Spoiler alert: this review talks about most of the film’s plot
The silence at the start of Brokeback Mountain quietly continues and defines the film. There is dialogue of course but it feels limited so to make every word secondary to showing what’s on screen: a slow, then sudden and stuttering same-sex relationship.
Ennis and Jack (played faultlessly by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired in a 1960s summer to shepherd sheep in the Wyoming mountains. Camping with only each other, their friendship naturally develops before becoming more intimate, as Jack makes a move and they have sex. Yet that blossoming love is quickly ripped apart. The summer abruptly ends with anguish and a fist fight.
Ennis marries his fiancé Alma, and welcomes two daughters into his family. Jack too over time settles into marriage with Lurleen, far away in Texas. It takes four years after their first meeting, four years of conforming to the heterosexual lives laid out for them, until Jack and Ennis reunite and begin their life-long ‘fishing weekends’ back at Brokeback Mountain.
The homophobia of the 1960s, and into the 70s and 80s dictates the silence and loneliness into their lives. Alma waits eight years to confront Ennis about the flimsy cover of his fishing trips and their loveless marriage, no longer hiding her disgust or homophobia.
As Alma and Ennis divorce, Jack sees this as the moment to have a real, legitimate relationship and life together. His romanticism and optimism is rejected by Ennis, who struggles far more with his internalised homophobia. There’s power constantly being tussled between the pair and you’re never sure who has control or is limiting the other.
Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful film, about a doomed love never given the chance to just be and flourish. Watch it for that beauty, tenderness and torment.It delicately shows the fatal impact that has on Ennis and Jack’s lives and their families, especially Jack’s parents.
It’s not an uplifting film but makes it easy to be grateful for the love and diversity we now celebrate in the UK. It makes it even easier though to think of this just as history, and ignore the homophobic laws around the world that makes some same-sex relationships still just as impossible as Ennis and Jack’s.