Socialist Worker

Brokeback Mountain

by Naz Massoumi
Issue No. 1982

Brokeback Mountain’s portrayal of a gay relationship is long overdue from a Hollywood movie

Brokeback Mountain’s portrayal of a gay relationship is long overdue from a Hollywood movie

Back in 1960s Iran, a favourite pastime was mountaineering. At the time, going up to the mountains was viewed by many as a revolutionary act.

Here was an opportunity for political groups to meet and to organise their activity. And, under the repressive rule of the Shah, the mountains of northern Iran felt liberating.

Set during the same period, but in the west of the US, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain plays on this sense of freedom.

Based on an Annie Proulx short story, this film is about two gay men who are forced to find an alternative space to exercise the freedom refused to them by society’s prejudices.

Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) from Texas and Ennis (Heath Ledger) from Wyoming, two young penniless cowboys, meet for the first time when they start a summer job herding sheep among the beautiful scenery of Brokeback Mountain.

High-up and isolated from the outside world we see their relationship develop as they work against inhospitable weather conditions.

Then one frosty night beside the campfire, the pair knock back a bottle of whisky before sharing a tent in order to keep from freezing.

But they do more than just warm up, as a lustful sexual encounter erupts initiating a whole summer of romance.

When summer ends they return to their home towns. Both get married, have children and settle down. Four years pass before Ennis receives a postcard from Jack re-establishing the connection.

It isn’t long before they are back in the mountain to re-light that fire, this time under the guise of regular fishing trips.

The colourful, saturated imagery of the mountainous environment provides a suitable contrast to the claustrophobic, confined surroundings of domestic life.

Hairstyles and improving technology show how the world around them is changing, but their small towns are cut off from this world outside.

Jack and Ennis’s sexual liberation is insular — disconnected from the sexual rebellion of the 1960s.

What the two men really want to say to each other is so often implied rather than expressed directly. It demands especially realistic performances from Gyllenhaal and Hedger.

Jack is more honest and determined, but Ennis, always hiding under the rim of his hat, also remains hidden from his own feelings. There is genuine fear of being “found out”, which could mean death.

Indeed, a gay student from Wyoming was lynched just one year after Proulx wrote the story in 2000.

Importantly, and against mainstream convention, this film doesn’t channel the blame for their predicament merely on the reactionary views of one cruel individual.

Rather it points to a social problem, to the restrictive ideas of a society that refuses to allow two people to be together however much they are in love.

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Sat 7 Jan 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1982
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