Sunday, November 30, 2014

Heartbreaking Honesty - "Brokeback Mountain" Review

Throughout my life, the film "Brokeback Mountain" was always treated like a joke. It was always seen as that silly, funny movie about two gay cowboys. There was an underlying sense of disgust and mockery in just about everything I heard about the film. When I was less educated and open about the LGBT community as a kid, I bought into the homophobic hype a bit, and always just assumed that the movie wasn't good. I gave the movie a watch for the first time, and as an adult, fierce advocate of the LGBT community today, I can happily say that "Brokeback Mountain" is a downright incredible film, rife with honest and realistic heartbreak and beauty.

The film stars Heath Ledger as Ennis, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack, two men who stumble upon sexual advances after meeting during a mutual gig herding sheep. Eventually, the two men part ways after this summer of confusing love and lust, and go back to seemingly heteronormative lives. However, the rest of the movie shows that these lives lived away from each other only work so well; the two manage to get away from their wives for time with each other.

There is some debate as to exactly what sexual orientations Ennis and Jack fall into, but that debate is hardly relevant in regards to the quality of the film. Neither character identifies as anything and have sexual relationships with both genders to varying degrees of intimacy, making it hard to confidently apply a specific label. The horrifically homophobic times the two live in make it difficult to effectively explore their sexualities and come to a proper identity, thusly creating ambiguity for them and the viewer. What isn't ambiguous is that the two men are in love with each other, and that they can't embrace that love because of the hyper-masculine and massively intolerant society they are a part of. 

Ennis and Jack's love is done without Romanticism, and works perfectly in its own way. This is not a romance film filled with astounding, glorious choruses to particularly strong scenes, or anything like that. Every powerful bit of affection is a struggle that lasts for only so long. The relationship of these two men is not always pretty; in fact, it is often quite ugly. The atmosphere of hatred towards homosexuality is shown most directly when Ennis tells a harrowing story from his childhood about his bigoted father, and bleeds into the whole film. 

The two characters themselves are fleshed out and fascinating, aided by the great acting of Ledger and Gyllenhaal. The supporting cast is also great, with folks like Michelle Williams playing Ledger's chief female love interest, and Anne Hathaway playing that of Gyllenhaal. The movie is well-written, but simple pieces of performance go such a long way. Often times, body language and facial expression manage to get across more than words in "Brokeback Mountain," making the most intense and important scenes all the better. 

The titular Brokeback Mountain serves as simple symbolism, representing the unbridled comfort in being who they really want to be: in love with each other. I appreciate a film that is willing to reject the American norm and do a bleak ending, and that is exactly what "Brokeback Mountain" does. There is no happy ending to this same-sex romance, showing the realistic nature of such a relationship in this time period. The movie embodies the exact, hazy mixture of euphoria and confusion that LGBT people have historically lived with and continue to live with today. 

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