I saw Brokeback Mountain last night. I liked it, but not that much. Ebert's way off comparing it to Bergman, though I do think it's nuanced and evocative. It's definitely a thinker, though... I needed to spend a looooong time thinking about why things were presented as they were in order to get the point. It was kind of a letdown compared to the building hype, but it's a good story, it's beautifully photographed, and the acting is excellent. And it's hard not to identify with Ennis, who stifles so much of himself in order to follow the rules.
But there's a paradox inherent in how the romance is handled. The majority of Ennis and Jack's physical relationship was implicit, and largely ignored after the first act of the film. But that assumes the nuts and bolts of the relationship was a non-issue after being established, which I don't think is true. Ennis and Jack's relationship was an escape from the shackles of their marriages, and the fulfillment of their most urgent physical needs... but only in the very first moments of their realization, when their instincts first took over, do we see that need. Beyond that point, their bond is assumed, but rarely demonstrated, if at all.
I see two sides of a coin, only one of which can be true in one's mind:
HEADS: I didn't see that side of their love, and thus do not identify with or buy into their feelings. This undermines the main current of the story, which is that they are each other's true love, despite having settled into heterosexual marriages. I'm not saying you have to depict a lot of gay sex in order to establish that your characters are sleeping together, but there are other ways to establish their intimacy as the story unfolds. The motel room was a great example, but there needed to be more moments like that. I'd rather not take their word on something as important as their attraction, especially when it's supposed to be this huge relief from the throttling marriages they've entered into.
TAILS: The sparseness of explicit homosexuality makes one think to oneself, "Self... they're not being gay all over the place, they're basically normal people." Exactly! They're normal people! Just a couple of guys. If you didn't know they were gay, there would be nothing remarkable about them. The absence of sex also forces you to concentrate on the characters' personality, which really is the point... not to condition America towards depictions of gay sex on film. Brokeback thus implores us to stop fixating on the mundane physical side of sex, gay or otherwise, and concentrate instead on their situation. You could even argue that the lack of visible romantic consummation is a statement on how unfulfilling their relationship is. On a small scale their visits may be deeply fulfilling, but on a larger scale it was barren; concentrating on the long view is therefore just a filmmaking decision.
While the Tails perspective works, it serves as a better political statement than a film construct. I can buy it, but to do so requires a leap of faith equivalent to the leap required to believe Jack and Ennis love each other so deeply. Would it kill them to convince me a little? Wouldn't take much. But I can also see how adding warmth and intimacy to the later parts of the film might not serve the story. I can believe that Ang Lee decided he preferred it like this, barren and poetic instead of warm and erotic. His films (even The Hulk) are nothing if not considered and thought-out. So I want to trust that he knows what he's doing. But I'm not totally convinced.
As you can see, I'm pretty torn. Too much grey will do that, I guess. It's weird, because the movie is so sympathetic, and yet there's a polarization that's bound to happen based on whether you buy the romance or not. It took me this long to come around on whether the movie worked at all. I can tell there's depth there, which makes it too easy to simply dismiss, but that doesn't mean Ang Lee didn't screw up somehow. Maybe I'll figure it out eventually.