Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain will complete 15 years this November. The forbidden love story between the two shepherds struck a chord with the audiences when it was released. In fact, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s electrifying chemistry set a precedent for LGBT representation in media.
Before the existence of Brokeback Mountain, homosexuals were usually portrayed as caricatures in the mainstream cinema. It changed drastically after Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s vehement performance. It’s amazing how much Ledger managed to achieve in his life that was unjustly cut short at 28 years.
Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, stamped his authority by getting nominated for Best Direction for his 2000’s masterpiece, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When he announced that his next project would showcase a homosexual love story in Brokeback Mountain, the world waited with bated breath. He exceeded expectations and even won an Oscar for Direction.
He decided to adapt Annie Praulx’s short story with the same name. The juxtaposition of two traditionally “manly” shepherds/rodeo indulging in a same-sex relationship made for an intriguing premise. Interestingly, the decision to cast Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar was a happy accident. You’d be shocked to know, these two weren’t the filmmakers’ first choices.
To quote Larry David, “It worked out preeeeetty, preeeetty well for them.”
Gay sex scene for the ages
Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are hired to herd sheep through the summer of 1963. The first act of Brokeback Mountain revolves entirely around our leads. We see them warming up to each other through their mutual hatred of “beans”.
As they are bonding over childhood trauma, Jack ends up going over his drinking limit. (You know what that means – bad decisions.)
At night, Jack goes to sleep in the tiny tent while Ennis is shivering outside in the cold. Seeing as Ennis is clearly struggling, Jack calls him inside. As there is no wiggle room in the tent, our boys are sleeping close together. (Take notes, Rose. Your Jack could’ve lived.)
Jack takes Ennis’ hand and forces a cuddle to “heat up” the situation (if you know what I mean). Ennis is immediately alarmed and shoves Jack off of him. Hesitation turns to consent as the boys almost share a passionate kiss. Jack reassures Ennis because he is visibly confused at the current state of events.
Jack strikes at this hot iron, pulls down his pants and gets into the doggy position. Ennis hastily takes his own pants off and lubricates his penis with his spit. Lo and behold, the famous “spit gay sex scene” is born.
Ennis thrusts himself into Jack and the camera shakily goes back and forth between the two. The camera movement is shaky and giddy, reflecting the emotions perfectly. It pans out to show the tent as we, the viewers, are intruding in their private moment.
Brokeback Mountain’s secret
The brilliancy of this gay sex scene is the use of silence. Not one word is uttered by the characters throughout the scene. The director chooses silence to emote the conflicting feelings.
Imagine you’re living in the conservative state of Wyoming in 1963. Men are the breadwinners and wives are supposed to breed children. Men brawl, drink and eat meat. Toxic masculinity and homophobia tend to thrive in this environment.
The guys are on Brokeback Mountain, in the middle of nowhere. The night is cold and there’s not a single soul present for miles. They could scream and no one would hear them. Yet, they are scared to utter a word or even moan in pleasure. If that isn’t forbidden love, I don’t know what is.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Jack and Ellis’ love story is even more tragic than Romeo and Juliet’s. Two grown men struggling to pursue their love in a judgemental society is disheartening. Society constantly dictates our life choices while we continue to enjoy our delusion of control.
Jake Gyllenhaal opened up about Brokeback Mountain and Heath Ledger in an interview he gave to Another Man. He recounted one incident that showed how sensitive and serious was about the movie and the subject matter.
“I mean, I remember they wanted to do an opening for the Academy Awards that year that was sort of joking about it,” he says. “And Heath refused. I was sort of at the time, ‘Oh, okay… whatever.’ I’m always like: it’s all in good fun. And Heath said, ‘It’s not a joke to me – I don’t want to make any jokes about it.’” I say how smart of Ledger that seems, in retrospect. “Absolutely,” says Gyllenhaal.
Heath Ledger was wise beyond his years, but he was gone too soon.
Brokeback Mountain isn’t just another movie about a gay love story. It’s an important film that demands your attention. If you haven’t watched it yet, do it already! It’s Joker and Mysterio making love, the DC and Marvel crossover we deserve.