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 (a story more conventional than it initially sounds, commentators and critics jumping all over it, etc.), 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.
- Adaptation Expansion: The movie goes into more detail on the men's lives apart from each other, particularly Ennis'.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Del Mar and Twist aren't described as being particularly good-looking in Proulx's short story. They're played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
- 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.
- Bears Are Bad News: As Ennis can attest.
- But Not Too Gay: A common complaint is how little screen time the intimacy between the men got compared to the relationships to their wives.
- Though the main sex scene between them was relatively explicit.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Jack while "fixing a flat."
- Cowboys: The job they took was sheep herding, of course, but they do fit the trope in that Ennis is a working cowboy and Jack is a rodeo rider.
- Clint Squint: Ennis's departing scene with Jack. "Now you listen here Jack-fuckin'-Twist..."
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Inverted with Lureen, who frosts up as the years pass.
- Downer Ending: Excuse me... I have something in my eye.
- 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 Adultery, Bad Adultery: The entire movie.
- 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.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Basically their entire cultural background demanded it as an absolute.
- If It's You, It's Okay: Possible explanation of Ennis's feelings for Jack.
- IKEA Erotica: The tent scene. Anyone who tries anal sex like that is in for a world of hurt.
- Innocent Cohabitation: Jack and Ennis on their first trip to Brokeback Mountain.
- Lie Back and Think of England: Judging by Ennis's sexual position with Elma.
- Long Distance Relationship
- Love Triangle: Ennis is loved by both Jack and Alma. (It's unclear when Jack's wife Lureen found out about the relationship he has with Ennis, and it isn't as important to the plot.)
- Manly Gay
- 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.
- New Old West
- Never Work With Children Or Animals: Ang Lee had already sworn off ever making another movie featuring sheep after horrible experiences making Sense And Sensibility... and apparently they were even worse here.
- 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'.
- Pornstache: Jack grows one in later years.
- 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*
- Yes, but this troper is still astounded they couldn't control themselves until they could go somewhere more private. No wonder Alma saw them.
- 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.
- Straight Gay
- The Stoic: Ennis, though this is played with as being something of a mask.
- Sympathetic Adulterer: Jack and Ennis. They were more or less forced to marry and never forgot about each other.
- Too Good For This Sinful Earth: Jack. He never cared about money and just wanted to live in a cabin with Ennis.
- Transparent Closet: They're so not subtle when they're together.
- And by the end of the movie, it seems like Jack's parents and wife knew.
- Unreliable Voiceover: When Lureen tells Ennis how Jack died, we see the (probably) real story, but Word Of God says that it was left "deliberately ambiguous".