Ennis is a man of few words, whose actions often speak for him. When Ennis meets Jack, he is saddled with responsibility, engaged to Alma, and at the mercy of a conservative Wyoming culture that has no place for a gay ranch hand. Yet Ennis has nowhere else to go and no other profession at which to try his hand. An orphaned high school dropout dependent on hardship funds and raised to be pragmatic, he is trapped in a life over which he has little control. Rather than run off with Jack and try to build a happy life, as Jack repeatedly suggests, Ennis considers the reality of it all: the violent opposition that would greet two gay ranchers living together, ...view middle of the document...
The initial tryst on Brokeback is Ennis’s first sexual encounter with a man; but of Jack we may suspect that he is somewhat more experienced. And whereas Ennis muffles his sexual desire, Jack projects his desire for Ennis onto other men and women.
Ennis and Jack are complementary: Ennis the taciturn loner, Jack the performer who needs an audience; Ennis the hand-to-mouth earner, Jack the man who has married into money; Ennis the stoic who grits his teeth and bears his life, Jack the proponent of change. Yet for all his bravado and planning, Jack never seems to get what he wants. His father shrugs that most of his son’s ideas “never come to pass,” and Jack himself says, “Nothin never come to my hand the right way.” When he tells Ennis his plan for them to run a ranch together, it doesn’t occur to him how detached from reality his fantasy truly is, how impossible or ill-advised it would be to implement it. This divide between fantasy and reality drives the two men apart over the years, and Jack ultimately pays a steep price for his dreams
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The Overwhelming Natural Forces of Desire and Love
Just as nature governs the ranch and mountain lifestyle, the natural force of desire directs every significant action taken by Ennis and Jack in “Brokeback Mountain,” even when those actions are against their better judgment and against acceptable social dictums. The passion between the two men is so strong that they cannot explain it rationally or logically, and the way it ebbs and flows is not predictable or reasonable. Instead, it is irresistible and overwhelming—a point that Ennis makes emphatically when he tells Jack that “There’s no reins on this one. It scares the piss out a me.” “Brokeback Mountain” is a love story, and like many love stories, its end is tragic, not least because the natural force of the men’s desire prevents them from ever fully fitting into the lives they were forced to pursue apart from each other.
The idea of two male ranch hands falling in love in conservative 1960s Wyoming epitomizes the suggestion that love, a natural force, persists against all odds. Indeed, Jack and Ennis have everything to lose because of their relationship. Society’s powerful indictment of male love is woven deeply into Ennis’s psyche; he tells Jack the story of how a gay rancher in his hometown was murdered, voicing his own apprehensions that the same thing could happen to them. The figure of Joe Aguirre, peering through his binoculars at the two men making love, is a stand-in for all those passing judgment on them. Even Alma has only disgust for Ennis’s furtive sexual behavior: she calls his lover “Jack Nasty” and makes it plain that she finds the notion of two men in love reprehensible. But despite these opposing forces and the lives they build with their respective wives and families, Jack and Ennis are helpless in the clutch of their feelings for each other.
The Endless Shifting of the World