Ennis and Jack (Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal) are two young men who in the summer of 1963 get a job tending to sheep up on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Jack is a somewhat outgoing boy, or at least compared to the silent Ennis he is, as Ennis barely opens his mouth at all, speaking only when he needs to. Over the course of the summer the two men bond, and one night after some whiskey they, almost suddenly, have sex in their tent. The two barely discuss the event afterwards, apart from mentioning that it was a “one-shot thing”, and at the end of the summer the two part ways with barely a goodbye.
Some years down the line, after Jack and Ennis have both married and had a few children each, they see each other again and quickly rekindle their passion for each other. The two continue to go away together on “fishing trips” for the next couple of years, slipping away from their routine lives to explore the elusive happiness they experience when together. The two even talk of moving away and buying a ranch together, but Ennis knows that they will never be allowed to be together in this lifetime. When he was a boy, Ennis recalls two men who shacked up together being the laughing stock of the town, and when they were beaten to death his father made sure that him and his brother saw it, forever implanting Ennis with a fear of homosexuality, and indirectly a hate for his own feelings.
Brokeback Mountain is a wonderfully shot and terrifically acted tragedy of passion. Jack and Ennis share one of the most private secrets in the world, yet because of the time and place they live in are unable to share it even with each other as much as they would like to. Both men approach their situation differently, Ennis with a haunting fear of associating as gay, and Jack with an exhausted desire for acceptance. Ledger and Gyllenhaal present the two cowboys as deep and complex characters, and director Ang Lee puts them in a beautiful landscape and films with masterful skill and attention to emotional characteristics. Co-stars Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams as the two men’s wives also give strong performances, showing calm and victimized characters cast into Ennis and Jack’s story not by choice. Brokeback Mountain never attempts to preach to its audience, intelligently letting its story play out for itself. The film engages with both emotion and character intently, and is a wonderful movie on many levels.