It was only time before a film about two men in love would get the treatment it gets in Ang Lee's BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, since up to now, films had either skirted the subject, reduced it to a peripheral, sanitized version of itself or given it the eye-candy treatment only meant at making a quick impression in the "Gay-Lesbian" category. The simple yet deceptive story of two people who meet, fall in love, but are unable to fulfill their love has been done over and over again from the male-female perspective (i. e. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, BRIEF ENCOUNTER), but never involving two men, and never this brutally honest.
Of course, the dynamic of male love is different than male-female love only in genitalia. Jack and Ennis' first encounter while waiting for work, their isolation leading to each other's arms, is the stuff of every restrained romantic drama. The mechanism of two men falling in love here develops along the lines of homo-masculinity dictating patterns of behavior which both Jack and Ennis obey whether they know it or not. It comes to me as no surprise when, following their first sexual encounter (brutally executed with undertones of sadomasochism but true to the style of love involving alpha males), they revert to "not being queers" but cowboys who excuse "what happened" to liquor and "manly needs". Which of course verbalizes society's impositions of men having to be "men."
Of course, things take a different turn and the heart wants what it wants. Once their work is done, Jack tries to keep their acquaintance alive but Ennis is so intensely closed and closeted to any possibility of emotions that he looks like he may implode at any moment and only once does he actually scream into his hat, bent over, as Jack drives away. The sound is a terrible, heart-rending puke of indescribable pain.
What follows is a series of brief encounters that become more intense as the years go by, but at the same time destroys two marriages and consumes then to the end. Love is an uncontrollable emotion, and when two people who belong together despite their gender cannot fulfill their dreams it's only a matter of time when things reach a head. Again, the constraints of time and space interfere: Ennis cannot see a life outside what he knows, again more a product of the trauma of seeing something horrible as a child, and Jack, not having what he wants, has to take to meeting other men in sordid locations and re-create a semblance of an affair with a man who resembles Ennis. In presenting these situations as they are and not trying to pursue change in its characters, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the love story that transcends gender, space, time, and proves that love -- even when tragic -- is universal.
Even so, will straight people see the message behind the story? I believe straight women (and a few enlightened straight men) will be the ones drawn to view the movie over a majority of conservative idiots who still hold the idea of two men locked in intimacy as being repugnant and are ripping their feeble brains out over the quasi "gay agenda" that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is trying to "convert people to homoesexuality". Sometimes it takes a movie like this which dares to take the risk and tell an unforgettable story rife in visual and emotional power -- true poetry in motion.
All of the actors in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN are flawless, and all of them have roles that in another story might have been bland stereotypes of predictable natures. Jake Gyllenhaal is smoldering longing at the beginning but becomes a broken man who explodes in rage when he realizes that twenty years have gone down the drain. Heath Ledger goes one better: his painful speech, furtive eyes, and inward body language expresses an overwhelming set of emotions which state that he'd never be able to be happy with anyone, and his final scene holding Jack's shirt comes more as an apology to Jack than an added moment of schmaltz. Michelle Williams plays a typical housewife who is witnessing something she can't understand. Linda Cardellini, who comes quite late in the film, initially appears to be just a waitress, but is the person who gives Ennis an advice about love. Anne Hathaway's role as Jack Twist's wife is much more tricky: is she aware of his gayness or is she really all about business and having a perfect home? I get the feeling her character knows more than she expresses, and her turning progressively blonde is a manifestation of her choosing to look the other way and live a life of bitter complacency, best expressed in her telling speech about how "men don't dance with their wives." If she only knew.