In 2005, Brokeback Mountain came out. I was 8 years old.
In 2015, I came out. I was 18 years old.
Soon after discovering my affinity for yummy men, I was eager to explore gay representation in media. I had finally found my place in the world, and I was ready to find my people.
I started with RuPaul’s Drag Race, then checked out some gay indie films on Netflix (there are surprisingly many). And one day, it struck me that I had never seen that one gay cowboy movie people made jokes about when I was younger.
Since my exposure to Brokeback Mountain was limited to late-night comedians dunking on it, I never had a firm idea of what the story was actually about.
I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else. Because you know what?
Brokeback Mountain is a masterpiece.
And despite its critical acclaim, I still believe this movie has not received enough positive attention in pop culture since its release 16 years ago. (This could totally be subjective bias; because I watched it so many years after release, it’s possible I am underestimating its impact.)
While I would strongly recommend this movie to any fellow gay, I would even more strongly recommend it to the straights of the world.
Let me convince you to move Brokeback Mountain to the top of your watch list.
1. It features Heath Ledger’s 2nd-best performance.
When Heath Ledger passed away in 2008 shortly before The Dark Knight‘s release, it immortalized his stunning portrayal of a classic Batman villain: The Joker.
But if his performance as The Joker is an A+, his performance as Ennis Del Mar is a solid A.
How a handsome Australian man can become both an unrecognizable killer clown and a marble-mouthed Wyoming cowboy within 2 years is beyond me. But trust me: if you’re a fan of Heath, you must watch Brokeback Mountain. I don’t make the rules.
It’s shocking how he – a heterosexual – delivered the nuance of a man raised in the rural west battling homosexual feelings he can’t even identify. It feels authentic to an uncanny degree.
Jake Gyllenhall (playing Ennis’s love interest, Jack Twist) shared that Heath took his role very seriously, without participating in gay jokes when they would arise among the film’s behind-the-scenes crew.
This dedication shows in his performance, which earned him a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination in 2006.
And speaking of Oscars . . . .
2. This gay cowboy movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
The Oscars aren’t everything. There is plenty of fair criticism about how Academy Awards are awarded, and how nominees are selected in the first place.
Furthermore, the Academy has a reputation for being snooty and biased toward artsy films denying attention to excellent films in genres other than realistic drama.
So why does it matter that Brokeback Mountain was recognized at the 2006 Academy Awards?
Because in this case, the film’s most famous characteristic is that it featured gay cowboys. And that’s it.
This is particularly true for people my age, born shortly before the turn of the century. When I tell one of my peers that Brokeback Mountain won 3 Oscars, I usually get a surprised reaction. “Oh, really?” is the response, rather than “Yeah, I know.”
And while the Academy isn’t God, and it makes questionable choices nearly every year, I hope the fact that this movie was nominated eight times in a variety of categories will add credibility to my point that it should not be dismissed as just the “gay cowboy movie.”
3. There is almost no gay sex depicted.
Even if someone knew that Brokeback Mountain was critically acclaimed and featured career high performances from Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, something that might turn hetero audiences away is the fact that the film is undeniably about gay affairs.
And, yes, there is one (1) semi-graphic gay sex scene that doesn’t even show genitals.
But besides that, the movie is gay sex-free.
The kicker? There are more straight sex scenes than gay ones. Plus, there are boobs!
Not that there is anything wrong with gays having sex or movies showing gays having sex; But if I’m trying to talk heteros into giving Brokeback Mountain a chance, it’s worth mentioning that the movie is a little more subtle than a Sean Cody video.
The movie isn’t gratuitous with male nudity. In fact, it’s pretty conservative considering the subject matter, and therefore it’s unlikely to make audiences of any kind uncomfortable.
(Except for the fact they do it with hardly a lick of spit for lube. That makes me cringe.)
4. Maybe you need a good cry.
For as much as I love this movie, it is not, shall we say, all butterflies and rainbows.
What makes Brokeback Mountain great also makes it devastating to watch. The story is completely realistic in its depiction of a secret gay romance at the time it’s set (from 1963 to 1983).
Without spoiling anything, I want you to know that this movie pulls no punches.
Brokeback Mountain is painful in its authenticity. And if you need a good reason to cry, I would strongly recommend it.
5. Brokeback Mountain‘s story is universal.
While the specifics of Brokeback Mountain make it special to the queer community in particular, its story should resonate with anyone who enjoys tales of forbidden love.
In the previous point, I mentioned that this film can be devastating to watch. And while that’s true, the movie also gives you a lot to chew on – themes and conclusions that invite you (gay or not) to evaluate how you’re living your own life.
By the end of the movie, you’ll probably feel a few different things. (Sorry for being vague; I don’t want to spoil anything). The film is packed with messages about family, time, sacrifice, and the cost of being yourself.
The truth: Brokeback Mountain‘s themes are applicable to anyone who has ever loved someone – romantically or otherwise.
6. The cinematography and score. *chef’s kiss*
Earlier, I talked about how Brokeback Mountain deserves more credit for its reception in the Academy.
I’d hate to be repetitive, but did you know that Gustavo Santaolalla won an Academy Award for his original score in the movie?
And he absolutely deserved it.
I can hear two seconds of the score and get chills down my spine every time. It is absolutely, undeniably perfect for this story. Even if you skipped the movie altogether, the music should not be ignored. Its bittersweet guitar plucks are incredibly fitting.
And don’t even get me started on the cinematography (which, by the way, was also Oscar-nominated).
The film is stuffed with nature shots worthy of National Geographic. And Brokeback Mountain itself is gorgeous – an ideal getaway spot for forbidden lovers, and an ideal backdrop for the most famous scene in the movie.
Basically, the movie looks and sounds as good as it should for the masterpiece it is on the page.
For all these reasons and more, Brokeback Mountain is still – 16 years after its release – the best gay love story put to film. And you should watch it right now, regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation.
(Then come back and tell me what you think!)
Thanks for reading! Join my subscribers for a front-row seat to future Tea Time discussions like this one. I hope to see you again soon! Xoxo, T.