As I am sure you are aware, the movie stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as sheepherders (ok, cowboys) in Wyoming, they fall in love, they get married, but maintain a love affair that stretches through 20 years. If you have been awake for a few seconds in the past few months, you know what I am talking about.
The movie is excellent and is guaranteed to break your heart, and maybe change your life. Rather than trying to review it, I will comment on what I believe to be one of the best reviews out there, written by Daniel Mendelsohn for The NY Review of Books. Towleroad has a comprehensive guide to Brokeback, and Wikipedia has a list of awards and nominations.
The movie certainly deservers a high LightShed score, and it just does not get the highest score because of its (involuntary or implied?) depiction of gays as cowards (well, the cowboys got married and ultimately can be seen to have lacked the courage to face society and their inner fears – sadly, I have heard that interpretation by more than one moviegoer). We have, however, to note here that there are brave cowboys mentioned in the movie, but they fell victim of hate crimes, particularly, hate crimes that were shown to Heath Ledger’s character at a young age by his own father, an act which would led him to fear his own sexuality, with devastating consequences. We all have been there somehow, right? Name calling at school? Even if not directed at you, hearing it makes young gay people see early on that being gay is shameful. The implicit message is, if you can hide it, hide it. Hide it from yourself if possible.
I agree with Daniel Mendelsohn that the movie is decidedly gay, there is no bisexuality in the characters. Heath and Jake’s characters are gay men, forcefully closeted by a bigoted society:
“Both narratively and visually, Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the "closet"—about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it.”
Mendelsohn also addresses another very important trait of Brokeback: the so-called universality of the love affair the movie depicts. People have compared Brokeback to many great, and popular, love affairs (of course we are talking about at least Romeo and Juliet, and Leo and what’s her face in Titanic). Here are Mendelsohn’s words on the matter, it deserves your undivided attention:
“But those lovers [Romeo and Juliet, etc.], however star-crossed, never despise themselves. As Brokeback makes so eloquently clear, the tragedy of gay lovers like Ennis and Jack is only secondarily a social tragedy. Their tragedy, which starts well before the lovers ever meet, is primarily a psychological tragedy, a tragedy of psyches scarred from the very first stirrings of an erotic desire which the world around them—beginning in earliest childhood, in the bosom of their families, as Ennis's grim flashback is meant to remind us—represents as unhealthy, hateful, and deadly. Romeo and Juliet (and we) may hate the outside world, the Capulets and Montagues, may hate Verona; but because they learn to hate homosexuality so early on, young people with homosexual impulses more often than not grow up hating themselves: they believe that there's something wrong with themselves long before they can understand that there's something wrong with society. This is the truth that Heath Ledger, who plays Ennis, clearly understands—"Fear was instilled in him at an early age, and so the way he loved disgusted him," the actor has said—and that is so brilliantly conveyed by his deservedly acclaimed performance. On screen, Ennis's self-repression and self-loathing are given startling physical form: the awkward, almost hobbled quality of his gait, the constricted gestures, the way in which he barely opens his mouth when he talks all speak eloquently of a man who is tormented simply by being in his own body—by being himself.”
The response to the movie is a great indication that we might be reaching a tipping point and society, hopefully, will be increasingly more accepting of gays at increasing rates (I have even been seeing more and more girls say they think two guys kissing is hot).
UPDATE ON JUNE 22, 2006: how could I forget? I saw Anderson Cooper in NY -- I had just seen Brokeback Mountain and I saw him outside the theater. Maybe he was also watching Brokeback, in the same theater...Isn't that nice?