Editor's note: This film depicts a homosexual relationship, and includes a graphic sex scene between the two men. After much discussion, Christianity Today Movies has decided to review the film despite its controversial subject matter. It has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and will certainly be an Oscar contender. The film is a hot topic of conversation around the nation, and we'd be remiss to simply ignore it. Part of our mission statement is "to inform and equip Christian moviegoers to make discerning choices" about what films you'll watch—or won't watch. And this review, just like all of our reviews, certainly accomplishes that. As for the 3-star rating, that is only in reference to the quality of the filmmaking, the acting, the cinematography, etc. It is not a "recommendation" to see the film, nor is it a rating of the "moral acceptability" of the subject matter.
It took eight years for Brokeback Mountain to make its way from the pages of The New Yorker to the big screen. Larry McMurty (Lonesome Dove) adapted the script from what was originally conceived as a short story by Annie Proulx, and Ang Lee finally took over the directorial reins after a couple of other helmers (Gus Van Sant and Joel Schumacher) took a pass. And while it's not unusual for a script to get stymied in production, it's undoubtedly true that, in this case, the central characters played a role in the delay—two cowboys who fall in love … with each other.
Spanning 20 years, the relationship between Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) begins in 1963 when the two are given the job of watching sheep during a summer up on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain. They're both gangly young Marlboro Men in the making—Jack with a boyish energy that belies his rodeo dreams and Ennis with a set jaw that rarely moves. Together they tend the sheep and make dinner and fall into the rhythms of life on the mountain. Loosened up by camaraderie and whiskey, Ennis becomes, if not exactly talkative, open. And he and Jack sit around the fire late into the night talking about their histories and hopes for their futures.
When a cold night prompts the two to share a small tent, the physical intimacy that ensues is at first awkward and then almost desperate in its drive to be experienced. As an extension of their growing relationship, this first sexual encounter seems less than romantic. And, as they both assert the morning after, certainly neither man is "queer."
But they're still drawn to each other. And where the romance was perhaps lacking at first, it begins to build steam as Jack and Ennis begin to look each other in the eyes—and want what they see. The men seem to be fumbling for each other, for any meaningful connection with one another—at turns kissing and hitting; tenderly caressing and drawing blood; loving and hating. It's a dance they would repeat for years to come.
Ang Lee's varied body of work (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense and Sensibility; The Ice Storm; Hulk) remains cohesive largely in its reverence for landscapes. And here he adds the American West to his visual repertoire, reflecting the contours of the relationship between Jack and Ennis in the harsh brilliance of the natural world in which it takes place. Rodrigo Prieto's beautiful cinematography frames majestic but treacherous mountains rimmed with snow. Expansive blue skies that can rain down golf-ball sized hail. Pristine lakes that ward off would-be swimmers with their chill.