romance between Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar and Jake
Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist resonated across sexual
orientations and gender identities. After the
film's December 2005 theatrical release, gay men
went online seeking kindred spirits to discuss its effect
and found places like journalist Dave Cullen's
Ultimate Brokeback Forum, which now has grown to over
6,500 members. Moved by Ledger's January 22 death,
some of these admirers bought a half-page memorial ad
in the January 29 issue of Variety and began
collecting personal stories for a scrapbook they plan
to send to Matilda, Ledger's 2-year-old daughter.
"Brokeback Mountain did cause a lot of gay
people who were in the closet to come out,"
says Cullen, 46. "A striking number of people lost a
lot of weight or stopped smoking or made other changes to
their lives in recognition of how they had to stop
living that way."
of Idaho was still in the closet when he went with his
wife to see Brokeback Mountain the January
after its release. "Afterward, I was completely torn
apart inside," says Villanueva, 35, who has
five children. "Just like Ennis, even though
happiness for him was [being] with Jack, it was not an
option. He went back and married Alma and had kids.
That's exactly what I had done. Watching Ennis
and seeing how lonely he ended up being, I realized that
really could be me emotionally."
By March 2007,
Villanueva had come out to his family, and he and his wife
of 11 years were divorced. He says seeing the film had been
"a nail in the coffin" to issues they
had already been having. Brokeback still plays a role
in his life. Within the last month Villanueva came out
to a coworker and then asked her to watch the film as
a way to understand his life.
appreciate now is the way Heath Ledger portrayed
Ennis," Villanueva says. "I don't
know if anyone else could have done it the way he did
because of the kind of actor he was, the way he poured
himself into characters. That's what reached
out to me on an emotional level."
Ennis Del Mar
also felt familiar to Joe Argazzi. Like the character,
Argazzi had dated a man who wanted to build a life together.
"I related to Ennis," says Argazzi, 52.
"I had to get away."