Back when it was in the works and still to this day, Ang Lee’s celebrated 2005 film “Brokeback Mountain” is still summed up by people all over as the ‘gay cowboy’ movie. It’s not an unfair description, but plenty of jokes about it flew thick and fast at the time on late night talk shows and around water coolers.
Here was a major work of queer cinema, a genre often unfairly stigmatised and ghettoised by not just the mainstream public but even cinephiles. You can still go to film festival screenings of movies with gay romance stories as central elements, one of the few places where the crowd should be receptive and open to such films, and encounter multiple idiots (usually males under 35) sniggering or expressing homophobic sentiments out loud.
But the success of “Brokeback Mountain” both critically and commercially couldn’t be ignored. The film remains one of the most famous achievements for actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and reflecting back on it this week during an interview with The Today Show, Gyllenhaal explains that his late-co-star Heath Ledger despised the ‘gay cowboy’ description and rebuffed attempts to dismiss the film with flippant jokes or categorisation:
“I see people who have joked with me or criticized me about lines I say in that movie – and that’s the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke. Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love.’ Like, ‘that’s it, man. Like, no.’
He was extraordinarily serious about the political issues surrounding the movie when it came out. A lot of times people would want to have fun and joke about it, and he was vehement about being serious, to the point where he didn’t really want to hear about anything that was being made fun of.”
“Brokeback Mountain” went on to win three Oscars, including Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Score. It and “Saving Private Ryan” are also now looked back at as the most unfairly robbed films of a Best Picture win in Oscar’s modern era (‘Brokeback’ lost to “Crash” that year).