I first read the short story, "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx when it appeared in The New Yorker in 1999 and thought it was a good story. Today, I went to see what all the hullabaloo about the movie was about and think it is a good movie. It is not a great movie that will live as a classic, in my opinion, because it depends too heavily on the novelty of a mainstream movie about two gay men whose love is doomed. In 40 years, the idea that a love story between two gay cowboys is a great movie because of its subject matter will seem as dated as the idea 40 years ago that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," was a great movie because of its interracial subject matter.
I am a fan of many of the people involved in making this movie. Annie Proulx, who won the Pulitizer Prize and the National Book Award in 1993 for "The Shipping News" is one of my favorite authors. Her personal story would make a movie more interesting to me personally than "Brokeback Mountain." According to the bio on her web site she went through three marriages before giving up and deciding that she was not well-suited for marriage. In 1975 (at age 40) she started freelance journalism and lived in "considerable poverty" in a shack in Vermont, for several years. Although she had several short stories published in Esquire, her first book didn't appear until 1988 (when she was 53.) Of course her career took off with "The Shipping News," which was also made into a movie, and "Accordian Crimes." She must be rich now with two successful books that have been made into movies. So, maybe there is hope yet for us aging wannebe writers but I really don't want to go live in "considerable poverty" to get my writing ticket.
Larry McMurtry, who shares screenplay writing credits for the movie, is another one of my favorite authors. Although probably best known for "The Lonesome Dove" book and television series, the McMurtry book that I liked the best was his 1999 novel, "Duane's Depressed." Finally, Ang Lee, director of "Brokeback Mountain" is a well respected director for movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Ice Storm," and "The Hulk." I was not a big fan of "Crouching Tiger" and "The Ice Storm" and didn't see "The Hulk." Lee has a local connection, being a graduate of our local university.
The scenery in "Brokeback Mountain" is beautiful; the music (other than Willie Nelson's song at the end) is annoying in its repetitive little tune and the acting is average. The main problem is the plot can't stand up to the weight of all the publicity and expectations that has been placed upon it. Again, I am not knocking the story, it was a good short story, but no one was touting the short story as Pulitizer Prize winning. I reread the short story again (my best Christmas present this year was a DVD collection of every New Yorker magazine from its beginning to 2005) before going to see the movie. Surprisingly, the movie stays very true to the original Proulx story. In the website I cited earlier, Proulx says this may be the closest any movie has ever come to being like the story upon which it was based. I wouldn't argue against that point, although several small scenes were added.
I thought the gay sex scenes might bother me more than they did. I was prepared to be grossed out but the short story's sex scenes were more explicit than the movie's. Like some of my friends who saw the movie, I did not think the sex scenes were a major part of the movie, and they were "tastefully" done, or at least as "tasteful" as such scenes can be done.
I would recommend seeing the movie because it is better than average, and one needs to be aware of what the hoopla in our culture is about. I gave it four stars, which is what I have given all of the movies I have seen so far this year. Under my rating system three stars is average, so either I have hit an above-average run of movies or my standards are slipping.