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#62. Brokeback Mountain & #63. The Wedding Banquet - Review (SPOILERS)

Brokeback Mountain film poster

Ang Lee’s 2005 film Brokeback Mountain tells a simple, and tragic, love story. Two men, Ennis Delmar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), meet as cowboys on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, and leave as closeted homosexual lovers. Starting in the outspoken homophobic Midwest of the 1960’s, Ennis and Jack must try their best at masquerading throughout their daily lives as heterosexual family men. It is only during their annual “fishing trips” the lovers are able to come together and openly experience the fleeting seconds of true love their weekend escapes afford them.  

Sadly, after nearly 20-years of living a lie, both within and without, Ennis regrettably concedes to the social and emotional turmoil his double life has caused him and declares to Jack that he no longer wants to see him. When Jack is accidently killed on the side of the road in his home state of Texas, Ennis is left with only the shirt and denim jacket Jack wore during their first summer up on Brokeback Mountain. The film closes with Ennis delicately and symbolically hanging up Jacks’ denim garb in his closet, along with a lifetime’s memories filled with love and regret and grief, slowly closing the closet door and walking away.Brokeback Mountain film poster

Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful film that refreshingly serves no agenda other than supporting solid filmmaking. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is stunning, and along with Lee finds a way to silently capture all of the power and heartbreak in Ledger’s performance without becoming distracting. I had watched this film once before during its theatrical release in 2005, but it was only during my second viewing that I really appreciated what Lee had achieved. His lovers are gay, but Lee is not so much concerned with their sexual tendencies. No, Lee wanted to explore what affects living a lie would have on a man. The director’s 1993 film The Wedding Banquet told the story of a gay couple having to pretend they were straight for a week so one of the men did not have to come out to his Taiwanese parents. In this first film Lee loosely probed the effects of living a lie, but Brokeback pushes it even further and explores Ennis Delmar, whose entire life is a lie.

Besides both being about closeted gay relationships, Brokeback Mountain and The Wedding Banquet could not be more different as far as tone and themes. The Wedding Banquet offers a somewhat humorous comparison between homosexuality in the apparently progressive 1990’s America and the opposing conservative Taiwan. Fitting nicely into Ruby Rich’s list of “new queer cinema” in the early 1990’s, The Wedding Banquet’s story is surprisingly innocuous. Lee is far more interested in the cultural conflicts the homosexual relationship forces than the actual relationship itself. In William Leung’s essay So Queer Yet So Straight the author explains, “At its core, the film is an old-fashioned comedy of errors made queer.” (29) Lee does not make gay films, just films that have gay characters. What I find most interesting is Lee’s ability to employ queer relationships, and all the social and cultural baggage that may come with it, and create two films that are both completely different and both are not necessarily about homosexuality. Where The Wedding Banquet uses its gay relationship to explore a Taiwanese son’s desperation for parental acceptance, Brokeback Mountain examines the lives of two lovers who cannot be together. When I said Brokeback served no agenda I meant it. This is a tragic love story, not a liberal propaganda film trying to push a message. Ennis Delmar is lost in a world he was raised to hate, stuck in-between a loveless socially accepted marriage and the passion he feels for a man he cannot have. “The protagonist is not a melancholy prince or an overachieving king, but a queer cowboy with a passionate need to love.” (Leung, 33) Delmar, unlike The Wedding Banquet’s Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao), is not just hiding his gay-lover from his family. I would theorize that Delmar went on to marry and have children with his wife Alma (Michelle Williams) to create barriers to help him hide from his homosexual tendencies.The Wedding Banquet film poster

It may seem odd at first that Lee, a Taiwan born, American educated, heterosexual director would be capable of making such politically vacant films about a topic that is so very controversial. With The Wedding Banquet it could at least be argued that Lee had an agenda to bear down on the strict cultural limitations found within his own personal Taiwanese background. But how does a Taiwanese-American family man so perfectly tell Ennis Delmar’s story? Leung answers, “…there could not have been a more suitable director for Brokeback than Ang Lee, for the simple reason that only a director with no agenda to push and no ax to grind could have maintained this tragic balance. From their animalistic sexual encounters… to their painful separations and joyous reunions… Ennis and Jack demonstrate that love is reducible to no single political, ethical, philosophical, or theological position.” (33) It is by Lee’s uncomplicated proposal of the lovers that the film successfully achieves its greatest feat. Where The Wedding Banquet showed the comedy that may occur when you try to be someone your not, Brokeback Mountain dared to show the tragedy that most definitely will occur when you spend your whole life fighting against who you really are. 


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Reader Comments (7)

Dead center on the Broke Back Mountain piece! I couldn't agree with you more. I can't wait for the Human Centipede article!

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJerrett L. Richards

Thanks man... do you like Brokeback? I was luke warm on it the first time I watched it, but after this second viewing it really blew me away. It has haunted me for days. One of the most heartbreaking and beautiful films I have ever watched. I really love it

December 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterBrandon Roberts

i'd like to cuddle with you brokeback style!

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershhh, it's me

Wow. This was an amazing review. Seriously, I have purposefully avoided watching this movie since it came out given my ridiculously intense (yet understandable?) homophobia, but after reading this I may just give it a look.

Naaaaaaah. :)

December 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaddyO

I wish you would allow yourself the opportunity to watch this film dad. It is one of the most hauntingly tragic, beautifully shot films I have ever seen. There is so much humanity in Ennis Delmar that can't be expressed it will keep you up at night thinking about him... if you actually watch it let me know, and watch it alone I don't see Mary being able to handle it, but if you really wanted to you could and you would be happy if you did.

December 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterBrandon Roberts

Ok, to be honest, I hadn't really been bothered by the loss of Heath Ledger until now. After watching this movie (finally) I now understand that we lost a truly gifted actor. Your right in that the cinematography was incredible, but the music was also a big part of the experience for me. Not so much the vintage country music, (although the Linda Rondstat song is a favorite), the instrumental guitar realty fit well and made it all sorta work. True, I'd avoided this movie for personal reasons, but even if some scenes stirred up some long-dead memories, (I'm still thinking about his wife catching them on the stairs), I'm still glad I watched it. And, even tho I was uncomfortable with the sex scenes, you're right about the sex not being the focus of the movie. I found myself caring more about Ennis than I did that he was gay. And that's quite an accomplishment.

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaddyO

Well said sir. Yeah, it was a mistake to not mention the score, which I bought right after I watched the film.

May 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterBrandon Roberts

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