Love has no rules. It happens when we least expect it, often when we don't want it, many times when we can't handle it. It often times scares you, surprises you, shakes you down to your very core. Ennis Del Mar (a remarkable Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (an emotionally available Jake Gyllenhaal) find themselves thrown together because of a job: forced to spend many hours together alone in the wild, tending to sheep in a remote region of Wyoming....on Brokeback Mountain. They fall in love: a love that they soon realize only lives and breathes on the mountain.
It's 1963, pre American involvement in the Vietnam War, post Korean War: a time in the USA when life was simple, straightforward and the lines between the sexes and sex roles were crisply drawn and severely delineated. It was a time when men and women were pigeon-holed into unrealistic modes of behavior and anyone who ventured outside of these boundaries was thought of at best, weird at worst... perverted and in many states, criminal. Ennis himself, at an early age was witness to the ugly, disgusting results of a hate crime perpetrated on a Wyoming farmer who had lived many years with his partner. In most societies he would be venerated but in 1950's Wyoming... he became a target.
Director Ang Lee begins this film as both Ennis and Jack are waiting outside of a building, both looking for work, both down on their luck, both avoiding each other's eyes. We know, or those of us who have read the story know, what is to happen and so unfortunately we read more into that simple scene than there really is. But with all that aside, this scene of Ennis and Jack avoiding each other, dodging each others looks, staring at the ground, kicking up the dirt is nonetheless rife with sensuality and tension.
Ennis and Jack are inexorably drawn to each other through their proximity, loneliness and through a shared lack of tenderness and emotion in their lives: they are emotionally, physically and psychically bonded almost from the start. It is inevitable. It is Fate.
And so begins a Love affair that transcends social mores, time, marriages, children, extra-marital affairs and divorce.
Despite all that is going on in their lives, Ennis and Jack meet several times a year up on Brokeback mountain and rekindle and thereby re-ignite their emotional and physical attraction: there is no one around, they are free from their regular lives...they can love.
Much has been made of Heath Ledger's performance as Ennis and he gives what is without a doubt one of the finest performances of this year. Ennis is a quiet, stoic man and he is troubled and frankly scared by how deeply he feels for Jack. As he showed us first in "Monster's Ball," Ledger is capable of digging way deep down into his gut and imbuing his performances with an unflinching frankness and truth that we can neither ignore nor help to be moved by.
Gyllenhall's Jack is the younger of the two: he's fun, he's a little crazy and unfortunately he wants a lot, lot more than Ennis is able to give him. Gyllenhaal's hang-dog, frisky puppy of a performance is full of warmth and light: the kind of transcendent light that shines out from a soul full of love, understanding and acceptance.
"Brokeback Mountain" is devastating in both its presentation, its performances and its tragic denouement. This movie is not for everyone. But if you are willing to open up your heart and mind a bit to let in its beauty, emotionality and sensuality you will not be disappointed. In fact... you will be renewed.