t's lucky that I chose to see "Brokeback Mountain" alone, in the pouring rain of last Sunday morning, at the ungodly movie-viewing hour of 10:30 a.m., with a few dozen strangers scattered throughout the theater. I don't think I could have managed a casual after-the-movie conversation with anyone at that point. Also, a companion might have noticed that my face and neck and both sleeves were wet with tears, rather than rain, which is, I suppose, my way of saying that the film wrenched my heart right out of my chest.
Based on Annie Proulx's short story originally appeared in the New Yorker back in 1997, "Brokeback" is essentially a story of love and loss. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana's screenplay fleshes out Proulx's characters, Gustavo Santaolalla's original score is simply gorgeous and Ang Lee brings the whole thing together masterfully, against a sweeping scenic backdrop. But all of this wouldn't have been enough to make the movie brilliant. In fact, without Jake Gyllenhaal's honest portrayal of rodeo cowboy Jack Twist and Heath Ledger's Oscar-worthy performance as the deeply conflicted Ennis Del Mar, "Brokeback Mountain" might have ended up as the giggle-worthy "gay cowboy movie" the public is expecting.
Ledger virtually disappears into the tightly wound, emotionally crippled Ennis, whose every attempt to do "the right thing" proves more devastating than living honestly ever could be. "If you can't fix it," Ennis says, "you gotta stand it." And it is the standing of it, that inner anguish, in which the heart of "Brokeback Mountain" lies. In this way, it is no more a gay movie than a straight one.
And what of the perceived attack on the iconic American Cowboy? I mean I think we can all agree that if this was a love story between a pair of antique dealers, there'd be a whole lot less attention, giggling and offense-taking. To some, it seems that The Cowboy is a sacred symbol and should therefore not be tampered with in any way that might bring his masculinity into question. But does "Brokeback" tamper with that ideal? I mean, there's no tiptoeing through the tulips, no lisping or sequins and not a drag queen in sight. What I think should terrify the homophobes even more than a flouncing fairy in a 10-gallon hat is the realization that two men might love one another intensely, even intimately, and still retain all that Western masculinity and strength.
It saddens me that fewer people will see this film than should, that the kiss which nearly broke Jake Gyllenhaal's nose will probably not make it onto the list of All-Time Greatest Movie Kisses and that in this world, for a wide variety of reasons, there are even now Ennis Del Mars, with their hearts held tight like fists, just trying to "stand it" for as long as they can.
*originally published 12.23.2005 – Santa Cruz Sentinel