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MOVIE REVIEW

&

145;Brokeback Mountain&

offers compelling performances

Brokeback Mountain is a place high in the mountains, outside of Signal, Wyoming. A place where two young cowboys are hired by a local rancher to summer-graze a massive herd of sheep. The pasture is big sky country, stunningly beautiful, wide grass covered valleys bordered by rising granite mountains, a place so remote that the only way to reach it is by horseback. It is also a place apart, where the exigencies of society, its mores, its restrictive judgments can be abandoned and life can be lived solely according to the rhythms of the day and the vagaries of the human heart.

It's to Brokeback Mountain that Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are sent to watch over the sheep, at first strangers to one another, standoffish, remote. But gradually, as the days pass, and their isolation is complete, they begin to fashion a friendship that becomes, one cold, shivering night, intimate, catching them both by surprise, its suddenness overwhelming them.

Neither is prepared to acknowledge that they have fallen in love. How could they be? As Ennis explains to Jack, in his halting, almost mumbled way, swallowing his words and emotions, he's about to get married to his girl, Alma (Michelle Williams) at the end of the summer. He adds that what they experienced can never be known down below. It has to be their secret, for he understands that the world can be a murderously intolerant place when it comes to two men openly sharing a bond that for most cannot be imagined and certainly never accepted. Jack nods, accepting, at least for the present, that the life he imagines for the two of them can only be fully articulated on Brokeback Mountain and as they leave the mountain, return the sheep to the plains below, that dream will be diminished by the imperatives of life lived in a world that dominated by fear of such a relationship, a violation of a deeply held taboo. How could it be otherwise?

&

Brokeback Mountain,&

based on the Annie Proulx short story, is many things. It is a beautiful film, powerfully acted, gripping in its relentless humanity. What it is not, is a gay western, or a story about two gay cowboys. It is, instead, a spare love story, a narrative that examines the unintended consequences of being unwilling or unable to live the life that is there to be lived, for reasons that feel like a betrayal of the heartfelt truths that are ever present. Truths that whisper in the dead of night, or come to mind on a long, quiet afternoon.

Both Ennis and Jack struggle with that betrayal and although Jack says he is prepared to sacrifice all for the chance to be with Ennis, Ennis cannot bring himself to take such a step. For him it defies comprehension though he is tormented by their shared dream. When Jack asks him what they are going to do, Ennis looks off into the distance and says, grimly, &

If you can't fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.&

And stand it they do, barely.

So Brokeback Mountain becomes their idyllic retreat, that one place to which they can return, year after year, and live openly and honestly. And it becomes a metaphor for all who can't summon the courage or the will to confront a society openly, with brashness and courage and defiance, and so must find brief surcease in a place apart. A place, in the case of gays, called, all too flippantly, &

the closet.&

But as we so clearly see in this film, the closet is a desiccated geography of anguish and abiding regret &

emotions that are part of the human condition, such as it is, and thread their way through so many truncated lives.

&

Brokeback Mountain&

is a tour de force film, directed by Ang Lee, using the well-crafted screenplay of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry (&

Lonesome Dove&

), and Diana Ossana. Ledger and Gyllenhaal and Williams give compelling performances, ones that enhance and expand the startling and indeed discomforting verisimilitude of the story. It's a movie not to be missed.

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Brokeback Mountain

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