2005 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress

Film #450: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Next up we have a Brokeback Mountain a film that won a handful of Oscars but in the eyes of most people should’ve netted that year’s Best Picture prize. Even if they haven’t seen the film, most people will have an idea about Brokeback Mountain’s plot as the movie’s title has become synonymous with rather close dubious male relationships.

What I can say about Brokeback Mountain is that it has incredibly slow start in which central characters Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar meet herding sheep upon the eponymous rock. Eventually realising their feelings for one another, Jack and Ennis begin sleeping together before they go their separate ways over the summer. Where the film got more interesting for me was in director Ang Lee’s portrayal of the years following the couple’s first meeting where they had to handle their secret whilst trying to go about a normal daily routine. The more reserved Ennis started got married quite early and started a family with the likeable Alma. Meanwhile, Jack took to the rodeo circuit eventually marrying the daughter of a wealthy farming supplies company. However, the pair participated in a number of lengthy fishing trips in which they reigniting their passion for one another. Although Jack wanted to start a new life on a ranch with Ennis he wasn’t convinced and was worried that he’d eventually be caught out for his feelings towards a fellow man. Eventually the meetings became more infrequent and the final scenes revealed that Jack died possibly due as the result of a beating. However, the film’s closing shot was beautifully realised as Ennis realised that he couldn’t let Jack go even in death.

At the time Brokeback Mountain was released on DVD I was working at a video store and rented it out several times but I have to admit that I was never really as crazy about it as other critics. But watching with my 2015 eyes I appreciated the beauty of the film a lot more and feel it was almost criminal that cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto didn’t win an award for his capturing of the Canadian landscape. That being said I still hold that the sheep herding scenes were quite slow and I feel that I would’ve still understood that Jack and Ennis’ work was incredibly dull without having to witness it myself. However, I liked following the characters over a number of years and I also enjoyed how the timeline could be best ascertained by how old Ennis’ daughters were as well as by the size of Anne Hathaway’s hair. The fact that we didn’t know exactly what year we were in helped screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty to create a timelessness to Ennis and Jack’s relationship with their fishing trips becoming more and more infrequent. On this viewing of Brokeback Mountain I really began to understand the characters and their differences between the quiet brooding Ennis and the boisterous Jack. This understanding was bolstered by a duo of fantastic turns from the late Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack. Interestingly Ledger was nominated as Best Actor whilst Gyllenhaal was in the Supporting category however I think that both should have been put on equal pegging. That being said I feel that Ledger’s performance was better as he perfectly portrayed the feelings of a man who said very few words. Michelle Williams was also given a Supporting Actress nomination as Ennis’ heartbroken wife Alma; a role that cemented the actress’ standing in Hollywood.

All in all Brokeback Mountain won three Oscars including ones for Ossana and McMurty’s adapted screenplay and Ang Lee’s fantastic direction. Also honoured was the Gustavo Santaolalla’s iconic score which is one of the most memorable elements of the film. Going in to that year’s Oscar ceremony, which I stayed up to watch live, Brokeback Mountain was the clear favourite to scoop Best Picture. There was surprise then when it went to rank outsider Crash; a film that hadn’t even been nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe the month before. Upon watching both films in quick succession, I have to concede that Brokeback is the better film however I’m not sure if I agree with the conspiracy theorists who blame the right-wing leanings of the Academy members on that year’s Best Picture result. However, maybe neither film deserved to win and instead Crash triumphed over a more deserving nominee. Whilst you’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out my verdict on the result as a whole, there’s no denying that Brokeback Mountain is a beautifully constructed film about unrequited relationships. To me I don’t think it mattered too much that the lead characters were gay but instead that these were two people who clearly loved each other deeply. Jack’s line ‘I Wish I Knew How to Quit You’ perfectly sums up the film’s central relationship in which neither member could escape their feelings for the other even after death.


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