Cowboys Saddled with a Secret

By Peter Rainer Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Cowboys Saddled with a Secret


Peter Rainer Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility," the characters never stopped talking. In his new film, "Brokeback Mountain," they rarely start. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is a ranch hand who is hired, along with sometime Texas rodeo rider Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), for a summer job herding sheep on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain. They've never met before, and for a while, they communicate - or at least Ennis does - mostly through grunts and mumbles.

Their closeness is that of the classic Westerner's - what is not spoken is more eloquent than that which is. But then the film takes a startling turn. On a cold night, Ennis and Jack lie together for warmth and then, suddenly, have sex.

In most Westerns, the devotion between cowboys is depicted as deeper and more spiritually sustaining than the love between a man and a woman. "Brokeback Mountain," which screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana expertly expanded from the celebrated 1997 short story by Annie Proulx, makes explicit the sexual undercurrent that, rightly or wrongly, not a few critics have at times detected in the intense masculine bonds of these strong, silent types.

In this sense, as well as in the graphic nature of some of the sex scenes, "Brokeback Mountain" is a zeitgeist-capturing moment for Hollywood. But, ultimately, its timing may well be a matter for the sociologists. As, too, will be the response from the general audience, which inevitably, and understandably, will be sharply divided. After all, nothing like this film has ever really been seen before from a major movie company. I'm referring not only to the film's sexual content here. What is truly distinctive about "Brokeback Mountain" is that it brings to life a love story that, after all these years of love stories, is essentially new to mainstream movies, and it does so without special pleading or sentimentality.

Ennis and Jack come down off the mountain that summer not knowing if they will ever see each other again. They barely acknowledge what went on between them, and no future plans are made. …

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