Gay Cowboys?

Erik Ebsen

Erik Ebsen

Anyone willing to give “Brokeback Mountain” a chance may find themselves watching a truly unique, provoking film. This film is subtle and understated, and all the more powerful because of it.

Don’t come to this thinking it’s a movie about two dudes making out. “Brokeback” is a movie more about what doesn’t happen than about what does. Director Ang Lee creates the film’s substance by his use of absence.

Two broke young cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), spend a summer roughing it and looking after sheep in the Wyoming mountains. The pair’s solitude cultivates into a love affair that ends when the two bring down the sheep and split up to begin their own lives. Four years pass.

The film’s “R” rating derives more from traditional loves scenes (that means boobs), than from the alternative. For a 134-minute film revolving around two, secretly homosexual country boys, there is a surprising lack of “gay” content.

While leaving some aspects of the film discreet, Lee unabashedly reinforces others. Ennis and Jack live in a purely western culture. One expects to hear the likes of Willie Nelson and Steve Earle merely from the film’s setting. The sad, mournful country and western soundtrack manages to emphasize the film’s inherent, bleak loneliness.

“If you can’t fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it,” said Ennis. The two desperately try as they eke out separate lives. Meanwhile, they secretly deal with a situation as truly bleak and hard as the mountains they share.

But in trying to create such a decidedly western atmosphere, perhaps Heath Ledger overdid his Wyoming drawl. His mumbled lines can occasionally be difficult to understand.

Critics apparently didn’t agree, as the film received nominations for four Golden Globes, as well as eight Oscars. One included “Best Cinematography” for the highly functional, if not revolutionary, camera work. It captures ’60s-era Western America in earnest, through dusty, wind-beaten roads, paint-peeled farm sheds and bare, simple kitchens.

That’s really the heart of “Brokeback Mountain.” This movie is as much an honest portrayal of people just trying to deal with life. The pace moves along steadily rather than frantically. It’s a drama, not an action-flick. After all, Ennis and Jack struggle to keep up as it is.