Star-crossed lovers. They've filled book pages and film frames for as long as those things have existed. Tristan and Isolde. Romeo and Juliet. Superman and Lois Lane. And now Ennis and Jack. Take everything you know about how love works (or doesn't work) when two people who are crazy about each other find themselves doomed to a life of separation by time, distance or culture—and remove the woman from the equation. What's left is Brokeback Mountain.
Jack and Ennis are ranch-hand drifters who end up shepherding the same flock of sheep in the Wyoming wilderness around Brokeback Mountain in 1963. Their status of co-workers gives way to friendship. Friendship gives way to sex. When the summer is over they go their separate ways. Jack heads down to Texas on the rodeo circuit, marries Lureen and has a boy (not necessarily in that order). Ennis stays in Wyoming, marries Alma and has two girls. But the men can't get over each other, despite the fact that Ennis insists it's a "one-shot thing." So about four years after their Brokeback "excursions," Jack finds Ennis, and the two revive their relationship.
Jack wants to shack up and settle down with Ennis. Ennis is too worried about what the neighbors might think. (It is the 1960s and '70s, after all.) So they continue their separate lives, punctuating their painful existence with giddy sexual flings the pair dubs "fishing trips." What follows is a slow disintegration of not only their own lives, but the lives of everyone they touch.
Usually it's a negative thing when people give in to the societal norms around them and give up on their dreams, refuse to step across racial divides, etc. But here, Ennis' reluctance to live with Jack is a good example of how established—biblical—morality within a culture can help people make right decisions. It could be argued that Ennis' reluctance is rooted in mortal fear. After all, he did witness the aftermath of a hate crime when he was a boy. But there's more to it than that. The social pressure he feels to marry a woman isn't shown to be directed at him maliciously or aggressively. (And it isn't even a pressure so strong that it keeps him from repeatedly having sex with Jack.)
In an interview with Plugged In Online, Caleb H. Price, a social research analyst on homosexuality and gender for Focus on the Family, identified several other ways the film, sometimes unwittingly, hints at the dangers of homosexuality. "Contrary to the nearly ubiquitous modern portrayals of homosexuality, in Brokeback Mountain the lifestyle is neither glamorous nor normal and healthy," he said. "We see that each character had root causes to his same-sex attraction. And then we see their God-given desires to be affirmed by members of the same sex met in sinful, ungodly ways. We see the soul ties that come along with carnal relations and the ensuing devastation to wives and marriages when the forbidden fruit is eaten. Also, the film clearly depicts the homosexuality of the characters as bondage. In one scene Jack exclaims profound exasperation that he and Ennis are not able to 'quit' each other. One can't help but wonder what their respective lives might have been like had they poured their energy and attention into their wives, families and careers instead of homosexuality."
Elsewhere, Jack stands up (albeit crudely) for his wife and kids when Lureen's father acts like a bully and undermines his daughter's authority in front of her children.
Jack and Ennis talk about their religious backgrounds; one was Pentecostal, the other Methodist. Jokes are made about going to heaven or "marching off to hell" on that "great day." A crack is made about the "fire-and-brimstone" crowd. Ennis and Alma are married in a Christian ceremony.
The sexual interaction shared by Jack and Ennis is usually rough-and-tumble. Newsweek calls it "fierce and full-blooded." There's lots of pushing, shoving, grappling and holding. In fact, one bit of foreplay/horseplay gets so physical that it ends up in a short-lived fistfight. Several scenes show the two men groping each other and kissing. (Half the time it looks more like forceful mashing than kissing.) Once, the camera keeps staring as kisses give way to anal sex. (There's no nudity shown, but the sequence is explicit; it includes sexual motions and sounds.)
Ennis and Jack both have heterosexual sex, too. Ennis and Alma get physical twice. Both scenes are graphic; one includes breast nudity. The day they meet, Jack and Lureen make out and prepare to go further. Lureen is so eager to make it happen that she strips off her shirt and bra to show Jack (and moviegoers) her breasts.
But those straight relationships are shown to ultimately matter little to Jack and Ennis. They just can't wait to cheat on their wives when the opportunities present themselves.
Also, we see Jack washing his clothes—all of them. (He's seen nude from the side and back.) Jack and Ennis jump naked into the water for a swim (seen from a distance).
Ennis is the cool-as-a-cucumber type who wouldn't hurt a fly ... until you push him too far. Then he'll crush you. In just such a rage he grabs Alma's arm and raises his fist to her. He doesn't strike her. Instead he races out of the house and pummels the first guy he sees. That guy is no pushover, though, and the result is an intense exchange of blows. Earlier, at a Fourth of July picnic, Ennis socks a guy for swearing in front of his kids. And after parting ways with Jack, Ennis hits a wall in anger and frustration a couple of times.
There's graphic talk about a man being mutilated and murdered. Onscreen, that man's corpse is seen, and another man is beaten to death. A bear spooks Ennis' horse, which responds by bucking him off. A disemboweled sheep carcass is seen. Ennis shoots an elk for food.
Crude or Profane Language
About two-dozen f-words and half that many s-words. Ennis yells the f-word, among other things, at his wife—in front of their kids. God's name is combined with "d--n" 10 or more times; Jesus' name is abused at least three times. Crude anatomical slang is used to describe women. And other milder profanities are said.
Drug and Alcohol Content
More often than not Jack and Ennis are sucking on cigarettes and/or booze. Many of the other characters smoke and drink, too. Several scenes take place in bars.
Other Negative Elements
A tangential downside to the film is that it could have the effect of making wives suspicious of husbands who have good male friends. After watching this movie, old-fashioned male bonding exercises such as fishing, hunting and camping feel like nothing more than weak excuses for nefarious "hook ups."
Playwright and Wyoming native Sandy Dixon pointed out to the Casper Star Tribune that the film will also have an affect on how people perceive American history. Directing her words at the filmmakers she said, "Don't try and take what we had, which was wonderful—the cowboys who settled [Wyoming] and made it what it was—don't ruin that image. ... There's nothing better than plain old cowboys and the plain old history without embellishing it to suit everyone."
Taiwanese director Ang Lee (who has made his mark on America with a diverse repertoire which includes The Hulk, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm) certainly doesn't soft-sell the damage done by the choices Jack and Ennis make. But you don't walk away from Brokeback Mountain thinking about the destructiveness of acting on homosexual temptations. Rather, you're left with the idea that these cowboy-lovers would have experienced none of this pain if only social and moral norms had allowed them to pursue their passion from the get-go.
The only reason Ennis' marriage ends in divorce, teaches the film, is because he never should have been married ... to a woman. The only reason Jack treks down to Mexico to enlist the services of a gay prostitute is because he doesn't get enough face time with his true love, Ennis. And the only reason he doesn't get that time with Ennis is because society won't let them be together. That's a powerful message far too many people are accepting, as evidenced by the thunderous applause I heard swelling around me when the credits began to roll.
Newsweek's Sean Smith writes, "Brokeback feels like a landmark film. No American film before has portrayed love between two men as something this pure and sacred. As such, it has the potential to change the national conversation and to challenge people's ideas about the value and validity of same-sex relationships." Similarly, Neil G. Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I think it will be as groundbreaking for gay relationships as Philadelphia was in tackling AIDS issues. It will be moving for anyone who is open to seeing the challenges and difficulties of what, at that time and even for many today, is the self-imposed and society-imposed necessity to live dishonestly."
Lee is a skillful moviemaker and storyteller. And his film is crammed with emotionally compelling scenes and three-dimensional characters. His cast members, especially Michelle Williams in her supporting role as an exiled wife, give it their all. And, to be trivial for a moment, the scenery is sensational. But in the words of Ennis, "Ain't no reins on this one." Woven into his artistically masterful tapestry is the message that homosexual relationships don't work because society won't leave them alone long enough for them to mature.
"When two people love each other, they love each other. And people should hold on to it as hard as they can, whether it's homosexual or heterosexual," star Jake Gyllenhaal told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival. He's partly right. But if he's talking about the kind of love shared onscreen by Jack and Ennis, he's conflating the meanings of the words love and lust. The Bible doesn't isolate "love" to male-female relationships. It calls men to love other men, and women to love other women. (Look at the connection David had with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 19-20 and the bond Jesus had with John in John 13 for a biblical reference point. Also relevant are 1 Peter 1, 1 John 2 and John 15.) What it condemns is turning brotherly or sisterly love into sexual love—a form of love God reserves for a man and woman who have embraced the gentle bonds of marriage. That sexualization of love—and our growing cultural acceptance of it—is gradually making valid, chaste love between two men or two women harder and harder to accomplish. (Read 1 Corinthians 6, Romans 1, John 1, 2 Peter 2-3 and Leviticus 18-20.)
For its part in this larger spiritual issue of relationships, Brokeback Mountain takes the love Jack and Ennis share and triumphantly turns it into lust. As Gyllenhaal said, "They're two men having sex. There's nothing hidden there." Then it blames human intolerance for the inevitable fall-out.