The overriding focus of discussion about Brokeback Mountain has naturally been about the love affair between two men. To be sure, a major motion-picture telling the story of a love affair between two men spanning the 1960s and 1970s in the big sky country of Wyoming is worth talking about. But the film is not just about “gay cowboys eating pudding”. There much more going on.
Mostly I saw it as a character study of a man, Ennis Del Mar, who has a profoundly sad inability to get out of his own head and connect with other people. People are drawn to him – his lover Jack Twist, wife Alma, eldest daughter Alma Jr., bartender Cassie Cartwright. Yet Ennis struggles to reciprocate their attraction, subconsciously but overtly keeping people at a distance, never deliberately showing his true self. When he does open up and flash a bit of unabashed emotion (excitement over going “fishing” with Twist), it takes his wife and the audience by surprise.
To be sure, it is beautifully shot and the acting is first rate. The landscape shots are lush and spectacular and stand in sharp contrast to the interior scenes that Ang Lee frames in a way that's evocative of the American realism period of painting of Eakins and Hopper -- stark images conveying loneliness and empty space. Heath Ledger plays Del Mar with just enough reticence and vulnerability to make the character a tragic hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Twist is a bit less fully realized. He's definitely trying to be a young romantic, wanting to seduce everything in his path, but there's something about Gyllenhaal the actor...he doesn't carry the emotional weight that Ledger does, and seems small and meager by comparison.