Fri, Jan 20, 2006 - Page 16 News List

Love on the range

Anguish, loneliness and shame haunt two hunky cowboys who fall for each other in 'Brokeback Mountain'

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

On one cold night an enduring love is born.

The lonesome chill that seeps through Ang Lee's (李安) epic western, Brokeback Mountain, is as bone deep as the movie's heartbreaking story of two cowboys who fall in love almost by accident. It is embedded in the craggy landscape where their idyll begins and ends. It creeps into the farthest corners of the wide-open spaces they share with coyotes, bears and herds of sheep and rises like a stifled cry into the big, empty sky that stretches beyond the horizon.

One night, when their campfire dies, and the biting cold drives them to huddle together in a bedroll, a sudden spark between Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) flares into an undying flame.

The same mood of acute desolation permeates the spare, gnarly prose of Annie Proulx's short story, first published in The New Yorker in 1997, adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. McMurtry knows about loneliness. Its ache suffused his novel and his screenplay for The Last Picture Show, made into a film 34 years ago by Peter Bogdanovich.

The sexual bouts between these two ranch hands who have never heard the term gay (in 1963, when the story begins, it was still a code word transiting into the mainstream) are described by Proulx as "quick, rough, laughing and snorting."

That's exactly how Lee films their first sexual grappling (discreetly) in the shadows of the cramped little tent. The next morning, Ennis mumbles, "I'm no queer." And Jack replies, "Me neither." Still, they do it again, and again, in the daylight as well as at night. Sometimes their pent-up passions explode in ferocious roughhouse that is indistinguishable from fighting.

This moving and majestic film would be a landmark if only because it is the first Hollywood movie to unmask the homoerotic strain in American culture that Leslie Fiedler discerned in his notorious 1948 Partisan Review essay, Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey. Fiedler characterized the bond between Huckle-berry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, as an unconscious romantic attachment shared by two males of different races as they flee the more

Film Notes:

Brokeback Mountain

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar), Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist), Randy Quaid (Joe Aguirre), Anne Hathaway (Lureen Newsome), Michelle Williams (Alma Del Mar), Valerie Planche (Waitress)

Running time: 134 minutes

Taiwan Release: today


constraining and civilizing domain of women. He went on to identify that bond as a recurrent theme in American literature.

In popular culture, Fiedler's Freudianism certainly could be applied to the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Minus the ethnic division, it might also be widened to include a long line of westerns and buddy movies, from Red River to Midnight Cowboy to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: the pure male bonding that dare not explore its shadow side.

Ennis and Jack's 20-year romance begins when they are hired in the summer of 1963 by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid), a hard-boiled rancher, to work as sheepherders on Brokeback Mountain in the Wyoming high country. (The movie was filmed in Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies.) Subsisting mostly on canned beans and whiskey, the two cowboys develop a boozy friendship by the campfire.

So taciturn and bottled up that he swallows his syllables as he pulls words out of his mouth in gruff, reluctant grunts, Ennis tells Jack of being raised by a brother and sister after his parents died in a car crash. Jack, brought up in the rodeo, is more talkative and recalls his lifelong alienation from his father, a bull rider.

When signs of an early blizzard cut short their summer employment, Ennis and Jack go their separate ways. Ennis' farewell is a simple "See you around." Both, though, are torn up. Ennis marries his girlfriend, Alma (Michelle Williams), and they have two daughters. Jack meets and marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway), a Texan rodeo queen, with whom he has a son, and joins her father's farm-equipment business.

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