Panorama as Metaphor in Ang Lee’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’


Brokeback Mountain is not a landscape film. It’s more of a film that begins in the great outdoors, especially in the beautiful, idyllic mountains of Wyoming, but does everything it can to warn the viewer about it Notin fact a typical romantic, grandiose landscape film. Instead of being shot as a classic landscape, these western acres are presented as an anti-landscape.

And maybe it is Brokeback Mountain is: the anti-landscape film. When we see the surroundings of our protagonists, the young cowboys are Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) we only see parts of it. A flock of sheep, a campfire, a babbling lake. But we never get the sweeping shot that we might have expected. And that limited, limited perspective ultimately sets the tone for the rest of the film.

During the 2005 drama, director lee and his DP, Rodrigo PrietoUse a device that is unconventional in landscape photography: the long lens. When filmmakers play a story in and around a landscape, they mostly extend the scenery to the edge of its frame. Take for example Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or The revenant (2015). Both films use extremely wide lenses to capture as much landscape information as possible. But as for the cinematography, Brokeback MountainThe camera does something subversive and different.

The function of a long lens is to compress the space within a shot. You could get exactly the same distance with a shorter lens closer to the subject, but that would give a completely different result.

Brokeback Mountain The meeting begins when Jack and Ennis meet when they are hired for a summer at Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming, in the early 1960s. The two start an illegal romantic relationship on the mountain. The rest of the film follows their sparse and unsatisfactory encounters over the course of two decades as they raise their own families, hide their true feelings, and fight the rampant homophobia of the American West.

Distance defines Jack and Ennis’ relationship – physically and emotionally. After her summer on Brokeback, Jack moves to Texas and Ennis stays in Wyoming. When they see each other, they have to drive for hours and pause their lives. The two also find it practically impossible to bond emotionally. Ennis is too scared of people finding out who he really is to indulge in the possibility that Jack is more than just an occasional joke. Meanwhile, Jack constantly longs for a day when Ennis can admit his true feelings and find a way to be together. But that day never comes.

Much like the ethos of the entire Jack and Ennis relationship, the long lens is about distance. When the camera appears to be near a subject, it is actually far from it. The subject seems within reach, but in reality it is inaccessible. This parallel to Jack and Ennis’ relationship is foretold during their time on the mountain, especially in a shot where Ennis sits naked in the background while Jack is in the foreground. The tension is palpable and the lens makes the two look like they’re close to each other. But with the knowledge of lens mechanics, in retrospect they are far apart.

With the distance that the long lens brings, comes the compression. One cannot exist without the other. Throughout the film, Jack and Ennis become more and more drawn into their own suffocating lifestyle, which is defined by the social boundaries that hold them apart in the first place. Jack marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and becomes entangled in a family that over time emasculates him more and more.

Lee presents this emasculation in a subtle way, like a stepfather who won’t let him cut his own turkey on Thanksgiving, who also undermines Jack’s parenting skills by turning on the TV during dinner even if Jack tells him not to to do. Masculinity is implied in the society of Brokeback Mountainand you don’t have to look far to find it. When Jack and his stepfather argue about whether or not to have the television on in front of Jack’s son during Thanksgiving dinner, the stepfather simply says, “You want your boy to be a man, don’t you? Men watch soccer. ”

Ennis is even more drawn into the world of toxic masculinity than Jack. He beats a man on July 4th for using bad language in front of his daughters and refuses to sleep with his wife Alma (Michelle Williams) when she no longer wants to have children with him. This ultimately costs him his marriage and custody of his daughters Jenny and Alma Jr.

Until the end of Brokeback MountainEnnis’ world has shrunk to as small as possible. The psychological limitations of masculinity have been reflected in physical brief. Ennis’ world now only exists in a claustrophobic mobile home. He walked from the sprawling landscape of Brokeback Mountain to a kitchen, toilet, and bed.

The last scene of Brokeback Mountain shows a conversation between Ennis and his now grown daughter Alma Jr.Kate Mara). Alma tells her father that she is getting married. “He loves you?” Asks Ennis. At nineteen she can love openly, that’s how old Ennis was when he met Jack. Because Alma’s world can be bigger.

And then Alma is gone. Ennis’ daughter – his last loved one – has left his family to start her own. His world has shrunk even further. Ennis goes to his closet and runs his hand over one of Jack’s shirts from her time on Brokeback Mountain. Then he holds out a postcard from Brokeback Mountain and looks at her with tears in his eyes. The picture on the postcard is taken with a wide-angle lens and looks like you’d expect it to be in the first quarter of the film. But now that we’ve got this picture, it’s just a postcard.

Brokeback Mountain postcard

And so even the mountain that set the stage for the entire life of our two protagonists has effortlessly reduced to a few centimeters. The postcard is the way they once communicated, and now all Ennis has left is evidence that the relationship actually took place. The picture is flat and implies that it is not even “real”, but just a picture of a place that someone could send to their children from their vacation in the mountains.

When Ennis closes his closet door, he shows the view from his window. Even Wyoming isn’t what it used to be. Instead of sprawling mountains, the land is a flat, lifeless, industrialized grain field. And Ennis’ life is no longer what it used to be. His once freelance cowboy job has turned into a mere ranch hand, a humiliating, suffocating lifestyle. His life is no longer a life but a postcard of a life that once was; what could have been.




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