Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
Motion Picture Association rating: R
USCCB rating: O
FILM SYNOPSIS: 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.
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.
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.
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
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.