Brokeback Mountain is good. I don’t just mean that as a descriptor of quality, but also of value. If a movie can be honest, right and true, then this one is. There is an authenticity to this film that is rarely seen, and while it isn’t perfect, it resonates powerfully in all the right ways. What could have been cheesy and overblown is treated with a restraint that threatens to burst, but never does. The result is a special movie that everyone should see.
It has the artistic merit to carry its heavy subject matter, but it also taps into something immeasurable and unquantifiable. Ang Lee’s direction is stunning, the writing superb, and the cast impeccable. Heath Ledger will always be remembered as The Joker, and perhaps that is appropriate. It was the role that killed him and changed the pop-culture landscape forever. But I hope that someday, his part in Brokeback Mountain will be recognized. I haven’t seen many actors do so much with so little, and express heartbreak with such subtlety and nuance. Gyllenhaal is great as well, as is everyone else, but Ledger shoulders the emotional weight of the film, and it is a heavy burden. The fact that Brokeback Mountain lost a “Best Picture” Oscar to Crash is as close to a tragedy as these things get.
Certainly, Brokeback Mountain has plenty of political ramifications, but it is not a political film. It doesn’t concern itself with marriage equality or civil rights, only with what it means to love someone so much that it shapes everything. It was well respected when it came out, but also mercilessly mocked in playful and not-so-playful ways. Watching it again eight years after it was released, and after eight years of so much cultural and social change, was something of a revelation. I cried, but that in itself doesn’t mean all that much. This movie made me feel lucky to have been able to marry and have a child with the love of my life. It also made me wonder what it would be like if it wasn’t that easy; if I had to cross an impassable chasm every time I was with her, and if love was a destructive force that consumed me. Brokeback Mountain made me ask these questions, which made me identify with Ennis and Jack in a way that transcends sexual orientation. To say that it is a movie about “gay” cowboys is to dismiss the most powerful human experience available. In that sense, Jack and Ennis, despite the heartache, isolation, and brutal violence, are lucky too, because they experienced love at a high level, and it tore them apart.