Heath Ledger starred in many memorable films, some of them silly and some of them serious award winners. One of the most dramatic and award-worthy performances he delivered was in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. This classic love story was a hit with critics, audiences, and performed well at the box office. Now, it’s streaming on Netflix.
If Heath Ledger had his way, we’d remember Brokeback Mountain as a love story, the end. Fifteen years after its release, this dramatic love story between two cowboys still stands out as a rare and treasured LGBTQ classic. Even fifteen years later, two men starring in a love story would be considered a risky career move. At the time, it would have been hard to guess just how successful and important Brokeback Mountain would become.
The story centers around Ennis Del Mar, played by Heath Ledger, and Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The pair are hired by Randy Quaid, who plays a rancher, to shepherd his sheep. They spend time alone herding the sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, where they eventually fall in love. It’s 1963. Jake Gyllenhaal is a rodeo cowboy and Heath Ledger is a ranch hand. The two both have girlfriends. Eventually, they marry their girlfriends and live their lives as other people in their positions do. All the while, they continue meeting up for fishing trips a couple times a year, for decades. While there may be political baggage that viewers come into the movie with and the story directly addresses, there’s too much heart in this movie to not see the tragic star-crossed lovers angle and get swept away in this one.
You can watch the trailer for the Heath Ledger movie below, but be forewarned, it’s full of spoilers. It contains some of the most classic lines and some of the big reveal moments. The trailer also has a questionable soundtrack that doesn’t belie the more dramatic and heartfelt tone of the actual movie-watching experience with this one. All of that being said, if you want a reminder of the movie you saw all the way back in 2005, this recap will help you out.
After the movie became big, there was one scene and line people were quoting everywhere. “I wish I knew how to quit you,” Jake Gyllenhaal says with his back to the camera. In this movie, Heath Ledger plays the more serious partner. He’s the one saying we can’t be together. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character spends much of the movie laughing, but we see Heath Ledger smile rarely. When he does, it’s at Gyllenhaal’s character. While the scene is known for the line said by Gyllenhaal, the part that tears you up is Ledger’s quiet character breaking and showing just how much it hurts him to love someone he can’t be with all the time.
Brokeback Mountain was made on a budget of $14 million and earned $178 million at the box office, making it an unexpected success. Heath Ledger was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars that year, and also at Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Critics were awed. The movie holds a respectable 7.7 on IMDb and 87%on Rotten Tomatoes. In all the ways you can judge this one, it was considered a success.
Jake Gyllenhaal famously told the story of Heath Ledger turning down the opportunity for a monologue at the beginning of the Oscars. As part of the monologue, he was being asked to make jokes about Brokeback Mountain. While Gyllenhaal is a light-hearted guy who was fine with making jokes, Heath Ledger told him no. He told Gyllenhaal, “It’s not a joke to me – I don’t want to make any jokes about it. No. This is about love.”
The movie would turn out to be important for Heath Ledger’s life in more ways than one. On set, his girlfriend and then wife was played by Michelle Williams. This was where the two actors met. They began dating on set and eventually had a daughter together.
Heath Ledger made a lot of great movies during his short career. 10 Things I Hate About You is still one of the most notable teen romantic comedies around. A Knight’s Tale is a hilarious classic. And, of course, no one will ever forget his performance as Joker in The Dark Knight. Still, his work on Brokeback Mountain was respectable for so many reasons, chief among them that he managed to play such a quiet character that managed to break your heart so thoroughly. If you haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain, you’re missing out on one of Hollywood’s best love stories so far. You’ll have to catch it on Netflix while it’s streaming when you’re prepared with a box of tissues nearby.