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Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Rated R

Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams

out of

Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) are two young men who take a rather thankless job herding sheep through Wyoming during the summer of 1963. The job requires them to be out in the wilderness making sure as many sheep as possible make it through the summer without getting eaten by coyotes. At the same time, they have to make sure they don't become victims of the elements themselves. When two people are forced to depend on one another for survival, a bond will form that few will understand without knowledge of the situation's perils. Jack and Ennis form a bond that transcends simple friendship.

One cold night, Ennis and Jack share a tent and find themselves sharing each other as well. Despite Ennis' assertions that he's "not queer", the two make a pact that this is a one-time thing and, after the summer, their relationship will not continue. And, for four years, they keep the pact. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams) and has two children. Jack meets and marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway), a rodeo cowgirl, and has a son of his own. The two refer to each other as "fishing buddies" if they manage to mention each other to anyone at all.

Soon, however, Jack sends a postcard to Ennis and the two take another trip to Brokeback Mountain, realizing that neither has gotten the other out of his system. The two men resume their relationship in secret, taking "fishing trips" with increasing regularity. Jack wants Ennis to join him in buying a ranch where the two could live together and not have to see each other so infrequently but Ennis is haunted by the memory of something his father had shown him as a boy: the sight of a dead man's body. The man was lynched for "shacking up" with another man.

If you were being glib, Brokeback Mountain could be referred to as a "gay cowboy movie." What it truly is, however, is simply a love story about two people who cannot be allow themselves to love each other without fear of the consequences. The performances of Gyllenhaal and Ledger are paramount in making the audience feel how the characters' ache for one another when they're separated. Yes, they're gay. Yes, they're cowboys. First and foremost, though, they're two human beings who, despite their attempts to do otherwise, need each other desparately.

Director Ang Lee, who recovers his form after the relatively disappointing Hulk, doesn't pound the viewer over the head with anything. We are allowed to see how much Ennis and Jack mean to each other and how it tortures Ennis in particular. Ledger's performance is worthy of the Oscar nomination talk it's been receiving. Honestly, I'll be quite surprised if he doesn't win the award as well.

One can make a big deal about the fact that the movie deals with gay characters and that it does so in a matter-of-fact way in terms of their physical relationship. Isn't it about time that this type of story is told on-screen in such a way? Brokeback Mountain isn't amazing because of its differences from any other love story. The real eye-opener is how much it's the same no matter the sexuality of the main characters. Love hurts no matter what.

Trivia: During its first weekend of release (playing in only five US theaters), this set a record for the highest per-screen gross of any non-animated movie in history. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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