Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
“Gay cowboys eating pudding” was the popular pejorative term that South Park’s resident sadist, Eric Cartman, coined for Oscar-baiting independent films (and before 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, mind you).
Yet even Cartman would’ve blubbered into his tapioca watching Ang Lee’s heavy-hearted film — packed with performances attuned to both social taboos of a bygone era and love’s wrenching heartaches and highpoints.
Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are ranch-hands sharing more than an affinity for roping steers. But secrecy enshrouds their romance — spurred by Ennis’s self-loathing and confusion — as sham marriages and fatherhood take a toll.
Ledger excels at showing how Ennis’s slow-building appreciation and affection for Jack’s actions wear down his defenses, but just shy of the tipping point into healthy affection. Simultaneously, Gyllenhaal shines as the only person willing to thrust his bare hands at the barbed wire inside Ennis’s soul.
Lee carefully illustrates how each man deals with the lives of children thrown asunder by their affair. Although Ennis and Jack are never able to fully embrace what their love means to them, they use it to proffer brutally, emotionally honest life lessons.
To that end, Brokeback is a paean to love holistic — romantic or parental, taboo or accepted — with laments for lost dreams, half-lived lives and unfulfilled passions. Through a wrenching final scene with Ennis, it suggests incomplete joy is better than none at all but is still painful. More than one of The Zeroes’ best love stories, Brokeback stands as one of its best about love.