I really shouldn’t see a film after the Oscar nominations are announced; it colours the way I see the film. ‘Why does this deserve to be nominated?’ my annoying inner voice shouts.
There were a lot of women in the cinema I saw the film, for two main reasons: it is a tragic love story; and there are two, young, hot male film stars getting naked and trying some man-on-man action. However, the gay thing isn’t much of an issue. It is just the barrier necessary in a love story – the Reason Why They Cannot Be Together. From the enemy families of Romeo and Juliet, or the class divide of the silly Titanic, or being on opposite sides of the USA in Sleepless in Seattle, or being friends in When Harry Met Sally …, there must be an obstacle to true love. Here, it just happens to be homosexuality in 1960/1970s cowboy country.
Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are given the job of tending sheep on Brokeback Mountain. While there, a physical act of love begins a relationship they don’t fully acknowledge – ‘I ain’t queer’. They both part ways: Ennis to marry his girl and lead a life of tough poverty, whereas Jack finds marriage with the daughter of a tractor salesman and comfort. They don’t forget each other, and the years are spotted with a regular ‘fishing trip’ where they can be together again.
They can never be together – this is middle America, after all, especially in the tough world of cowboys, where Ennis saw the corpse of one of the men who had been in a relationship that wasn’t condoned by the townsfolk. Jack wants them to be together, but Ennis keeps his strength of steely determination in reality. And, like all tragedies, it can never end happily …
This film is beautiful. Ang Lee directs at a slow, composed pace, allowing the emotions to develop and letting the story unfold at a more relaxed pace. The scenery is stunning, an elemental splendour to match the intensity of the feelings the men have for each other. The actors in the main roles bring a lot to their acting; Ledger inhabits the hardness of the character of Ennis, and Gyllenhaal provides the heart of the relationship. (It is a shame that the tactics of Oscar voting means that the actors are split into leading role and supporting role, respectively, as they are most definitely co-leads. Could you imagine the furore if the woman in a love story was relegated to being called a supporting role?) I don’t see why Williams was nominated, as she does very little to merit it, the closest she gets being the scene where she discovers Ennis & Jack together.
Time will tell if this film is a classic, but it is a very good film. A strong emotional resonance pervades a small story of big love. I’m not sure if it is the best film of the year, but can see the Academy giving it the big award – it is an old-fashioned, if slightly unusual, love story.