Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain

Miraculously, you discover that you can take your heart out of your chest without dying. Well, perhaps you’re not really alive but you walk, talk, get business done, and nobody suspects that you are actually an ambulatory corpse. You keep your still throbbing heart in a little box in the attic. You go up to visit it from time to time. In the attic’s darkness you breathe on your heart, whisper tributes to it, caress it with your eyes. Of course you must keep your visits furtive and few lest anybody suspect how weird you are. Suspicious or not, family and friends come to regard you as dry, ungiving, and...well, rather heartless.

That’s the emotional gist of Brokeback Mountain, adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana and directed by the versatile Ang Lee. Two rootless young men, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), dress like cowboys but get summer jobs shepherding near the slopes of a mountain in 1963 Wyoming. Ennis, an emotionally stunted orphan (and probable virgin), doesn’t know what he wants out of life, while Jack Twist, a sly tease with the demurely downcast eyes of a Victorian cherub, knows that he wants Ennis (none of this is in the dialogue, but it is superbly conveyed by Lee’s staging and choice of close-ups). On a freezing night in a tent, Jack gets what he wants and Ennis discovers he wants the same thing. But the next morning Ennis sternly declares that...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.