Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Annie Proulx (story), Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (screenplay)
Other cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
Release date: Nov 30, 2005
Running time: 2h14
The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.
In 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd his sheep through the summer in the Wyoming mountains. After a night of heavy drinking, Jack makes a pass at Ennis, who is initially hesitant but eventually responds to Jack’s advances. Though he informs Jack that it was a one-time incident, they develop a sexual and emotional relationship. Shortly after discovering their summer together is being cut short, they briefly fight and each is bloodied.
After Jack and Ennis part ways, Ennis marries his longtime fiancée Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and has two daughters with her. Jack returns the next summer seeking work, but Aguirre, who observed Jack and Ennis on the mountain, refuses to rehire him.
Jack moves to Texas, where he meets, marries, and has a son with rodeo rider Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). After four years, Jack visits Ennis. Upon meeting, the two kiss passionately, which Alma accidentally observes. Jack broaches the subject of creating a life together on a small ranch, but Ennis, haunted by a childhood memory of the torture and murder of a man suspected of homosexual behavior, refuses. He is also unwilling to abandon his family. Ennis and Jack continue to meet for infrequent fishing trips.
The marriages of both men deteriorate. Lureen abandons the rodeo, going into business with her father and expecting Jack to work in sales. Alma and Ennis eventually divorce in 1975.
Hearing about Ennis’ divorce, Jack drives to Wyoming. He suggests again that they should live together, but Ennis refuses to move away from his children. Jack finds solace with male prostitutes in Mexico. Ennis sees his family regularly until Alma finally confronts him about her knowing the true nature of his relationship with Jack. This results in a violent argument, causing Ennis to abandon his connections with Alma. Ennis meets and has a brief romantic relationship with Cassie Cartwright (Linda Cardellini), a waitress.
Jack and Lureen meet and befriend another couple, Randall and Lashawn Malone. Jack begins an affair with Randall, although he later tells Ennis he had an affair with Lashawn.
At the end of a regular fishing trip with Jack, tries to delay their next meeting. Jack’s frustration erupts into argument, and Ennis blames Jack for being the cause of his own conflicted actions. Ennis begins to cry. Jack tries to hold him and there is a brief struggle, but they end up locked in an embrace. Jack watches Ennis drive away.
Some time later, Ennis receives a postcard he had sent to Jack, stamped “Deceased”. He calls Lureen, who says that Jack died in an accident, when a tire he was changing exploded. As she speaks, Ennis imagines that Jack was actually beaten to death by a gang of thugs, the very same fate that Ennis feared. Lureen tells Ennis that Jack wanted to have his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain, but she does not know where it is.
Ennis travels to meet with Jack’s mother and father (Roberta Maxwell and Peter McRobbie), and offers to take Jack’s ashes to the mountain. The father refuses, preferring to have them interred in a family plot. Permitted by Jack’s mother to see his childhood bedroom, Ennis finds the bloodstained shirt he thought he had lost on Brokeback Mountain. He realizes Jack kept it hanging with his own stained shirt from that summer fight. Ennis holds both shirts up to his face, silently weeping. Jack’s mother lets him keep the shirts.
Later, 19-year-old Alma Jr. (Kate Mara) arrives at Ennis’ trailer to tell her father she is engaged. She asks for his blessing and invites him to the wedding. Ennis asks her if her fiancé really loves her and she replies “yes”. After Alma leaves, Ennis goes to his closet, where his and Jack’s shirts hang together, with a postcard of Brokeback Mountain tacked above. He stares at the ensemble for a moment, tears in his eyes, and murmurs, “Jack, I swear…”
Gus Van Sant attempted to adapt Proulx’s story as a film, hoping to cast Matt Damon as Ennis and Joaquin Phoenix as Jack. Damon, who previously worked with Van Sant on Good Will Hunting, told the director, “Gus, I did a gay movie (The Talented Mr. Ripley), then a cowboy movie (All the Pretty Horses). I can’t follow it up with a gay-cowboy movie!” Van Sant went on to make the biographical film Milk, based on the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk. Joel Schumacher was also linked with the project prior to Lee’s involvement.
When Ang Lee first heard of the story and screenplay, he attempted to get the film made as an independent producer. However, this did not work out and before Lee would take a break after finishing Hulk he got into contact with co-screenwriter and CEO of Focus Features, James Schamus to ask if the film was ever made. Ang Lee was considering retirement after Hulk. In an interview with OUT Magazine he described himself “wrecked” after filming both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk. Brokeback Mountain “nurtured” him back into filmmaking”.
Mark Wahlberg reportedly declined the starring role, saying he refused the opportunity because he was “a little creeped out” by the homosexual themes and sex scene. The casting of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal was announced in 2003. Anne Hathaway stated that during her audition, she lied to Ang Lee about her knowledge of horse riding so that he would cast her. Subsequently, she took horse-riding lessons for two months.
While the film is set in Wyoming (like the original story), it was filmed almost entirely in the Canadian Rockies in southern Alberta. Lee was given a tour of the locations in the story in Wyoming by Proulx but chose to shoot in Canada due to financial reasons. The fictional “Brokeback Mountain” was named to suggest a physical feature, after a term used for a swaybacked horse or mule. The mountain featured in the film is a composite of Mount Lougheed south of the town of Canmore and Fortress and Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country.
The campsites were filmed at Goat Creek, Upper Kananaskis Lake, Elbow Falls and Canyon Creek, also in Alberta. Other scenes were filmed in Cowley, Fort Macleod, and Calgary. The film was shot during the summer of 2004.
Proulx has praised the faithfulness of the adaptation of her story as a feature film. Before the movie was made, she described McMurtry and Ossana’s adaptation as “an exceptionally fine screenplay.” Later, she praised the film as “huge and powerful,” writing that she was “knocked for a loop” when she first saw it.
Brokeback Mountain cost about US$14 million to produce, excluding its reported advertising budget of $5 million. According to interviews with the filmmakers, Focus Features was able to recoup its production costs early on by selling overseas rights to the film.
The film saw limited release in the United States on December 9, 2005 (in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), taking $547,425 in five theaters its first weekend.
Over the Christmas weekend, Brokeback Mountain posted the highest per-theater gross of any film and was considered a box office success not only in urban centers such as New York City and Los Angeles, but also in suburban theaters near Portland, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and Atlanta. On January 6, 2006, the film expanded into 483 theaters, and on January 13, 2006, Focus Features, the film’s distributor, opened Brokeback in nearly 700 North American cinemas as part of its ongoing expansion strategy for the film. On January 20, the film opened in 1,194 theaters in North America; it opened in 1,652 theaters on January 27 and in 2,089 theaters on February 3, its widest release.
The film’s theatrical run lasted for 133 days and grossed $83,043,761 in North America and $95,018,998 abroad, adding up to a worldwide gross of $178,062,759. It is the top-grossing release of Focus Features, it ranks fifth among the highest-grossing westerns (since 1979), and eighth among the highest-grossing romantic dramas (1980 – present).
Brokeback Mountain won 71 awards and had an additional 52 nominations. It won three Academy Awards, for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score, as well as four Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director, Best Song, and Best Screenplay, and four BAFTA Awards, for Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film also received four Screen Actors Guild nominations for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble, more than any other film released in 2005.
The film is one of several highly acclaimed LGBT-related films of 2005 to be nominated for critical awards; others include Breakfast on Pluto, Capote, Rent, and Transamerica. It was voted the top film involving homosexual relationships by readers at Thebacklot.com.