More than just two kissing cowboys: Reviewing Brokeback Mountain

Here at MNL Film Club, we review movies past and present. We’ll try to give you the coolest throwbacks since Doc Brown, on monthly thematic dosages. This February, we give you the Most Romantic Movies of the Past Decade. We took this matter seriously, and rest assured, the team argued gruellingly (nevertheless, no MNL Film Club writer was harmed in the writing of this piece) to present four of the most noteworthy romantic movies of the 2000s.

This, of course, begged the question: what is romance? The delineation between this genre and those others more popularly consumed is blurry and undefined. We took the high road and put it simply as that which features love. More importantly, romance is an exploration of love; it captures love at its most picturesque moments, and it exposes the ugly undersides of its aftermaths. An example of which is the tragically beautiful (or beautifully tragic) love story of two cowboys chronicled in Brokeback Mountain.

Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Larry McMurty Diana Ossana
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway

TRUTH: The idea of one full-length film about the love story of two gay (closeted) cowboys did not sound possible until Brokeback Mountain came out in 2005.

The movie tells the story of two cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively) who were brought together to herd sheep in an isolated part of Wyoming for a certain period of time. The two (who were presumably “straight” at the start of the film) eventually developed a relationship which began from, yup, you guessed it right: sex. After finishing their job, the two separated and went on with their lives. But it seems that true love won’t be stopped as the two found a way to continue with their clandestine rendezvous and dalliance despite having their own families. The cowboys faced a lot of problems throughout the course of the story but none is as devastating as when Ennis found out that Jack was brutally murdered and must, therefore, endure the pain of losing his one true love.

As far as romantic queer films are concerned, Brokeback Mountain is close to perfection precisely because it isn’t a half-baked movie filled with gratuitous sex scenes that do nothing but to perpetuate cringe-inducing gay stereotypes and movie tropes.

Yes, the movie branded itself as an unapologetic gay film. But despite the limited premise, it was able to reach out across all types of genders. Working to Brokeback Mountain’s advantage is its universal core: loving and wanting to be loved in return. The two cowboys, at some point in their lives, have both tried to suppress their feelings. They fought. They struggled. But they continued loving. And we believe and relate to them because, at some point in our lives, regardless of our sexuality and gender preferences, we were once like the star-crossed lovers, too. We fought. We struggled. And yet, we continued loving.

The film owes a lot to its committed stars who gave career-defining performances worthy of the accolades and praises they received during Oscar season. Ledger, while showcasing an unexpected tour de force performance from an actor his age, steered the film to the right direction. Gyllehaal, on the other hand, delivered a breakout supporting turn that screams he’s the guy-next-door no more. Lastly, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and Anne Hathaway’s boobs all make for reliable co-stars and offered effective performances.

But perhaps the greatest achievement of Brokeback Mountain is that it has opened another window of opportunity for queer films and queer filmmakers to tell their story. Before Brokeback Mountain, gay romance movies are only seen in independent film festivals. It is deemed taboo. `It yields little to no profit. And the audiences are not yet ready for a mainstream film that prominently features two men engaged in anal sex. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Of course, the film did not cure homophobia (heck, it didn’t even win the Academy Award for Best Picture when it’s the most deserving entry during the 2005 race). But it made the silver screen a less frightening place for gay characters. It made coming out in Hollywood less scary.

The movie is without a doubt an important victory for gay cinema: it was raw, poignant and remained truthful to its story. And thanks to Ang Lee’s signature directing style, it was told in such a beautiful manner and never lacked the necessary human touch – an important aspect most filmmakers today neglect.

But if we were to base Brokeback Mountain’s success on something, let it be on how it has successfully explained to its audience what it’s like to be in a gay or any other unconventional relationships: it is very difficult, it is very challenging but it is also very, very real.