Brokeback Mountain: Is the 2005 Movie Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: John Stevens/Netflix

Directed by Ang Lee, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is an iconic neo-Western romantic movie that has gained much respect within the entertainment industry over the years. Released in 2005, the film focuses on topics like same-sex relationships, internalized homophobia, toxic masculinity, and many more. These issues are addressed through the love story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, depicted by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively.

The two lead characters of the movie are cowboys who meet each other in the pastures of Wyoming in 1963. They soon find themselves in a complicated relationship plagued by their fears and desires to have a conventional lifestyle. However, rather than an expected happy ending, the viewers witness a conclusion that is both heartbreaking and realistic. Naturally, people are eager to know just how much of the movie is inspired by real-life events, and we are here to answer the same!

Brokeback Mountain: An Adaptation of Annie Proulx’s Short Story

No, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is not based on a true story. Instead, it is an adaptation of the eponymous short story by Annie Proulx. Though she had not expected the take to gain much traction, it ended up being published in one of the most reputable publications. The story was a part of the October 13, 1997, edition of The New Yorker and touched many hearts due to its realistic depiction of life in the American west and the issues plaguing the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the author ended up winning the 1998 O. Henry Prize for the year’s best short story, thanks to this very project.

The short story, which was based on Proulx’s reflection on life in the west, caught the eye of Diana Ossana shortly after it was published. Given the complexities and sentiments depicted in the tale, the screenwriter was eager for Larry McMurtry, her writing partner, to go through the same. Like many others, McMurty also fell for its charm and joined forces with Ossana to get the author’s permission to convert it into a screenplay.

Though initially skeptical of how the story will translate into a movie, Proulx gave her blessings to the duo, who ended up impressing her. “The film rights of the short story “Brokeback Mountain,” the closing story in the new collection ‘Close Range,’ were optioned by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, who wrote an exceptionally fine screenplay,” she told the Missouri Review. However, this was only one step in the process of completing adapting Ennis and Jack’s love story into a movie.

After the screenplay was completed, iconic actors like Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Phillippe were considered, at one point or another, to play the leading characters. Albeit, it was not until 2001 that story came into Ang Lee’s radar. At the time, he was busy with other projects like ‘Hulk’ and decided to put the movie on the back burner. Starting in 2003, he joined forces with Focus Features to make the movie.

Heath Ledger’s name for the project came from Ossana and McMurtry, who were fans of his previous performances. While some doubted whether the actor would be “masculine” enough for the role, Ledger was more than happy to portray Ennis as he thought the character was more complex than his love interest. For Jake Gyllenhaal, the story was already good, and the association of Lee and Ledger was only a cherry on top.

After the movie was released, it gained much love from the critics, though the public response remained mixed. When it premiered, most characters from the LGBTQ+ community were portrayed through a stereotypical lens and were not given the same depth and importance as other “conventional” characters. Many on the conservative side labeled the Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starrer “The Gay Cowboy movie.”

However, a significant part of the public was delighted with the heartfelt and realistic depiction of gay characters that had not been reduced to a sum of various stereotypes. On the flip side, many in public seemed unhappy that the “masculine” title of the cowboy was used to tell the story of two men in love, considering it an oxymoron. For most people associated with the project, especially Heath Ledger, protecting the seriousness and sanctity of the movie was a matter of pride.

In fact, the ‘Dark Knight‘ actor is known for refusing to present an award at the 2006 Academy Awards due to the planned jokes meant to poke fun at the movie. Over the years, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ has gained iconic status and is a milestone that started the path of genuine representation of LGBTQ+ characters in the western entertainment industry. This is one of the main reasons why, in 2018, the movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Interestingly, the story’s fame has made Annie Proulx a bit unhappy. She has vehemently been an opposer of fan-written stories that attempt to provide a happier ending for her characters. According to the author, the love story’s tragedy makes it realistic. For the writer, a different story would drastically change who the characters are meant to be. That said, Proulx does not seem to have any issues with the movie itself and adores the work done by Ledger and Gyllenhaal.

Even though ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is not based on a true story, it contains several realistic elements that many cannot help but connect with. Apart from its genuine representation of the American west life, the film addresses many heart-touching issues. The character of Ennis Del Mar serves as a reflection for those who struggle to come to terms with their sexual identity.

The reasons behind the same can be due to past trauma or other societal factors, but it is also an unfortunate reality portrayed in the film. On the other hand, Jack Twist is a character who also has his fair share of charms and flaws. The characters in the movie are far from perfect, but that makes them human and, in turn, relatable.

Read More: Where Was Brokeback Mountain Filmed?