The story is Ennis and Jack’s enduring sexual relationship that Ennis must keep secret in fear of the violence aimed at gay men in his community. Because of such secrecy, the movie’s essence is unrequited love.
The two men take up a sexually intimate relationship while herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. Ennis refuses to accept he is gay, a point clarified after they first have sex when he says that he’s not “queer,” which Jack also reflects of himself. Yet, Ennis cannot hold back, nor deny, his romantic feelings. A point explained at 104 minutes when Ennis says that Jack made him the way he is. Ennis doesn’t want to feel as he does! He’s torn between bestowing his love and living a loving life with Jack, and reaping the dire consequences of such love. Or not bestowing, and keeping his secretive relationship, which is painful due to ongoing times of separation and the risk of losing Jack to another lover.
This movie succinctly dramatises the difference between love as a feeling and love as bestowal. To explain, imagine you’re dating. When separated you can’t get your potential beloved out of your head; you're always thinking of recent events and what both of you will do when reunited. You want to reach out to them, to be with them, to hold them close. When together, they make you happy, you feel ‘completed' and assured that life is good, even when they frustrate and drive you nuts. You’re saddened in knowing separation is imminent and sickened—maybe nauseated—at the thought. Collectively, these feelings and more are described as love. But, you haven’t said, “I love you,” and nor have they. It’s at the end of dating when you both bestow love upon one another—on those three words—that love is present.
On analysis, when falling in love you are ‘appraising’ your potential beloved, and you may ‘feel’ love, but these are feelings only. Eventually, if things go well, you will recognise the future with them will be good based on past times, your present wellbeing, and how the future looks. You will also recognise they meet your needs, respect your rights and match your values, and where they fail, you accept such. Finally, you will recognise how special they are. So special they become perfectly-imperfect. On your realisation, you sense a change in your attitude. The potential beloved becomes of immense value to you, you seek to hold on to them, and you’re ready to commit that you will be there wherever and whenever they need you. Now you're ready to say, “I love you,” which is your bestowal of love.
At this point, you will usually seek reciprocation. If forthcoming, yours and your beloved’s bestowal will communicate: you are of immense value to me; abstractly you are MY lover, and; I assure you of my commitment to attend and tend to you. If you are ready to say, “I love you,” and they refuse, you remain in a state of infatuation, better known as unrequited love.
In the movie, in fear of his life, Ennis will not make his declaration of love because he cannot assure his commitment to attend and tend to Jack, nor take up public romantic ownership of him. Because of these shortcomings, Ennis remains in a position of feeling love, but of never bestowing it. In Jack’s case, he is ready to say, “I love you,” but Ennis denies him because he will not allow Jack his public ownership of him romantically. This places him in a state of unrequited love.
If you watch the movie, consider these points:
If it helps, turn on subtitles as you watch the movie.