ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Brokeback Mountain - Revision of the Western Genre or Homage to the Great West?

Updated on March 24, 2010

The film Brokeback Mountain is constructed in such a way as to be considered both a revision of and an homage to the western genre. It incorporates traditional western motifs and iconography, and adheres to a common plot structure of the genre, but it also omits other traditions familiar to Western literature and cinema and introduces new concepts, making it refreshingly subversive as a Western film.

The Western genre has always been one that encompasses many other genres – romance, war, epics, melodrama, action and comedy. “Experiment seems always to have been varied and development dynamic, the pendulum swinging back and forth between opposing poles of emphasis on drama and history, plots and spectacle, romance and ‘realism’, seriousness and comedy” (Kitses, J. 1969, p.17). Given the flexibility of the genre it is no wonder Brokeback Mountain was able to so successfully introduce new ideas into its plot, while still being clearly recognisable as a Western.

The most obvious revision prominent in Brokeback Mountain is the introduction of homosexuality. The two main characters of the film, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, are gay lovers – a concept not commonly explored in Western texts. While some might argue that there has always been an underlying homoerotic element in Westerns, it is not something readily explored in Western literature or cinema, least of all made the central theme of such. Commonly the romantic interest of the hero is the glamorous femme fatale, desired for her feminine charm and sensuality. Brokeback Mountain subverts this concept by positioning another male as the hero’s love interest, but it is also problematic as it merely inserts Jack into the role of the female temptress, attaching all of the ideologies associated with femininity onto him. For instance, it is Jack who makes the first move when seducing Ennis, using his allure and sexuality to tempt Ennis when he calls him into the tent. He is worldly and uninhibited and leads Ennis down a risky path. On the other hand, Ennis is portrayed as the saint, being much more repressed and restrained by social standards. “You may be a sinner but I ain’t yet had the opportunity,” he says to Jack.  So while exploring the romance between the two men, Brokeback Mountain can be considered a critique of the Western genre, but at the same time could also be said to adhere to the motif of the femme fatale, depicting Jack Twist as the temptress to hero Ennis.

Having a story based around gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain removes Indians as the villain and replaces the enemy with an ignorant, oppressive society. In many Western films Indians provide the conflict and confrontation as the cultures collide, but in Brokeback Mountain they are excluded and instead the heroes of the story, Jack and Ennis, must struggle to find their true selves in a society that would kill them for being ‘different’. Ennis tells Jack at one point in the film, “this thing takes hold of us at the wrong place, wrong time and we’re dead”, and it is this fear that causes the devastating series of events that follow. This form of villainy sets the film apart from other Western films, as no one person or race becomes the villain. Instead social ideologies of what it means to be ‘normal’ are the cause of pain, suggesting that the social construction of identity based on such ideals can have very damaging effects.

To escape from this reality Jack and Ennis make several journeys to Brokeback where they are free to be themselves and to love one another unashamedly.  The idea of the West as a concept rather than an actual place is common to the genre. Brian Edwards describes the West as “a paradisal idea associated with uncharted territory, mystery, freedom and the promise of unbounded adventure” (Edwards, B. 2003), and this can be applied to Brokeback Mountain. For Ennis and Jack Brokeback is a place that remains unspoiled and relatively free from the intrusions of an oppressive society. It is their paradise, their Eden. Kitses draws comparisons between nature and civilisation, linking the wilderness of the West to freedom; purity and self-knowledge, and society to restriction; institutions and corruption (Kitses, J. 1969, p.11). By this theory it can be said that Brokeback Mountain is following the traditional pattern of the Western by pitting an idyllic setting that represents a place of freedom and plenty, against the restrictive confines of civilisation.

Unlike most Western stories, Brokeback Mountain is set between 1960 and 1980. The first meeting between Ennis and Jack takes place in 1963, which is long after most Western films are set. “Hollywood’s West has typically been from about 1865 to 1890 or so.” (Kitses. J, 1969, p.8) Being a modern Western, the film introduces several new features into the setting such as modern camping gear, clothing, cars and trucks. Due to the modernness of the film, Ennis and Jack do much of their travelling in cars and trucks rather than riding horses. This is a major revision of the genre as many Westerns place great emphasis on the role of horses and they often play an important part in the plot of the story. They serve not only as a means of transportation but as a companion to their master (Dances With Wolves), a valuable commodity (Dead Man), an opportunity for work (All the Pretty Horses), and often play an important role in battles between the whites and Indians (Major Dundee). They can also act as a symbol of freedom. Their omission from the film serves to further demonstrate the isolating aspects of modern society, as the characters become more restricted by social convention the further they get from nature.

While some recognisably Western iconography has been omitted from the film, other common symbols associated with the genre remain, maintaining Brokeback Mountain’s statusas a Western. For example both Ennis and Jack wear traditional cowboy hats throughout most of the film; settings such as the bar and rodeo feature; and drinking and food has a prominent role in the cowboy’s struggles. “Within the form [are] to be found seminal archetypes common to all myth, the journey and quest … food and drink, the rhythms of waking and sleeping, life and death,” suggests Kitses (Kitses, J. 1969, p. 20). All of these features can be seen in Brokeback Mountain. For instance, Ennis and Jack make several journeys to Brokeback; they are on a quest of self discovery; drink plays a large part in Jack’s seduction of Ennis; and there are references to waking and sleeping: “C'mon now, you're sleepin' on your feet like a horse” Ennis says to Jack. All of these elements make the film recognisable as a Western.

Another recognisable trait of the Western, which is demonstrated in Brokeback Mountain, is the way the plot is structured. Pramaggiore and Wallis describe the Western plot as one that, “often builds towards a climatic shoot out between a protagonist and villainous antagonists … the resolution often depicts the hero, who never seems able to settle down, wandering off into the distance alone” (Pramaggiore, M & Wallis, T. 2005). This framework can be applied to Brokeback Mountain as  Ennis fills the role of the hero (to a lesser degree, Jack is also portrayed as heroic) and villainy is linked to ideological notions of normalcy and social restriction. The tension builds from the threat of being discovered as gay lovers, and the climatic ‘shoot out’ takes place when Ennis meets his demise at the hands of a group of homophobic men. Ennis is left relatively alone and unsatisfied with his life, and his fate uncertain. The photo taped to the inside of his closet in the final scene can be interpreted as him ‘going back into the closet’, that is, he feels unable to express himself as a gay man and so represses his homosexual desire, in an attempt to ‘fit’ into a more socially acceptable role. This scene is followed by a shot of a vast, barren horizon beyond the window, reminiscent of traditional Western films, which often show the hero riding off into the sunset. Instead Ennis is left unsatisfied and unable to truly express himself.

So while Brokeback Mountain deliberately follows this framework and incorporates classical Western motifs, it also builds on the theme, creating a new and revised version of the genre. The film pays tribute to all the traditional trademarks of the genre (cowboy costumes, alcohol, and a landscape which represents paradise) but at he same time modernises it to give a fresh take on the portrayal of the West, and demonstrate the restrictive impact to identity brought about by social ideologies of ‘normalcy’.


Edwards, B. 2003, ‘Refiguring the Western’, Narrative and Genre: Study Guide, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic, p.35.

Kitses, J. 1969, Horizons West, Thames and Hudson Limited, London, UK, pp.8 – 20.

Pramaggior, M. & T. Wallis 2005, Film: A Critical Introduction, Laurence King
Publishing, London, UK, p.346.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Farmville farms even include free gift that is especially designed for the neighbors on kbdefecffdek

    • brimancandy profile image


      7 years ago from Northern Michigan

      Wow your writing was certainly interesting, but if you look at the making of Brokeback Mountain, you will find that the movie is a love story. All this cowboy and western stuff has nothing to do with the movie at all.

      When Jack and Ennis are not up on Brokeback Mountain they are hundreds of miles from each other. I recall a scene in the movie where Jack drives his truck for hours to Ennis's house to be with him, only to be told that he can't stay, because his daughters were visiting. So, his heart is broken, and he drives down to Mexico to find something quick with someone else.

      This same love story could have happened anywhere, just because the guys happen to wear cowboy hats and jeans doesn't make it a western. There are plenty of rodeo cowboys in Michigan. I know because I have met lots of them. I also know a rodeo cowboy. We call him WOOF! because he always walks around saying WOOF!

      I also don't believe that Jack seduced Ennis, or that they needed alcohol before they would be intimate. What happened in the tent when they first discovered each other is something that just happens. There is no scheme or plan to seduce, these things just happen. The whole idea that Jack is a seductress actually makes me laugh.

      If I were in a tent with Jack, I would want him too!

      I also don't like the idea that there is some villain in the movie. I think the only real villain is death itself.

      But, I kind of see your point, but, I think it is more of a rules of writing thing, and not what is happening.

      But your hub was certainly good reading. I enjoyed it, but, just didn't agree with a lot of it. You also might be interested to know that the movie was filmed in Canada. So, it wasn't really west at all. More north.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)