Jack: Once in a while? Every four fuckin' years?
Ennis: If you can't fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.
Jack: For how long?
Ennis: For as long as we can ride it. There ain't no reins on this one.
Brokeback Mountain originated as a 1997 short story by Annie Proulx but became a household name by way of a faithful 2005 film adaptation. Proulx praised the adaptation, declaring that "I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire".
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 sixteen years, 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 was directed by Ang Lee and starred Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack. It got a lot of attention before it premiered simply for the premise; soon it was widely known as "the gay cowboy movie"note . Between praise from many film critics and massive controversy thanks to Moral Guardians, the film became a box-office success, growing over 10 times its modest budget. It evoked some Hype Backlash and inspired many spoofs, but it also touched a lot of hearts. It went on to win Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. To this day, it's still considered one of the most important films in the history of LGBTQ+ visibility and is considered by many to open the floodgate for queer entertainment to enter the mainstream. Was arguably remembered even more fondly following Heath Ledger's death.
It became the first Best Picture nominee from the 21st century to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
This story and its film adaptation contain examples of:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Played with. Since the setting is anything but gay-friendly, Jack and Ennis separate and start new families after leaving Brokeback Mountain; however, they soon return, despite only much later separating (legally and emotionally) from their wives.
- Abusive Parents: In the short story, upon visiting Jack's parents after his death, and meeting his father, Ennis remembers one particularly chilling story about how Jack's dad had punished Jack 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 its like with piss all over the place? Ill 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, Im bawlin and blubberin. But while he was hosin me down I seen he had some extra material that I was missin. I seen theyd cut me different like youd 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'.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Ennis and Jack 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 hundred 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.
- The Beard: Both boys have them for wives. 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.
- Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Jack requested for his ashes to be scattered on Brokeback Mountain. It couldn't be realized, however, because his dad was adamant about burying his ashes in the family plot.
- Bury Your Gays: In the final stretch, Jack is killed in what is said to be an accident, but Ennis suspects otherwise. This is 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 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); thus his suspicions later.
- But Not Too Gay: A common complaint is how little screen time the intimacy between the men get compared to the relationships to their wives, though the main sex scene between them is relatively explicit.
- Clint Squint: Ennis's departing scene with Jack. "Now you listen here Jack-fuckin'-Twist..."
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Poor Jack Twist dies while "fixing a flat."
- Cowboy: 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.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Inverted with Lureen, who frosts up as the years pass.
- Downer Ending: Jack dies in what is implied to be a hate crime, and Ennis is left broken and alone, unable to maintain a stable relationship after his divorce from his wife and separation from Jack, and the only keepsake of Jack is one of his shirts. His does have this for solace: his regular (sometimes erotic) dreams of Jack.
- Fix Fic: There's an abundance of fanfics of this that diverge from the canon of the story and film, keeping Jack alive so he and Ennis can work toward a happy ending with one another.
- Flashback: Two, one for each of the leads — 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 Cowboy: One of the most famous examples. Except that they're bisexual 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 by her son's death and welcomes Ennis. She asks him to come by for another visit in the future and lets him take Jack's shirt - even placing it in a bag for him.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Due to the homophobia in 1960s Wyoming, both Jack and Ennis have to assert their heterosexuality when greeting others or in public. Their cultural background demanded it as an absolute."I ain't no queer."
- Homophobic Hate Crime: Jack dies in an "accident" that Ennis, Jack's male lover, suspects was actually a hate crime. Ennis also recounts how in his childhood two men who had been living together were brutally murdered. He suspects his father may have even been one of the murderers.
- Idealized Sex: Jack and Ennis's first time manages to both avert this and play it straight at the same time. It's a messy, awkward, rather painful looking affair, since it involves Ennis taking Jack roughly with no preparation and only a little bit of spit to ease the way. Realistically, this would end with bleeding and limping.
- Jerkass: Joe Aguirre, the men's boss. He's condescending, aggressive, dismissive, and cheap. When Jack finds that a loved one has taken ill, Aguirre subtly informs him that he cannot leave the job. Later he refuses to rehire Jack because of his homophobia. Even Jack's asshole father-in-law had some redeeming qualities to him, Aguirre was just unpleasant.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Joe Aguirre, at least in the original short story. His snide observation that Jack and Ennis were being paid to look after sheep rather than "stemming the rose" is crude, and no doubt reflects as much bigotry as pragmatism, but he's not wrong — losing even a few animals to the mountain has a big impact on everyone's jobs. (A recurring theme in Close Range, the story collection that includes "Brokeback Mountain," is the thin margin between survival and ruin in the rural West.)
- 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: Both men are extremely masculine in mannerisms and appearances.
- 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.
- Nocturnal Emission: In the short story, Ennis sometimes dreams of Jack after Jack's death, either leaving him with grief or an "old sense of joy and release" upon waking. It's implied that this trope is in effect when he feels the latter because sometimes the sheets are wet instead of the pillow.
- Pornstache: Jack grows one in later years.
- "Ray of Hope" Ending: After losing both his marriage and Jack, Ennis is given a chance to reconnect with his estranged daughter at the end of the movie.
- 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...
- Scenery Porn:
- Mostly in the beginning of the film, during the summer Jack and Ennis spend on Brokeback, but makes a comeback during their fishing trips over the years.
- 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.
- Secretly-Gay Activity: Ennis and Jack go on yearly "fishing trips" together away from their wives. Ennis's wife figures out the truth behind these trips when she opens Ennis's fishing box and sees that his tackle has never touched water.
- Shout-Out: The poster is based off of the poster for Titanic.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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.
- Spit-Trail Kiss: Their first kiss on-screen had this.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Ultimately, it's society that keeps the men apart more than anything else.
- Stepford Smiler: Lureen comes across as this in the scene where she tells Ennis about Jack's death—she's mostly stoic, but several moments indicate that she's struggling not to burst into tears.
- Straight Gay: Both main characters have no stereotypical traits of homosexuals.
- 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.
- Tragic Keepsake: Jack and Ennis' shirts they last wore on Brokeback Mountain. Jack kept the shirts as a memento in his childhood closet, and they later became this for Ennis after Jack's death.
- 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 Expositor: When Lureen tells Ennis how Jack died, we see the (probably) real story, but Word of God says that it was left "deliberately ambiguous".