Brokeback Mountain is a critically acclaimed and extremely popular queer romance/drama movie. The film was directed by Ang Lee, under the production company River Road Entertainment in 2005. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and received three of them: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. It is based off of a book by an American author by Annie Proulx.
Despite being so successful, the movie was not without its fair share of public outcry and controversy. After all, it depicted a gay male relationship. A relationship with two men is not necessarily part of the “normative” culture that our world fostered back in 2005 and still does today. As a result, it faced many challenges including theatre cancellations, media criticism, and overall denouncement from various organizations. For example, it was pulled from a theatre in Utah despite having been contracted to premier there. In addition, the conservative media attacked Hollywood for pushing a “gay agenda”. This bad press caused sales to decrease dramatically over the course of the week. However, the movie prevailed and is still revered as a great production of its time that sheds light on an otherwise darkened subject matter.
Brokeback Mountain begins with the two main characters, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) looking for a job for the summer. They both arrive at the same trailer of a man who owns a large herd of sheep. In past seasons, there has been an issue where wolves were hunting and killing the sheep. So, he wants the two men to camp out on Brokeback Mountain together to scare off any wolves that come close to the herd.
At this point, we only get some minor hints they Jack may be gay. While Ennis is standing outside, Jack stares at him through the side-view mirror of his truck. The stare lingers and his eyes have a certain intensity that hints at sexual desire. If Ennis had returned the stare, it would have been very similar to those in Cruising. This means we aren’t at an intense point of mutual attraction yet, but there is a hint that it is evolving. It serves as an effective foreshadowing into the coming relationship between the two men.
Once they get to the mountain, they set up camp and begin their daily and nightly duties. The usual arrangement is that one person holds down camp at night, and the other rides out to the sheep to guard them. However, they decide that both of them will stay at the camp for one night. Ennis starts by sleeping outside, with Jack inside the tent. It is very cold, and Jack tells Ennis to sleep with him inside the tent. In a matter of minutes, they begin kissing, and eventually they begin to have sex. This kiss was initiated by an intense stare. It was a stare that told both parties that they were interested, a form of communication without a single word. This is exactly the kind that the main character in cruising used to attract the killer, another man with which to have sexual relations with. It is marked by eye contact, small facial movements, and bodily gestures.
Now, we see the first truly mutual sign of affection between the two main characters. This confirms our thoughts from the beginning, and thus starts the emotional and sexual relationship between Ennis and Jack.
As the story continues, they move on past working on the mountain and get families of their own. They both marry women and have kids and live seemingly normal lives. That is, until Jack makes contact with Ennis again by means of a postcard. This sparks their relationship and they begin to see each other, with the intention of hiding it from their wives. Ennis’ wife sees them immediately when they are kissing for the first time after not seeing each other. Afterwards, they continue to meet on Brokeback Mountain multiple times throughout the year to have sex and spend time with each other. This creates a downward spiral for Ennis’ normative life, and eventually ends in divorce.
This is a parallel that can be drawn to the lives of many gay men today. Due to the pressures of society, many feel that they must marry someone of the opposite gender. This forces them to suppress their true feelings and it eventually manifests into lies, secret relationships, and a great deal of unhappiness. If society were to release some of this pressure, perhaps Ennis and Jack could have lived their lives together from the beginning. The pressure isn’t only present in the movie, but it was also present on the movie when the various critics were denouncing the contents saying they would threaten the normative American family.
Divorce is not the only thing that plagues the lives of Jack and Ennis throughout the movie. It is suggested that Jack’s community found out about his homosexuality. Not long after their last visit, Ennis finds out that Jack has been killed. Jack’s wife lies to Ennis about how it happened, saying it was an accident while fixing a tractor. Then, the scene flashes to images of Jack getting beaten and slashed.
Unfortunately, this is a stark reality for a lot gay people in the world today. Many people get beaten, bullied, or worse by their peers simply for having feelings for the same sex.
Brokeback Mountain is a keynote movie in queer culture. It showcases not only the social struggle of queer relationships and ideas, but also the lesser known details of the lifestyle. Their interest in each other revealed itself only when they shared glances, just as those in Cruising right before two men would get together to have sex. And after exchanging these signs of affection, they immediately delved into sexual acts, very similar to the gay bars in Cruising. As a result, Brokeback Mountain teaches us a lot about the social restrictions that surround being gay, while paralleling itself to other productions that have less to do with the social aspects and more about the sexual culture.