Here's my challenge: Watch Casanova and Jarhead (both now showing in local theaters) before watching Brokeback Mountain, to appreciate and to keep fresh in your mind, the acting range of both Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. One plays a king of lovemaking, while the other plays an army grunt, in which both are alpha-males roles. Then when you watch Brokeback Mountain, you'll probably be wide-eyed at how these two have a go at each other.
Based upon the 1997 short story by Edna Anne Proulx, you must have your head stuck in mud if you're not aware this movie is about two cowboy shepherds who share a relationship up in the mountains of Brokeback. Set in 1963, we see Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) team up in their job to shepherd sheep to graze, and having strict orders to be separate most times to take care of their flock.
But being together alone in the mountains, sharing their lives with each other, brings them too close, and soon, they share a forbidden illicit relationship (hey, they're supposed to be macho cowboys, and it's the 60s of free love and Vietnam looming) that transcends the usual boundaries of male bonding.
It's like a summer love, and after an hour into the film, we explore how this love affect them as they try to ease themselves back to normalcy. Except that things are never going to be normal anymore. While they establish families - Del Mar with his be-throed Alma (Michelle Williams), and Twist with rich Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway in another role which she shows off her assets), they cannot forget their throes of passion they had sparked back in summer of 63. Before long, they get together again to reignite their passion for each other and continue over a period of 20 years.
One thing's for sure, the story will still play out decently if you substitute gay love with heterosexual roles, like the countless of movies on cheating spouses, but there'll be a very distinct lack of punch. You'll notice that the male couples share similar trials and tribulations of any relationship - the love, passion, how much one party is willing to give the other, and how much the other will reciprocate, and unfulfilled dreams. What gives this movie the edge is how the characters are compelled to look for each other for solace, and the deceit and lies they have to go through in order to be together.
It's a movie that's paced slowly, but gives opportunity for the audience to admire the postcard perfect (CGI-enhanced) landscape of the mountains and plains, to study the expressions of the characters, to listen and ponder upon the dialog. Lee Ang had made Chinese Wu-Xia movies sexy, and it's no wonder that he has also managed to add a touch of sensuality that permeates throughout Brokeback. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack helps too in keeping the mood and emotions in check, serving to add to the narrative in periods of silenced dialog.
Perhaps something which I thought was pretty neat, was the idea brought forward from Kinsey, that there is a degree of homosexuality in all of us, and it depends on how gay you are, or have the courage, to come out of the closet. What's interesting is when you think about whether the notion of gayness stems from nature, or nurture. If you'd seen the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about, and how passion can consume someone, that it takes over all sensibility, and about the propensity of risk you're willing to take.
Heath Ledger had a pretty busy 2005, with diverse roles in Brothers Grimm, Lords of Dogtown, Casanova and this. I've seen all of them, and while I disliked Grimm, I thought his roles in 2005 should be credited with an Oscar win for this. Jake Gyllenhaal too plays Twist with a touch of machoness, and yet is able to slip back into needy whining gentleness with a flick of a switch. Michelle Williams' role, while small, is accentuated by the particular one scene in which she discover the truth. It is powerful - nothing much said, but everything said through the eyes. Perhaps the weakness link is Hathaway with her megawatt smile and bimbotic blonde looks, as the clueless wife of Twist caught in between some major family squabbles.
Homophobes will probably give this movie a miss, but to generally brand this as a gay movie will be missing the point. I'd recommend it to everyone I know to watch this with an open mind. It's an out-and-out dramatic story on relationships, and it's classic storytelling at its best, with excellent acting and strong direction, cinematography, heck, this movie deserves its 8 Academy nominations, so let's see it take home some honors (I'm not sticking my neck out just yet, until I watch all the other contenders).
P.S. Yes, this movie is shown here uncut. If you're not celebrating this movie, at least celebrate the fact that we can get to watch it here as it is intended to be.
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