Brokeback Mountain opens in limited release this Friday so expect to be bombarded with publicity, beginning with this Entertainment Weekly cover story, part of which seems fascinated by the “icky” aspects of gay sex, culminating in a rather unattractive quote from Heath Ledger:
“And then Lee made them repeat the sex scene 13 times. ”For me it was a little easier than it was for Jake,” Ledger says, nervously pulling his red cap inside out and back again between his hands. ”Any kind of nerves I had about approaching that scene, I didn’t have to hide. We were like, ‘F— it, we took on this story and there’s no point in shying away from it.’ Neither of us wanted to do it again any time soon. But in the end, it was just like kissing a person.”
In fact, it really was a person.
Anthony Lane offers one his most snarkless reviews to date in The New Yorker:
Rumor had it that “Brokeback Mountain” was an explicit piece of work, and I was surprised by its tameness, although Lee’s helplessly good taste, which has proved both a gift and a curb, was always going to lure him away from sweating limbs and toward the coupling of souls. Not once do our heroes mention the word love, nor does any shame or harshness attach to their desire. Indeed, what will vex some viewers is not the act of sodomy but the suggestion that Ennis and Jack are possessed of an innocence, a virginity of spirit, that the rest of society (which literally exists on a lower plane, below the mountain) will strive to violate and subdue.
Liz Smith weighs in and also focuses on the sex:
The overhyped sex scene between Ledger and Gyllenhaal? Just that, overhyped. There was a great deal of talk about the “bravery” of the actors preparing for this scene. But I tell you — especially as the actors don’t even undress — some unsophisticated moviegoer might wonder, “What are those fellas up to — wrasslin’? Playin’ leap frog?” Both actors offer nudity elsewhere in the movie, and there is one especially tender love scene, but if you think “Brokeback” approaches the on-screen explicitness of heterosexual couplings, you will be disappointed. And who needs it anyway? The passion these men feel for each other doesn’t require a gratuitous display. (Their lovemaking and embraces are full of anger — they push and pull at each other; trying to resist, while giving in.)
For the record, I agree with Ms. Smith here. Had the sex scenes gone any further than they do, I think Lee would have been accused of exploiting the sex at the price of the story (and further alienating a good portion of viewers already ready to accuse the filmmakers of glorifying a so-called “sin”). The sex in Brokeback is appropriately restrained (and more genuinely emotional than plenty of more explicit films). And as for the disrobing, doesn’t she know it’s chilly up on that there mountain?
On another note, for those interested in discussions about the short story, there’s an inaugural book club conversation going on over at Gather…