Brokeback Mountain Reactions

While watching Brokeback Mountain (2005) I noted the ways in which Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s character’s masculinity were reinforced after an act of homosexuality on screen. I know I mentioned something about the landscape in relation to their masculinity and how it was used to reinforce their masculinity. Having both men out in the mountains acting as brave warriors of nature and under the genre of the western there’s no way that this film can be depicted as non masculine.

Character interactions: For starters, when Jack Twist played by Gyllenhaal is seen as the observer to Ennis Delmar played by Ledger, he is automatically given a razor in order to toughen his image. Through this act, he “distracts” the audience thinking  anything beyond the gaze of interest he gave to Ennis-but who are we kidding, we knew he was checking him out! 

After the first time that Jack and Ennis shared an intimate moment, we see how the morning after, Ennis storms out of their tent in what seems confusion/frustration and then there is a jump cut to the bloody opening of a dead sheep. This juxtaposition was one of the greatest ones in the film because it was to make a comment on how what they shared is considered deathly and controversial. To even bring this point further one can comment on how his masculinity has been destroyed and torn apart.

Ennis’ interaction with the men on the lawn while watching fireworks with his family. I saw this as a way of Ennis’ defending his masculinity because he fought against very stereotypical men in order to protect his daughters. This action commented on how masculinity does not necessarily dictate if he is a good father or good male role model for his daughters.

Camera Angles/Techniques: This is also seen in the use of shallow depth of field when Jack is bathing in the background of Ennis. This decision emphasized how homosexuality isn’t something that we expect to see in western films, let alone from two very “masculine men.” While watching, I was expecting him to look over at him, but he didn’t. Not having Ennis look over at Jack shows how he isn’t willing to return the gaze that Jack checked him out with towards the beginning of the film, but also how he has to uphold his masculinity by not checking out other men.

Music: I thought it was an interesting romantic choice of music when the men were working out in the fields with the sheep and the horses. This juxtaposition between their very “masculine roles” and romantic music describes perfectly their situation as homosexual males in a western setting.

Dialogue: Did anyone pick up on the nemonia talk? Was that referring to homosexuality?

Overall, there are many things that I picked up in addition to the things I have discussed in this post and was wondering if anyone had the same observations or different ones. I loved this film because it explored a lot of the flaws with masculinity, homosexuality and fatherhood.

Apprehension in Regards to Discussions of Racism and Stereotypes

I’m a white middle class male raised in a conservative household. I’ve said and done things inadvertently which have been rude, insensitive, or even downright racist. I’ve never intended them as such, but they’ve happened. In regards to this week’s discussion topic, I’m really rather nervous to discuss it. This whole subject is full of ways to get tangled up and say the wrong thing. And what right do I have to pretend to know the struggles of an oppressed group? No matter how much I research, read, watch, listen, I’m never going to understand a life of denied opportunities and dual consciousness. If I ever try, I feel as though I’m coming off as again rude, or holier-than-thou, or white-hero-of-the-oppressed. I can try to sympathize, but I can never empathize, not really. To pretend to, in my opinion, is to delude myself.

I don’t intend to speak for anyone else with this. If you think you can understand better than I can, wonderful, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. These are simply my own thoughts and apprehensions after years of inadvertently supporting the racist structure of this country and struggling to work my way out of that framework.

Fatherhood in Brokeback Mountain

Something interesting about Brokeback Mountain is the aspect of the protagonists as fathers. Ennis is a proud father and obviously takes it importantly. In the fireworks scene, he gets up and fights the punks because they’re being vulgar in front of his daughters. When, after the divorce, Jack comes visit, Ennis turns him away in favor of spending time with his daughters. And at the end of the film, this man, whose job was important enough throughout the film to make him abandon his wife in the past, willingly risks his job to attend his daughter’s wedding. This isn’t because he’s excited to see her married, but only because it will make her happy.

This contrasts with some of his scenes with his children before the divorce. He drops his kids with his wife when he gets called in to work. He also seems really annoyed when they’re very young and willing to pass off responsibility of them. As his relationship with Jack developed, and as he aged and matured, Ennis realized how important being a good father is to him and his children. This is likely incentivised by his own father’s rough treatment of him, showing him the lynched homosexual when Ennis was a child. It is a masculine thing to aspire to be a better father than your own, and Ennis’ masculinity is important to him.

Jack, on the other hand, has very little time on screen with his son. His main fatherly moment is the Thanksgiving scene in which he tells his son to listen to his mother. This seems more out of respect for his wife and whatever little pride he has as a homeowner than any great aspirations to be a good father. This goes along with a point I made in class about Jack being the more feminine of the pair.

Societal Perspective in Brokeback Mountain

In Brokeback Mountain, the mise-en-scene, specifically the framing and location of two specific shots, reveals the societal view of the relationship between Jack and Ennis.

The first person to discover the homosexual relationship between Ennis and Jack was their boss, Joe Aguirre. He does so through an eyeglass, and a shot of the film gives us this perspective. This is representative of the judgmental view of society on homosexual relationships at the time, as Jack and Ennis are almost literally put under a microscope. In addition, Aguirre is looking down on them from his higher point in the mountain.

In a very similar manner, Ennis’s wife is physically distanced from Jack and Ennis when she sees them kissing by a glass door. She too observes from a significantly higher vantage point, when combined with the screen door, putting the two men under a judgmental lens.

Comparing two scenes in Brokeback Mountain

Both Delmar and Twist had a scene where they asserted their masculinity, and both scenes had shared similarities between them. For Delmar, this scene came when two men were using disrespectful language in front of his daughters at a Fourth of July picnic. Delmar started a physical fight with the two men, with fireworks going off in the background.

In the other scene, Twist yells at his father-in-law who tries repeatedly to turn on football during Thanksgiving dinner. His justification for why his son must not watch is that his mother spent many hours making the meal and that it would be disrespectful to her to watch the game.

In both instances, Delmar and Twist assert their masculinity, but in the context of defending women important to them–Delmar’s daughters and Twist’s wife.


One of the things that made me so emotional at the end of Brokeback Mountain was the symbolism of the two shirts that Ennis takes from Jack’s childhood home. First of all, the way he smelled them when he picked them up, and felt the fabric of the shirts was just such a nice touch because it showed how much Ennis missed Jack without saying it (because Ennis is a man of few words).

It was also so nice for Ennis to be able to have something tangible to remember Jack, something to take back with him, for Jack’s father would not allow him to take the ashes. For me, it also drew back on the fact that Jack initially took the shirt from Ennis (without his knowledge) so that he could have something tangible of Ennis (though in that case it wasn’t as meaningful with Ennis still being alive).

My favorite thing about it was that Ennis reversed the order of the shirts. It felt as though when Jack put Ennis’s inside, it was as if he was keeping Ennis within him, and potentially hidden from his parents. (However the father  mentions that he knew of Ennis). Meanwhile, when Ennis has the shirts hanging next to the picture with Jack’s shirt on the inside, it’s as if Ennis is keeping Jack forever in his heart, since he is no longer with him. The shirts along with the image of Brokeback, hanging on the back of Ennis’s door, seemed to serve as a memory and a nostalgic past that he could never go back to — which was both oddly romantic and heartbreaking.

Brokeback Mountain

This is a very well made film with some important messages. First and most obviously it shows the issues that come with homophobia. Almost every character that finds out about Jack and Ennis’ relationship are hostile towards it. Another thing it brings up is how homosexuality was perceived in the time and place of the film. It’s almost treated as a disease, even by the two men. Ennis says “You’ve done this to me” and Jack says “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

There also seems to be a gap in the film between love and family. Ennis leaves his wife and kids often to visit with Jack, and even when sitting with his daughter later in the film his new love interest pulls him away to dance. Jack’s family is somewhat dysfunctional, and he leaves to visit Ennis often. And when Jack hears about Ennis’ divorce he comes up to see him, but has to leave because his kids are there with him. It seems like the two things can’t be together in the film. Only at the end when Jack is dead can Ennis be with his daughter and go to her wedding.

One thing I was wondering about was the label that is usually slapped on the film. Usually the association with Brokeback Mountain is that it is a gay cowboy movie, or a gay western, but I disagree. First of all, when I think cowboy/western. I think of the type of film with the one small town in the desert and shootouts, not Wyoming in 1964. I also am not sure if the characters can be called gay. Ennis has sex with his wife and has a new girlfriend. And Jack has a wife and kid as well. Are they bisexual? Or something else, just two men who love each other? Do we need labels?

Auteur Theory in Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee could very easily be considered one of the best directors of all time (easily one of the best foreign directors to ever work in Hollywood). Just look at the best films he has directed:

  1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(2000) — Oscar, Best Director
  2. Hulk (2003)
  3. Brokeback Mountain (2005) — Oscar, Best Director
  4. Life of Pi (2012)

While Lee was born in Taiwan and educated in America, he refutes any notion that he is either a Chinese or American filmmaker:

I was never a citizen of any particular place… My parents left China to go to Taiwan. We were outsiders there. We moved to the States. Outsiders. Back to China. Now we were outsiders there, too – outsiders from America.

This sense of independence (or ostracism, if you prefer) translates to Brokeback fairly noticeably. Lee himself even admitted: “What do I know about gay ranch hands in Wyoming?” Without getting too sappy or poetic, the final product reveals that Lee may or may not know a whole lot about gay ranchers, but he certainly knows a lot about love.

In viewing the director’s work in the four previously mentioned films, one will notice that Lee brings a distinct artistry to his projects. Crouching Tiger is a wuxia film, meaning that it is about ancient China and martial arts. As his first major motion picture, Lee took advantage of the opportunity and essentially painted a colorful picture that would be a hallmark of his later work. The scene where two main characters are fighting in an orange setting amidst flying arrows is choreographed beautifully and represents a much larger conflict between the two characters. Furthermore, the arrows literally look like calligraphy-brush strokes when juxtaposed against the orange background. The way Lee frames his establishing shots is truly a testament to his ability to direct camerawork.

Hulk may be a little different considering it was more of a commercial exploit rather than an artistic piece, yet the artistry still finds its way into the super hero film.

Brokeback, an independent film, was definitely Lee’s return to respecting the beauty of nature. The shots of the mountain and the badlands are charmingly reminiscent of the establishing shots in the bamboo fight scene in terms of coloring, shot length, and mood in conjunction with the context. Lee even matches violence in both films as a metaphor for sex, but he does it in an understated fashion.

Life of Pi follows a similar aesthetic path.  Shots of the boat show Pi’s isolation and despair just as the very first shots of Jack and Ennis show that they are isolated while they wait for the sheep-owner to show up to his trailer. Both are composed much like an impressionist painting, i.e. utilizing the rule of thirds and often saving distinct colors for only the most important objects in the frame.

I love Ang Lee’s films for all of these reasons and I look forward to seeing whatever comes next.

Brokeback Mountain Reaction and Masculinity

I had never seen this film before we started it on Wednesday – This film definitely deserves its praise from a cinematic and psychosocial perspective.

Firstly, the performances. I was truly impressed by the leading men (and women) in the film. This type of role takes guts, research, and vulnerability that is incredibly difficult to portray on screen. Heath Ledger (speaking in a voice similar to Tom Berenger in Platoon, the height of masculinity), dances between masculine detachment to loving happiness when he lets his guard down with Gyllenhaal (Jack). The moment that really stuck out to me above all else was when they reunite for the first time after their first time on Brokeback and Michelle Williams (Alma) sees them kissing. The moment really captures the gravity of the situation the two (or 3) are in. Ennis had never really showed that kind of joy and raw sexual energy with his wife (minus the one scene where he flipped her on her stomach to be in the same sexually dominating position he was in with Jack in the tent). Building off that moment, Williams does an extraordinary job throughout the film of showing her pain at seeing her husband is gay – but the way she portrays it is NOT out of disapproval for his sexual preference, but out of her feeling dejected and lied to… The fact of the matter is, she did love the father of her children and just wanted a normal marriage and life. Jumping back to the male leads, the pent up aggression, frustration, and energy they expose in the solitude of the wilderness juxtaposes their home lives so bluntly and makes their situation incredibly clear.

One of the questions surrounding these men, is, if they are gay… how do they manage to consummate their heterosexual marriages? Do they have bisexual tendencies or does their wish to stay closeted in a bigoted society enable them to perform sexually in their normal home lives? It’s another layer to a complicated narrative that looks at this micro relationship in solitude while examining the macro relationships in the social context in the stark mid-west towns they call home.

Next, Ang Lee, who took home the best directing statue for his film, does an excellent job of capturing the starkness, bluntness, and loneliness of middle America. It reminded me of Malick’s Badlands or Payne’s Nebraska. The shots color structure, visual spacing, and phallic nature  allow the naturalness of the male relationship to unfold more realistically. Furthermore, the costuming is masculine but neither man is overly fit, leading to characters disguised as classic men, though hiding their true feelings beneath the clothes. Fitting (no pun intended) that the final shot in Jack’s shirt, covering Ennis’s shirt in the closet as the starkness of the country waits outside the window with a storm looming in the distance.

There’s also a TV show on Showtime called Shameless where two of the main characters in the ensemble are teenagers who are gay and in love. The show treats their relationship as having one of the characters be open about their homosexuality while the other is a gun touting south-side Chicago hoodlum who would rather use violence to cover up his homosexuality than admit it to the world (or his father) and face the backlash. By the most recent season, however, the hoodlum character has come out and has declared his love for the other. Now, the show treats their homosexuality the same way it treats it heterosexual relationships on the show, which is an incredibly impressive feat.

People have been talking about ebert’s review of the film. Here is an excerpt that I completely agree with:

“But it’s not because of Jack. It’s because Ennis and Jack love each other and can find no way to deal with that. “Brokeback Mountain” has been described as “a gay cowboy movie,” which is a cruel simplification. It is the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel. Their tragedy is universal. It could be about two women, or lovers from different religious or ethnic groups — any “forbidden” love.”

That’s why the film works. It’s because this is a love story. A love story that travels through time, societal change, and family life that could happen to any one, gay, straight, or bi. It doesn’t matter. These are two people who loved each other, but society said it was wrong. Maybe that’s the best way to simplify.

Dangerous Depictions of Masculinity in Brokeback Mountain

I totally agree with Annie and Ebert’s point that representing the queer community as a whole is an impossibility. It’s impossible to represent any huge, broad concept in one film. As such, it’s important to discuss how Brokeback Mountain vignettes a queer relationship.

First off, I’d like to say that Brokeback Mountain was an excellent film in the fact that it kept my interest throughout its duration. This is due to the diversity of the shots, the dynamic sound, and the script/concept. The first two are results of great production and they are undeniably excellent on their own merits (Gustavo Santaolella deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Score).

With great standalone components like sound and visuals, there’s naturally going to be a large audience. With that in mind, the script and the representation of a queer relationship are hugely important because a lot of people are going to see it — the stakes are higher than they would be for your average film. That being said, I don’t think Brokeback Mountain does for queer theory what the class thinks it does and here’s why:

I worked for a 93 year-old guy a couple summers ago and he had this to say about why some men are gay: “A man only turns gay when he can’t handle a real woman.” Obviously he was a product of a different time and obviously I neither agree with nor defend what he said, but the fact remains that certain people like him are going to cherrypick information and turn it all into confirmation bias. Perhaps it’s unavoidable, but Brokeback Mountain is chock full of confirmation bias for bigots who view the film through a lens of bigotry. Honestly, it’s painful to view the film in this light because I really think it’s awesome; however, it is important to identify where the film can confirm horrible, socially conservative biases so filmmakers can wholly avoid or successfully navigate them.

First, Jack couldn’t shoot the coyote for the life of him. Real men have to be able to shoot guns.
Second, Ennis is practically ridiculed for being sick of beans so early on in the summer. Real men can bear minor discomforts.
Third, Jack and Ennis’ employer chastises them for ranching so terribly on Brokeback, “you ranch this and you ain’t never no good.” Real men punch in 9-5 and they do their job well.
Fourth, as Erika Spohrer points out in UFT, they are tending soft, woolly sheep in Wyoming rather than herding cattle in Texas. Real cowboys herd cattle, not sheep.
Fifth, the two men who recognized Jack at the tractor dealership mentioned that he was a terrible cowboy at the rodeos. Real men can ride a bull.
Sixth, neither Jack nor Ennis could keep their wives happy. Real men can keep their wives satisfied (sexually and emotionally).
Seventh, Jack and Ennis aren’t gay — they’re bisexual. Real men aren’t gay and they certainly aren’t bisexual (or perhaps real men at least aren’t indecisive… i.e. they don’t live two lives).
Eighth, Jack doesn’t just die. Death is his punishment for being queer. Retribution?

(To clarify, the stuff I put in bold are all hypothetical bigoted reactions — not my own opinions.)

The list could go on forever but the point remains: when it comes to traditional masculinity, Jack and Ennis fall short. Sure, they were in the west and perhaps you can call Brokeback Mountain a western, but the two men aren’t hypermasculine because they noticeably couldn’t/didn’t handle their environment and they couldn’t/didn’t handle their masculine tasks. To put it bluntly: Jack and Ennis suck at doing traditionally manly stuff. Even Jack’s crowning achievement as a man where he shuts the TV off during Thanksgiving dinner is a struggle and, judging by his wife’s reaction, uncharacteristic.

Look, I’m not saying they had to be the best cowboys in all the land… I’m just saying that they didn’t have to be portrayed as the worst. It makes it seem like the only two representatives of the queer community the viewer is given don’t belong in the west, which is an awfully dangerous implication.

To bring it all back, the film had the first two components (awesome visuals and award-winning sound); however, I would argue that the third component (its Oscar-winning adapted screenplay) still came at the expense of unnecessarily stereotyping the queer community as unmasculine and unfit for the western genre.