Saturday, January 21, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

I finally got the chance to see this potential Oscar contender. I wasn't sure it would ever play here in the Scenic City - too controversial! But it finally opened last weekend, and this weekend they even had to add a second screen. Amazing. The crowd at this afternon's matinee was a real mix - truly diverse. One of my friends marvelled over a few, musing "Do you think they realize what this movie is about?" (And it's not a "gay cowboy" movie - they're really shepherds!) I did notice some nervous laughter in the early part of the film - some I thought inappropriately loud. A sign that some of the audience was a bit uncomfortable with the subject matter.

I had read the short story by Annie Proulx, upon which this is based, in New Yorker. The story is really affecting - it truly haunted me for days. It was very spare - a lot is left unsaid but not unfelt. It says a lot about love - about how we can miss out on opportunities to love, and sometimes realize too late what we have missed out on. (New Yorker recently had the story available online in their archives, but the URL doesn't seem to work anymore. It's in the issue for October 13, 1997, if you have access to hard copies).

I was looking forward to the movie for that reason - and I wasn't disappointed. It is beautifully filmed - the cinematography should win the Oscar. Director Ang Lee fills the screen with the beauty of the West, and really captures the loveliness and loneliness of the landscape. By now you know the story (unless you live in a cave): two young men spend the summer on an isolated mountain, babysitting a herd of sheep. Over the course of the summer, they become friends and - after a night of whiskey drinking - lovers. At the end of the summer, they go their separate ways, and try to build "normal" lives. Eventually, the pull of their feelings grows too strong, and they reunite. They continue to meet over the years, going on "fishing" weekends.

The performances have been written about quite a bit, but they really are wonderful. I was particularly impressed by Michelle Williams as Alma Del Mar, wife to Ennis (Heath Ledger). The haunting scene where she realizes that her husband is more than buddies with Jack Twist is devastating. She has come ssoo far from Dawson's Creek! Really, the supporting cast is fantastic - Anne Hathaway as Lureen Twist, Jack's wife, is a hoot as she morphs from rodeo queen to Texas housewife. Randy Quaid as the shepherd's boss reminds us why he's been nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes. Linda Cardinelli is memorable in a very small role.

But most of the kudos go to the two leads: Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has the showier role - he subtly manipulates Ledger's character into their relationship while his love for his "friend" beams from his beautiful blue eyes. My heart broke when he realized that Ennis was giving him all he could, that he could never expect more. Ledger has received most of the praise and the press, but without Gyllenhaal, Ledger would have been lost. As for Heath - wow. What a contrast to his other recent role as Casanova - or to his role in A Knight's Tale. His character is not verbal (which is true to the story) - all of his emoting has to be done non-verbally. And he does so incredibly. The scene where he visits Jack's parents had me reaching for the kleenex.

Once I got beyond the fact that this was two guys - and as liberal and open as I am, it did take a bit of adjusting, I have to admit - I found this to be a sad, poignant love story - one that transcends the cultural norms. How sad that the one true love they find is forbidden - yet they both realize that they can never openly love the other. I guess one could argue that they did find love, that they were able to enjoy that, although briefly and furtively. I guess I've gotten to a stage in my life where I think that's all we can ask - the chance to love someone and have them love you in return.


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