Brokeback Mountain originated as a 1997 short story by Annie Proulx but became a household name by way of a faithful 2005 film adaptation.In 1963 Wyoming, two young cowboys, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, take a summer job herding sheep on the slopes of the titular mountain. Over two months, the men (almost completely isolated from the rest of the world) first strike up a friendship, then a romance. However, they mutually see this as ending along with the job, especially as Ennis is engaged to Alma Beers back home. They go their separate ways; Ennis marries Alma and raises a family with her, and Jack finds his own wife and family with Lureen Newsome.However, four years later Jack decides to contact Ennis and the two men re-establish ties, realizing that they both still love each other. Over the next decade-and-a-half, they carry on an affair with each other by way of "fishing trips." No one is completely happy though — Ennis is unwilling to cut ties with his family and start a fresh life with Jack (in part out of guilt and confusion, in part out of awareness of what could happen to them if the world found out about their relationship), Alma knows what's going on from the moment the men are reunited and suffers in silence for years before divorcing Ennis, and Jack's own marriage becomes lifeless.The film adaptation, directed by Ang Lee and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as Ennis and Jack, got a lot of attention before it premiered simply for the premise; soon it was widely known as "the gay cowboy movie".* Even though they were shepherds, not cowboys Between praise from many film critics and massive controversy thanks to Moral Guardians, the modestly-budgeted film became a profitable box-office success. Fitting many facets of the Rule-Abiding Rebel trope, it evoked some Hype Backlash and inspired many spoofs, but it also touched a lot of hearts. At the end of the day, the film won Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Arguably it was remembered even more fondly following Heath Ledger's death.
This story and its film adaptation contain examples of:
Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Jack and Ennis start new families after leaving Brokeback Mountain; however, they soon return, despite only much later seperating (legally and emotionally) from their wives.
Abusive Parents: In the story, upon visiting Jack's parent's after his death, and meeting his father, Ennis remembers one particularly chilling story about how his dad punished him for his inability to get the hang of using the bathroom.
"...He had been about three or four, he said, always late getting to the toilet, struggling with buttons, the seat, the height of the thing and often as not left the surroundings sprinkled down. The old man blew up about it and this one time worked into a crazy rage. “Christ, he licked the stuffin out a me, knocked me down on the bathroom floor, whipped me with his belt. I thought he was killin me. Then he says, ‘You want a know what it’s like with piss all over the place? I’ll learn you,’ and he pulls it out and lets go all over me, soaked me, then he throws a towel at me and makes me mop up the floor, take my clothes off and warsh them in the bathtub, warsh out the towel, I’m bawlin and blubberin. But while he was hosin me down I seen he had some extra material that I was missin. I seen they’d cut me different like you’d crop a ear or scorch a brand. No way to get it right with him after that."
Adaptation Expansion: The movie goes into more detail on the men's lives apart from each other, particularly Ennis'.
Ambiguously Gay: The men themselves. It's clear they're in love with each other, but debate rages over whether it's a Single-Target Sexuality or if they were simply too closeted to ever be with other men. The fact that Jack solicits a male prostitute down in Mexico leads many to believe he's gay, whereas Ennis' sexuality is much more ambiguous.
From the short story: "Ennis pulled Jack's hand to his mouth, took a hit from the cigarette, exhaled. "Sure as hell seem in one piece to me. You know, I was sittin up here all that time tryin to figure out if I was-? I know I ain't. I mean here we both got wives and kids, right? I like doin' it with women, yeah, but Jesus H., ain't nothin' like this. I never had no thoughts a doin it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you. You do it with other guys? Jack?"
"Shit no," said Jack, who had been riding more than bulls, not rolling his own.
Bury Your Gays: Jack is killed in what is said to be an accident, but Ennis suspects otherwise. Somewhat justified due to the setting and time period. A key reason Ennis keeps his feelings close to the chest is because as a child he literally saw what became of a gay man who didn't hide his orientation (and doesn't even discount the possibility his own father helped kill the man); this is why when he is told of the accident that killed Jack, he sees in his mind a similar killing as what really happened.
The Beard: Both boys have them. But whereas Lureen dispassionately manages Jack's accounts and is semi-aware of his habits, Ennis neglects and resents the women in his life.
Enforced Method Acting: In order to get into character and really show Alma's anguish over Ennis's infidelity with Jack, Michelle Williams asked Heath Ledger, who she was dating at the time, and Jake Gyllenhaal to make out behind the camera so her emotional anguish would be realistic. When they weren't passionate enough, she yelled at them.
Flashback: Two — Ennis' childhood memory of being taken to see the remains of a murdered gay man, and Jack's memory of Ennis holding him during their summer on Brokeback.
Gay Cowboys: one of the most famous examples. Except that they're shepherds.
Good Parents: Jack's Mother, as far as we can tell. When Ennis shows up after Jack's death, they seem pretty clear on what his relationship was with their son, while Jack's father makes it clear he viewed his son as a failure, Jack's mother is clearly devastated at her son's death and welcomes Ennis. She asks him to come back someday and visit and lets him take Jack's shirt - even placing it in a bag for him.
Married to the Job: The men have an argument (on what turns out to be their last trip) because Ennis cannot make the trips as frequently due to his job. While before he was willing to quit jobs to take the trips, now (after the divorce and needing to pay child support) he needs the money too badly to quit. This inspires Jack to name-drop the trope.
No Bisexuals: Some people are annoyed that this is referred to as they gay cowboy movie and Jack and Ennis are commonly called gay, when in fact they may well be bisexual. Bisexual activists have used this movie as an example of 'bisexual erasure'.
Reunion Kiss: After seeing each other for the first time in four years, they try to stick to a simple Man Hug - and then Ennis proceeds to slam Jack up against the wall and kiss him like he'd die the second he stopped. It's just a little heartwarming... *sniff*
Scenery Porn: Mostly in the first third, chronicling the summer on Brokeback, but shows up from time to time in the remainder (especially their trips together).
This is even lampshaded on several occasions, even in instances which probably make this trope very plot relevant.
Some critics have stated that the mountain is the best character in the film.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: With regards to their relationship, Jack is closer to the idealistic side, believing that he and Ennis could have a happy life together as a couple. Ennis is more cynical, due in part to his greater awareness of societal prejudice.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Ultimately, it's society that keeps the men apart more than anything else.