As far as filmmakers go, Ang Lee isn’t one who immediately comes to mind in terms of most quotable works – especially those that have endured in the pop culture lexicon. A two-time winner of the prestigious Best Director Academy Award – for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life Of Pi (2012) – his films are renowned for their ground-breaking technical achievements and sweeping themes that remain with viewers long after the theatrical runs. Yet ‘endlessly quotable’ isn’t necessarily an attribute that is often assigned to Lee’s work: nor should it considering the things each of his features have set out to achieve. Surprisingly, a tragic gay love story between two cowboys in rural America directed by Lee – Brokeback Mountain (2005) – has taken up more pop-cultural real estate than any of his previous fourteen films including a Marvel blockbuster like Hulk (2003).
“I wish I knew how to quit you,” says a frustrated Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal as he stares out at a breathtaking view of a lake and nearby mountains. The beauty of the scenery is juxtaposed against the torture he feels, his love for Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) reciprocated by unable to be fully lived in their current realities with the exception of stolen moments and rare weekends. Both bestowed with the titles of ‘nineties hunks’, Gyllenhaal and Ledger’s roles in Brokeback Mountain were ground-breaking for their ability to redefine their respective careers and are still considered among each of their best work. The film itself was propelled by the momentum of not just those portrayals, but largely positive reviews, against-type roles for the supporting cast including Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams and Anna Faris, topical yet also controversial themes at the time, box-office success earning nearly $200M internationally on a $14M budget, awards season buzz – it received eight Academy Award nominations and won three – and the added paparazzi heat score of Ledger and Williams’ relationship.
However, that line – “I wish I knew how to quit you” – is perhaps one of Brokeback Mountain’s most subtly famous moments. It has been reworked and remixed and requoted in pop culture ever since, living on in a way even Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story of the same name never has. In season two, episode 18 of Veronica Mars (2004–present) the character Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) dons a southern accent as he turns to his male friend Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and says “ I don't know how I'm gonna quit you” after their teacher Mr Wu forcible separates them in class. The episode I Am God aired in 2006 and was shot right in the middle of Brokeback Mountain’s awards season campaign. The memeification of that dialogue and Brokeback Mountain was something Ledger was resistant towards, feeling like it undermined the more important aspects of the film. Yet Veronica Mars is just one example among dozens of that dialogue being woven into other pieces of media not just at the time, but still to this day.
– Maria Lewis