“No movie that is just about two gay cowboys would have such a shelf-life in this culture focused on the next big thing;”
Some movies are pervasive. They exist so prominently in the common knowledge of society that actually sitting down and watching them is overkill. Such was the case with Brokeback Mountain. Granted I had seen clips of it before, but it was a movie about two gay cowboys. That’s all that needed to be known for me to make references that parade me as someone with their finger on the pulse of society, so that’s where I left it. But tonight I decided to change that.
As I slid my bootleg Korean screener copy of Brokeback Mountain into my Xbox One, I thought to myself “how much else is there to know”. But I was convinced that there was something else there. No movie that is just about two gay cowboys would have such a shelf-life in this culture focused on the next big thing; something had to be different about Brokeback Mountain.
The first thirty minutes (and I know it was thirty minutes because it was at that point that a “NOT FOR RESALE. SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY” tag scrolled along the bottom of my screen) were about what I expected. Two cowboys who “weren’t gay” but had sex while they were supposed to be looking after sheep. Unsurprised, I decided to look deeper. So I started to focus on the performances.
These two men, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, are about what you’d expect. They ride horses, they aren’t that nice to sheep, and they eat beans. But there is also this palpable anger to these performances as well. At first I took it as bad acting, each one of them refusing to completely commit to the role and thus creating this emotional barrier between them and the camera, but then I realized that the emotional barrier was the acting.
Brokeback Mountain is a film that takes place in a time when being gay wasn’t okay, but it’s easy to forget that because it doesn’t shove that fact in your face. You have to look for cues, like the performances from our two main characters. These performances focus on the repressed sexuality that boils and seethes deep inside of them until it finally rushes to the surface climaxing in a very emotional fight between the two men. They have been conditioned to hate gay people, and therefore have been conditioned to hate these feelings they have for one another.
These emotions only continue to grow and fester as the film takes us forward a few years, We see both men get along with their respective families, but they yearn for one another. Maybe not all of the time, but those emotions are still very much a part of them. These feelings of anger and hatred are subdued by feelings of happiness when they finally see each other again, but they resurface when the fairytale comes to a close.
This constant battle of having to hide your love and repress your sexuality drives this film, but not in dialogue. As a matter of fact, aside from one very emotional scene toward the end of the film, very little of this is actually said. But it is conveyed. I have no doubt in my mind that Brokeback Mountain features two of the best performances I have ever seen in any movie in my lifetime. It’s because of these performances that this movie worked. It’s because of these performances that it was transformed from “the gay cowboy movie” into something truly beautiful.
So what was Brokeback Mountain about? Sure, you could argue that it was about the struggles of gay people in the past; struggles that they still face to this very day unfortunately. Or you could argue that it was about love, and how unrelenting a force it is when you find it in its purest form. But to me at least, Brokeback Mountain was about the impact that one person can have on your life.
You may meet them on the street, or at a bar, or on a mountain while you’re heading sheep, but when you find the one you make room in your soul for them. That space is shaped specifically for them, and nothing else can fill it. That means when they aren’t there the hole is empty, and you’ll do anything to fill it again. But sometimes it’s impossible.
I give Brokeback Mountain an A