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Film / Brokeback Mountain

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Ennis Del Mar: We can get together... once in a while, way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, but...
Jack Twist: Once in a while? Every four fuckin' years?
Ennis Del Mar: If you can't fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.
Jack Twist: For how long?
Ennis Del Mar: For as long as we can ride it. There ain't no reins on this one.

Brokeback Mountain is as a 1997 short story by Annie Proulx that became a household name by way of a faithful 2005 film adaptation directed by Ang Lee.

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, Jack decides to contact Ennis four years later, 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 written by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, and starred Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack. It got a lot of attention before it premiered simply for its premise, soon becoming widely known as "the gay cowboy movie"note . Receiving mass critical praise on one end and mass controversy thanks to Moral Guardians on the other (along with some lesser public dissent due to Hype Backlash), the film became a box-office success, growing over 10 times its modest budget. Annie Proulx, the author of the original short story, praised the adaptation, declaring, "I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire."

The film went on to win three Academy Awards: Best Director (Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay (McMurtry & Ossana), and Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla). It was also nominated for an additional five Oscars, including Best Picture. 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 have opened the floodgate for queer entertainment to enter the mainstream. Following Heath Ledger's death, the film has been remembered even more fondly, with Ledger's performance here regarded as among his best.

In 2018, the film became the first Best Picture nominee from the 21st century to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

In 2014, the short story was adapted into an opera by American composer, Charles Wuorinen, with Proulx writing the libretto. In 2023, it was adapted as "a play with music" by Ashley Robinson with songs by Dan Gillespie Sells.

And no, at no point do they eat pudding in the film.

This story and its adaptations 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."
  • Actor-Muso Show: Downplayed in the 2023 "play with music" theatrical adaptation. The Balladeer who sings lead on the songs also plays Jack's mother appears in one scene towards the end of the play. Similarly, one of the backup singers plays Lureen when she appears onstage in one scene during a phone call.
  • 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.
  • Business Trip Adultery: Ennis and Jack grow fond of each other while watching sheep over the winter. Although purely for monetary gain in the beginning, Ennis cheats on his fiancee Alma with Jack on the mountain, and does so for many years. The initial sheep guarding was not a conventional business transaction, but it was a business trip to some degree.
  • 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.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: (Apart from the rampant homophobia) Ennis has a decidedly Stay in the Kitchen attitude towards Alma, especially as their marriage deteriorates. It's particularly apparent around her grocery store job, which he seems to barely tolerate (even though he doesn't make enough money to comfortably support the family himself, and actually quits his jobs whenever Jack comes through town). While such attitudes weren't unusual in that time and place, and Alma seems like she'd prefer to Stay in the Kitchen if only Ennis would start bringing in more money, it can be a bit jarring to modern-day viewers.
    • Jack and Lureen, in contrast, seem to have a far more egalitarian marriage, despite their other problems. Jack doesn't appear to resent Lureen for her career (even if he dislikes things connected to it, such as their enmeshment with her domineering father). At one point, he also tells her she needs to talk to their son's teacher, but it's clear he's not doing so out of any kind of "You're the mother, it's your job" sentiment, but because he has done parent-teacher interviews in the past and "complains too much", leading the teachers to dislike him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Framing Device: The play opens with a lonely, alcoholic Ennis in 2013 looking back on the events of the story through his own memory.
  • From Roommates to Romance: Jack and Ennis live together during their summer on Brokeback Mountain. At first...then they have a sexual encounter and fall in love.
  • Gay Cowboy: One of the most famous examples. Except that they're shepherds.
  • Gayngst: Both lead male protagonists are in love but they must maintain any relationship in secret and both men knowingly cannot act on it in public or they will be killed. Given the time period and the characters' backgrounds, this is somewhat inevitable.
  • 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.)
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Seeing that the two of them lives in different states, this trope comes into play. It only makes things worse for both of them, however.
  • 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.)
  • Loving a Shadow: Ennis and Jack do love each other - but the entirety of their relationship over decades comes down to a handful of trysts per year on the titular mountain. Ennis, who insists that a life together isn't possible, struggles hard with this, as he alienates his wife, then a girlfriend, has a distant relationship with his daughters, and seems to live in or nearly in poverty. He is convinced he and Jack can't have a life together, but his love for Jack prevents him from engaging with his day-to-day life and relationships, or improving his job situation.
  • 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.
  • Parental Neglect: Played With. Both Jack and Ennis are shown interacting affectionately with their children. But Jack is repeatedly and emphatically willing to up stakes and leave his son to move across the country with Ennis if Ennis just says the word. Ennis, for his part, insists for years that he and Jack can't start a new life together because he won't abandon his daughters - but he seems to barely spend time with them as it is.
  • 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 actually a little heartwarming... until Alma quietly witnesses it.
  • 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.
  • Sexless Marriage: Ennis explicitly puts an end to his and Alma's sex life some years prior to their divorce. Jack and Lureen are implied to be this as well - at one point Jack comments to Ennis that he and Lureen "could do their marriage over the phone."
  • Shotgun Wedding: Implied with Jack and Lureen - they have sex in the back of Lureen's car, then there's a Gilligan Cut to her holding their newborn son while her parents coo over them and Jack lingers awkwardly by the door.
  • Shout-Out: The poster is based off of the poster for Titanic.
  • Significant Double Casting: In the play, The Balladeer, whose songs are sympathetic to Jack and Ennis' situation, also plays Jack's mother, who's shown to have had some sort of understanding about the nature of Jack and Ennis' relationship and treats Ennis kindly when he comes to visit.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Lureen, at several points during the conversation where she tells Ennis what happened to Jack.
  • 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".

"Jack, I swear..."