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Brokeback Mountain (2005)

by on 2013/06/25

Brokeback Mountain (2005)“If you can’t fix it, Jack, you’ve got to stand it.”

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Beginning in 1963, and spanning about twenty years, Brokeback Montain tells the story of two blue-collar men lacking direction. They both know they want to own a ranch but, with one thing or another, never get it. They also know they’re in love with each other but, for various other reasons – not least society’s lack of acceptance – must live their separate lives.

Two strangers, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger), meet one year while tending sheep. Initially gruff and stand-offish, they develop a mutual respect. They get acquainted slowly, through small talk and good-natured rough-housing. The movie gives them time to gradually recognize their feelings. Acceptance, however, is not in the cards for them.

When the job is over, they tell themselves their one-time fling is done, go their own ways, and begin lives to meet others’ expectations. Ennis marries his stock-girl sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams), and Jack meets a rodeo rider named Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Their lives become “normal” yet neither forgets the other.

It seems a simple, unremarkable arc, but director Ang Lee finds nuance. As he did with his less-than-appreciated Hulk, he digs deeper at the risk of sharing pain. We spend time with the characters, really getting to know them, finding depth in their apparent simplicity. I was vaguely reminded of Robert Rossen’s The Hustler, in which long stretches of time are invested, not resorting to a hyper-cut pace.

Not that the surface is spared his attention, the scenery looks truly amazing. Western documentaries frequently mourn the dwindling locations, however Lee’s take on Alberta (as Wyoming) is gorgeous, spacious and colourful. The vistas were so overwhelmingly impressive, each new one made me fear being spoiled, desensitized by their number and picturesque power.

In the context of the landscapes, attention is similarly paid to the fine points, the intricacies of life on the trail, of rural and period detail. I’d guess because the pace is so deliberate, all that time had to be filled with something. Make no mistake, though, this is not a boring “slow” effort.

Likewise it all sounds appropriately poignant, with a minimal guitar-based score. Sparse acoustics are punctuated by even sparser slides, occasionally a steel guitar rings through, reverberating elegiacally. Well-known country classics echo out of distant jukeboxes.

Bittersweetness runs throughout in all aspects of the production, reflecting the story’s somber – if not humourless – tone. Brokeback Mountain is a work of surprise, great hope, disappointment, frustration, and injustice, of being damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t when compromising to suit others’ values. It’s not a feel-good flick, to be sure, but it’s one I feel good recommending.

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Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

134 minutes

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