There were lots of things about the film I liked. First off, a film with two good-looking gay leading characters! (wink) Second, the exquisite acting of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall. I thought both of them were extremely true to their characters, not overdoing it as many straight actors playing gay characters often do. Third, the scenery and cinematography were beautiful and outstanding. We both thought the film was good, but I didn't expect it to be so sad. It sort of put a big fat damper on the entire weekend for me.
I see a lot of films, many that don't have happy 'Hollywood' endings, but for some reason I was expecting this film to be a little more hopeful - but it wasn't. The idea that these two guys fall in love in 1963 in the mountains of Wyoming, and then spend the next 20 years living 'double lives' married to women, to whom they lie about going fishing or hunting with their buddy 2-3 times a year... I came away from the film feeling sad.
Sad that one of them felt they could never live together.
Sad that one of them never got what he dreampt about.
Sad that they never said the words "I love you" to each other.
Sad that their culture/society made them feel they had to marry women.
Sad that they had to lie to their wives in order to be with each other.
Sad that their choices spoiled their wives' lives too.
Sad that there was such homophobia back then, and that there still is now in many places.
I thought it was significant that this film's two main characters were gay, since it was made for the 'mainstream' (straight) audience. There's certainly no shortage of gay characters in mainstream films these days - they usually just don't have leading roles. In mainstream films the gay characters are usually the leading lady's brother, hairstylist, or office mate. Then there's the gay films made for the non-mainstream (gay) audience, which frequently have gay leading characters. We've all seen and loved those. So I applaud Ang Lee for directing this mainstream film with gay leading characters.
Something Joe noticed though was that in mainstream films with gay characters, the gay characters always seem to die, whereas in non-mainstream films with gay characters, the gay characters often live on and maintain a sense of hope. When I started thinking about the mainstream and non-mainstream films I've seen with gay characters I realized he's absolutely right. Here are some examples:
Mainstream (made for straights)
In "The Children's Hour" two female teachers at an all-girls school are accused of an affair. One of the teachers who really is gay becomes so distraught she hangs herself. The other, straight teacher lives happily ever after.
Remember "Philadelphia" in the mid-90s? Tom Hanks is the openly gay attorney who gets fired from his law office because he's starting to show physical signs of AIDS. He dies.
Then there was "Our Sons" in the late-90s. Julie Andrews and Ann Margaret play the mothers of two gay sons, one of whom dies of AIDS.
"In The Gloaming" was another film where a gay son with AIDS returns to his family's home and mother's care to die.
And now we can add "Brokeback Mountain" to the list, since one of the gay lead characters is beaten to death with a tire iron, although his wife makes up a more palatable story of his death.
Non-mainstream (made for gays)
In "A Touch of Pink" you find a gay couple who goes through a rough time when one of them has reservations about coming out to his mother. Both gay leads live!
In "Beautiful Thing" two young gay men struggle to overcome the stereotypes and prying eyes of their small community. Although one gets beat up by his alcoholic dad and drug using brother, neither of them die.
"Saving Face" showed us that a lesbian surgeon having difficulties juggling her professional life, her family life, and her love life can eventually make the right decisions. Oh, and both the lesbians live.
Like "Brokeback Mountain", "Cote D'Azur" showed a gay man who was married to a woman and had two kids. But he finally confesses the truth to her after seeing his old boyfriend again after many years. None of the 3 gay characters dies.
So, although I am very happy that "Brokeback Mountain" was made and is getting such good reviews from straight audiences and gay audiences, I long for the day when we won't be able to tell if films with gay leading characters are made for mainstream or non-mainstream audiences; we'll just enjoy seeing films about interesting gay people.