Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Wednesday, February 22, 2006
"Brokeback Mountain" is the film that has the most Academy Award nominations out of all of the 2005 movies. It us up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress (to name the major nominations). In short, this is a major prestige piece and is a "quality" film.

This is the story of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jack Gyllenhaal), two cowboys and ranch hands back in 1960's Wyoming. They each get a job working up on Brokeback Mountain tending sheep for the season. Neither says much as they are prototypical cowboys. They do their work, offer up the occasional to the point comment, and go back about their work. The way the job is supposed to work one man stays at the tent and the other sleeps out with the sheep in the field to help keep predators away. On one cold night after too much alcohol Ennis doesn't make it out to the field and in the middle of the night Jack and Ennis warm each other up. This then goes on for the rest of the summer until the work is done. They tell each other that they are "not queer" and that this is a "one time thing", but the movie follows Jack and Ennis over the decades as Ennis and Jack each get married to women but every so often get together to go "fishing" together.

The movie is, at its core, a love story between Jack and Ennis. "Brokeback Mountain" shows their struggles to find time together but also their struggle with what it is that they are doing. These are two men engaged in a homosexual relationship in Wyoming during the 1960's through the present. This isn't as simple as it may be in other areas of the country.

But when my wife and I walked out of the theatre we looked at each other and kind of shrugged. My thought was "that's it?". Make no mistake, the movie is well made, well directed, well acted, and well written. There is just this feeling that "Brokeback Mountain" is nothing special. There are scenes in the film and there are individual performances that are greater than the film itself. The story here is well told and the struggle of Ennis is quite strong (even though Jack is on screen nearly as much the story seems to be mostly told through Ennis's perspective). But if this movie was not about gay cowboys it wouldn't get nearly the attention that it has.

Here's the thing: "Brokeback Mountain" has all of this attention because it is a mainstream film by a major director with hot young stars and it turns the stereotype of the macho cowboy western on its head because the cowboys are gay. The story behind the movie and of what the movie is about is bigger than the movie itself. And that's what this is all about. "Hey, did you see the gay cowboy movie?" That's the question folks are asking each other, at least those who are paying attention to this sort of thing. But asking the question is unfair, in a sense, because the movie isn't truly about "gay cowboys", it's about a love story that has no chance to really be successful, and many people can relate to that. But when you take the "gay cowboy" part away from the movie "Brokeback Mountain" becomes just another movie and one that deserves the attention given to the actors but not so much for the movie itself. The importance is placed on the subject and not the execution and the confusion that the film is important because the subject is important is probably why "Brokeback Mountain" has been vastly over-hyped by critics.

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