Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brokeback Mountain (A. Lee, 2005)

Though some have claimed that the appeal of Brokeback Mountain is the way in which it presents a love that is ‘universal’ – invariably a troublesome descriptor – it is, in fact, the film’s focus on the particular challenges of living life as a gay man that makes it so special, so moving and -- perhaps most importantly – so persuasive. The premise of a hidden love affair between two cowboys was ridiculed well before the film had been completed with the derision continuing through award season. The word ‘brokeback’ became a punch-line and predictably the parodies came fast and furious. Some were funny. Some were not. But perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Brokeback Mountain is that a year later the film retains its dignity and offers an experience that, when experienced in full, is impervious to juvenile tittering. Brokeback’s reception only serves to demonstrate and underline the thesis that Ang Lee presents so effectively.

Although it initially seems like merely a provocative conceit, it soon becomes clear why Brokeback’s characters need to be cowboys. Writer Annie Proulx has provided her tale with a setting that magnifies the masculine expectations that have been heaped upon Ennis and Jack. By watching and observing how their lifestyle conflicts with our pre-conceived notions of homosexuality, we begin to see the way that society tends to define maleness. This is particularly evident in Heath Ledger’s admirable performance as Ennis. Having been taught to despise homosexuals at a young age, Ennis has grown into a withdrawn, mumbling tough guy who is quick to pick fights and terrified to be caught weeping. Once we get to know Ennis, it becomes painfully clear that he is acting a lifelong role and has successfully masked his true self from even his wife and children. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack is somewhat less convincing, particularly as the story moves him into middle age. However, the important thing is that the two are convincing as a couple.

With the great expanse of Wyoming as their backdrop and not a soul to interrupt their interaction, it is difficult to imagine an argument against the consummation of their attraction that approaches the level of coherence. Naturally, things do not go so well when the two return to domestic life and spend literally years pretending not to feel the things that they feel. The film’s conclusion is not so much predictable as it is inevitable; however, Lee handles the events in a way that is much different than we might expect, placing the emphasis squarely on love rather than wallowing in images of hate. The final scene, with its subtle yet cruel irony, is an absolute stunner and a haunting conclusion to a great modern tragedy that will continue to resonate long into the future.



Post a Comment

<< Home