In the third act of Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee stages one brilliantly poised scene after another. The first of which is the last encounter between fated lovers, Ennis and Jack. Once Ennis tells Jack he won’t be able to see him again for months, Jack bursts into a jealous, tormented rage. The most popular scene in the film (it dawned the now parodied line “I wish I knew how to quit you”), demonstrates the emotional arch that actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal feed their characters.
After a bitter screaming match, Ledger’s rough-neck Ennis finally breaks down, falling to his knees in agony, blaming his lover for his troubled life. As the two men hesitantly embrace, the film reaches an emotional climax.
That is all but forgotten moments later, when Ennis goes to Jack’s childhood home, talking with Jack's parents about his sudden death. Ennis is invited to Jack’s room, where he finds a pair of shirts, hidden in Jack’s closet. The shirts, resting one over the other on a coat hanger, were worn by the men when they first met on the mountain. Hidden in Jack’s closet for decades, Ennis tenderly holds the shirts to his chest, taking in the reminiscent fumes of his dear friend.
In his recent Screen Actors Guild acceptance speech, Daniel Day-Lewis called that scene one of the most moving things he had ever seen. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic while watching the supremely talented Ledger, knowing that he will never again be able to pierce through our hearts with his eyes. It’s a marvelous scene that encapsulates a wonderful, yet all too short career of one of the best actors of a generation.