I recently read an article in The Advocate magazine commemorating the death of actor Heath Ledger and the legend he'd become in the queer community. Through his Oscar-nominated portrayal of the troubled gay cowboy, Ennis Del Mar, in the film Brokeback Mountain, Ledger cemented his position as an A-list actor and gained the love and admiration of a community often misrepresented in the media. I never knew Heath Ledger, but like millions of others I "knew" Ennis Del Mar.
Ennis was a man who chose to turn his back on true love and instead live the life that he was expected to live. Jack Twist, Ennis' lover, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, was quite the opposite. Jack Twist was the "foolish dreamer;" while Jack floated in the clouds, Ennis kept his feet firmly planted on the ground; the hard, real and cruel ground.
The ability of Ledger to relate to the role is what cemented the public's undying connection between the character and the actor. We are mourning the death of the actor but, whether consciously or subconsciously, we are mourning the death of the character as well. Ledger made Ennis a real person. Ennis was an everyman engulfed by loneliness. Ennis is the man who eats at the diner every Tuesday night, sits in the corner booth and always tips the waitress more than she's expecting; Ennis is the man who goes to the gas station every Thursday afternoon and buys two Krispy Kremes and $9 worth of scratch-offs; Ennis is the old man in old- man shoes who walks down the same street, at the same time, in the same direction, every afternoon.
The simplicity with which Ledger played Ennis made Brokeback a love story that surpassed the superficial boundaries of sex and sexuality. Ennis and Jack were two people in love like any other two people in the world. They showed us love as salvation when four years after their first meeting Jack came back to visit Ennis and saved him from the boredom of the lie he was living; Ennis gave Jack a kiss seeping with a passion so intense it became violent. They showed us love as an addiction when Jack uttered the now iconic words, "I wish I knew how to quit you," and they showed us love as power when the memory of Jack and a couple of relics of their former trysts became the only thing to get Ennis through his days.
Ledger stole the hearts of millions of gay men and women, my own included. He joined the great behemoths of the screen and stage when he created one character so perfect that it forever remained attached to him. On Jan. 22, 2008, we lost a great actor by the name of Heath Ledger, but we also lost a great friend by the name of Ennis Del Mar.
To quote The Advocate in their farewell to Ledger and Ennis, "So long, partner."
Angelis Duarte is a senior theater major who wishes he knew how to quit plaid shirts and cowboy hats.