Feb 8, 2006
Until now, I have done my best to avoid entering the debate about Ang Lee's newest film Brokeback Mountain. However, the announcement of the Academy Awards nominees last Tuesday, including seven nominations for this film, has brought it to the front of my consciousness. I decided it was time to brave the controversy and see for myself what all the fuss was about.
Based on the commentary I had heard, I expected Brokeback Mountain to be a film of exceptional artistic value shadowed by seriously troubling moral content. It seemed to present the perfect opportunity to examine how aesthetics and ethics both play a part in determining the worth of any given film. Unfortunately, Brokeback Mountain did not lend itself to this discussion as I had anticipated.
To be quite honest, I am still unsure exactly what everyone sees in this film. Ang Lee is clearly a skilled director, and Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography portrays Canada's landscape brilliantly (although the story is set in Wyoming). However, I am not convinced that the artistry of this film alone is enough to draw so much attention from the secular press.
Evidently, the film's popularity lies solely in its unashamed portrayal of a sexual relationship between two cowboys, which to so many is a victory worthy of a Best Picture nomination regardless of artistic achievement. I am hesitant to assume that critics are praising Brokeback Mountain because they welcome its moral agenda, but I see nothing in it so extraordinary as to otherwise merit the acclaim it has received.
The story opens with Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) seeking employment herding sheep for a summer in Wyoming. The two share few words as they begin working together, but one cold night finds them sharing a tent on an isolated mountain. Amidst the confusion of drunkenness, lust and anger, their sexual relationship begins that night and motivates their actions throughout the remainder of the film.