In the 2000s era, I have cherished and admired romantic dramas like Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, of course, In the Mood for Love. Now, I believe Brokeback Mountain deserves a spot among the outstanding creations of the genre for its mastery of craft that blossoms into a genuine portrayal of an alluring, unconventional love story.
Brokeback Mountain starts slow and maintains its sedated pace throughout the first act, but, for a number of reasons, it never gets dull. Shots are spiced up with beautiful scenery and movement. Mingled with a light, relaxing soundtrack, the film lulls you into a peaceful state of mind. Dialog is not only instilled with charm and humor but also offers insight into the personalities of our two protagonists. “Man, that’s more words than you’ve spoke in the past two weeks,” Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) says, to which Ennis (Heath Ledger) responds, “Hell, that’s the most I’ve spoke in a year.” Non-verbal interactions and minor conflicts keep the momentum going while further shedding light on the state of the relationship. Ennis: a repressed, passive person who abides by the rules to ensure his safety; and Jack: an outspoken, reckless person who takes the risky route to satisfy his desire. The final outcome of the first act is an endearing relationship that has you entrenched in joy but also in foreboding.
What happens in Brokeback Mountain stays in Brokeback Mountain. The film is set in the 60s, the society of which is disdainful towards anything but a traditional relationship between a man and a woman. It is an era and a culture that considers homosexuality a psychiatric disorder. This external conflict is a looming threat, making the relationship between Ennis and Jack clandestine. Their lives outside of this denounced relationship are bland and dreary; it’s like a necessary course they must take so they can relish the sporadic breaks.
The plot capitalizes on the personalities of the two to propel itself. On one side, we have the sanguine Jack, who looks forward to untying the entanglements; and on the other, there is the realistic Ennis, who’s daunted by the society’s reaction. The beauty of the script, written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, is at full display here. This dichotomy is so strong that it leaves almost no room for taking sides. I find myself leaning towards Jack as I am, just like him, a dreamer, but I can’t gloss over the potential horrifying consequences. As someone who lives in a close-minded religious society akin to that of the USA in the 60s, I can relate to how excruciating of a conflict this is.
Manifested by glances, eyes flitting, body language, and blocking, throughout the entire film the scenes ooze with subtext. This is further amplified by framing. And I reckon those who were questioning Christopher Nolan’s choice on Ledger as The Joker hadn’t watched Brokeback Mountain. His method acting brings another level of authenticity to the character. The way he uses body language to display the emotional state, his voice to be aligned with the character’s personality, and his facial expressions to mask his identity, results in an idiosyncratic character who sculpts one of the unforgettable facets of the film.
Director Ang Lee excels at employing filmmaking techniques to tell an unconventional love story, one that struggles within society’s ignorance to fulfill its potential, culminating in an impact that’s too vivid to wear off anytime soon.