleakness to it: the remote, rugged mountains, sparsely furnished rooms, long silences, raw emotions, and a bittersweet ending. The mood is enhanced greatly by the beautiful, understated guitar score by Gus Santaolalla. Although the film loses a bit of its focus as it proceeds, comparing the parallel unhappy lives of Ennis and Jack, every scene between the two men hits just the right emotional chord. When Jack and Ennis meet for the first time in two years, they cannot control the emotions they have controlled for so long. It’s a beautiful and startling moment.

Ennis and Jack are unprepared to deal with their love. Ennis, brilliantly played by Heath Ledger, orphaned by an auto accident, raised by brothers and sisters, is a man of few words. Overcome with emotion when they part for the first time, Ennis sobs with so much intensity, he begins to wretch. Ledger holds nothing back. We find out that Ennis is plagued by a brutal childhood memory of what happened to two men who lived together on a ranch, and fears that the same fate could befall him. Jack, beautifully played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is more open with his sexuality and emotion. Jack is the one who initiates the fishing trips and wants to settle down together.

Both men enter into unhappy marriages and have children of their own. However, it is the love they have for each other, and their brief times together that they live for. “Sometimes I miss you so much, I can’t stand it,” Jack says to Ennis on one of their trips. They call each other “friend,” and indeed they are. But, they are much more than that.

Watching Brokeback Mountain, I’m aware that, in some ways we’ve come a long way as a society. But we still have a long way to go. We openly discuss issues relating to gay marriage and the ordination of homosexuals. Yet there is still much misunderstanding, prejudice, and fear. Several critics have wondered whether a straight audience would go to see gay cowboys. But, so far, in limited release, the movie is doing well, drawing a mixed audience.

Brokeback Mountain is an exploration of the mystery of the depths of human sexuality and relationship. The bleakness of its open spaces highlights the loneliness and alienation that touch not only Jack and Ennis, but also their wives and children. A culture of fear, repression, and dishonesty hinder all the characters as they try to connect with each other.

I highly recommend Brokeback Mountain. It touches on many different levels. It is an engrossing story, a plea for tolerance, and a sad, emotional film that will touch anyone who has ever been in love.

Tom Condon, O.P.




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