Home and heartbreak on the range
BACKSTAGE PASS - Lanz Leviste () - February 17, 2006 - 12:00am
This is the love story every human being with a beating heart should get to see. Brokeback Mountain, based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Proulx, is a film that itself does not recognize or remotely acknowledge the mushroom cloud it inherently creates above the heads of corporate Hollywood, of the radical religious right, of society today, of the entire known history of humanity. Astounding, and thoroughly thought-provoking, how a film so beautifully languid and delicate and elegiac and quiet can turn into an atomic bomb of monumental significance. It is a story of sole specificity (a star-crossed homosexual relationship) that, with the unflinching and honest treatment of Ang Lee, expands with a potent universality able to affect its entire audience. Sheepherders Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) fall in love, and suffer for it; the tragedy here is not just in the way emotions go unfulfilled and unsaid, but in how society has caused it.

The film is, of course, detached with the distance of time and location. As it ends around the mid-‘80s in remote, rural Wyoming, AIDS is making headlines on the American coasts. But the world Ennis and Jack live in is free of politicized gay issues; stripped of the frivolity of media, and all that is left is basic homophobia in an isolated and enclosed ecosystem of fear and bigotry divided by a thick wall of glass – one side with the expansive, majestic mountain where they fall in love in the summer of ’63, the other a small, claustrophobic room of forced emotional repression and conformity. Brokeback Mountain is nowhere near Castro or Chelsea or West Hollywood, nor is it in Matthew Shepard’s Wyoming. Lee, as established by Proulx, understands the stereotypes Brokeback Mountain and these cowboys tear down, as well as its resonance as a plea for urgent change that is sad and true from a world of fear, ignorance, and intolerance that still very well exists.

I laughed out loud at the ridiculous "Approved without cuts" disclaimer that is emblazoned on the one tiny Brokeback Mountain Philippine-newspaper ad I have seen. But of course, in a country of skewed moral fascism and ignorant indoctrination where the Bible dictates law and any attempt at open discussion is considered an assault on the Church, and thus the country, it is to be expected. The MTRCB actually proved me wrong: I was anticipating violently spliced prints of Brokeback; looks like the laughable group of conservative pseudo-evangelists were able to dodge this bullet, just letting it go with an R-18 rating. No doubt the overtly violent and visually sadistic Passion of the Christ was allowed a PG-13, when it deserved an R-18, because of its Bible-thumping, or rather, Bible-adapting. Being a part of the below-18 set, had I not seen Brokeback in good ol’ Chelsea in Manhattan, how would I have seen it at all without resorting to the disgusting yet socially accepted act of piracy? Seems the UAE and China have actually banned Brokeback’s theatrical release following that infamous Salt Lake City multiplex; accordingly, their stance is as corrupt and biased as a Chinese human rights court. But I digress.

Ledger’s performance will go down in history as one of the greatest artistic triumphs of any actor of his generation. There is an intense melancholy to the musicality of his gravelly sandpaper speech, much like Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, and his vulnerable brutality is immeasurably unfathomable and utterly unforgettable, to understate it in the simplest terms. As Ennis’ wife Alma, Michelle Williams is crushing and superb; as Ennis’ true love Jack, Gyllenhaal is a portrait of ravaged heartbreak. These are characters victimized by the world around them, collateral damage in a cruel attack.

Lee has not only completely redefined the conventions and concepts of love and how it is to be treated in cinematic theory, but gorgeously molded the universal abstraction into a state of epic devastation that has the capacity to detonate into an immense cataclysm of glinting hope. While the intense sadness is what you come out of the cinema with, it is the victorious realization of a triumph that really stays with you.

There are only three films I have only ever deemed A-plus-worthy in the pages of this newspaper. But Brokeback Mountain is so far the best, most devastatingly, wrenchingly brilliant cinematic masterpiece of the new millennium, a landmark of cinema in its very fundamental form. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is a film with the power to change the world.

Grade: A+
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For comments, e-mail me at lanz_ys@yahoo.com.

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