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the love that dare not speak its name


movie revieww::brokeback mountain

much like the world of military films (see my review of jarhead), the world of cowboy movies has always been lost on me. being a city girl through and through, looking in on a world that lacks restaurants and toilets that flush holds little appeal. on the other hand, the notion of using one of the most traditionally masculine and conservative settings- the american midwest (played with striking beauty in this film by alberta)- for a gay romance is a perversion of the natural order i simply can’t resist.

this was a film no one wanted to make. jake gyllenhall, one of the leads, was tapped for his role eight years ago, when he was sixteen, at which point he wanted nothing to do with the project. over the years and with the eventual handing off of the film to director ang lee, gyllenhall and others came around. smart move for jake, who, between this performance and his equally excellent turn in jarhead, has established himself as the first standout actor of his generation.

in fact, the only thing that equals gyllenhall’s heartbreaking performance is that of his leading man heath ledger. i’ve no familiarity with ledger, really. the only film i saw him in was mel gibson’s awful “the patriot”, which i have been endeavouring to forget about ever since. here, given more screen time and more depth than his co-star, he rises to the occasion. there isn’t one frame of the film where you doubt him, or where you become aware that he is an actor. compared to gyllenhall’s romantic idealism, he is the realist, completely in love with another man, but aware that the only life he knows how to lead require him to be dishonest.

the film follows the twenty year relationship between the two men, conducted secretly, but not invisibly, as they go through the motions of a normal life, both failing in their own ways. the story carries an emotional impact of considerable force, remarkable since lee relies on the unspoken to carry much of the action. these characters don’t talk much about what they are going through, because they are unable to understand it. they have no vocabulary for what they are feeling. time and again, they rely on physical actions, loving and violent, to say what they cannot express.

the pressure of living their lives in deceipt manifests itself in different ways. ledger struggles to be a good father when he cannot be a good husband. gyllenhall trades emasculation at the hands of his controlling father in law for the willingness of his family to look the other way. both michelle williams (ledger’s real-life girlfriend) and anne hathaway are excellent in the roles of the desperate housewives, each dealing with what they know but cannot express in their own ways.

the film’s pacing, slow and graceful, does try one’s patience (particularly if you’re in an uncomfortable seat). lee is in no rush to bring events to their conclusion. however, while it is easy to say you’d like things to move faster, i cannot think of anything that could be removed without weakening the final product. every look, every gesture, is, in fact, a much longer speech condensed into a much shorter space.

this is a restrained, beautiful movie with two exceptional performances. it’s more than worth a bit of a backache.

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