Brokeback Mountain should be renamed Heartbroke Mountain after its heart wrenching ending. Jack realizes that he and Ennis will never be together, because Ennis is too afraid to live openly. Later, Ennis attempts to reconnect, but discovers Jack is dead. Lureen, Jack's wife, tells Ennis on the phone that Jack was changing a tire when it exploded and killed him.
As Lureen talks, Ennis imagines Jack being beaten to death with a tire iron. This vision is Ennis's fear manifesting itself. Ennis is deeply afraid of being discovered as gay and being attacked. Plus, the film foreshadows Jack's death by murder in an earlier bar scene—Jack hits on a dude, and the cowboy leaves to talk to his friends in the corner. It's easy to see how this could escalate: these men are looking at Jack with pure hatred. Jack could hit on the wrong person, and the man and his friends could beat Jack to death.
The movie makes no attempt to tell us that Ennis is wrong, so his fear is likely true. Jack was probably the victim of a hate crime.
Dust to Dust
Lureen tells Ennis Jack wanted his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain, showing that Jack loved Ennis, despite Ennis's difficult nature. Lureen doesn't know about Brokeback Mountain:
LUREEN: "Thought Brokeback Mountain might be around where he grew up. Knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place where bluebirds sing and there's a whiskey spring."
Jack would have just been happy in a relationship with the man he loved, but in mid-20th Century Wyoming, gay rights was a dream as seemingly unattainable as living in a Disney movie.
When Ennis says that Brokeback is where he and Jack met, Lureen realizes that her dead husband was having an affair with Ennis this whole time, but we don't explore her feelings beyond the initial revelation.
Ennis attempts to recover Jack's ashes from his parents. He learns that Jack's dad is a homophobe, like his own dad was. Also, after Ennis and Jack's big fight, it seems that Jack was planning on moving on with another man. Ennis seems to realize that he and Jack may have been happy, if only he hadn't been so cowardly.
Jack's mom welcomes Ennis to Jack's room. The Twist house is sad, dull, and entirely devoid of color. The poor, faded walls are matched by Jack's poor, faded parents. Inside Jack's childhood bedroom, Ennis opens the window, and looks at Jack's view.
For the first time in their relationship, Ennis experiences empathy for Jack. He finally tries to understand the world from Jack's point of view. But by this point, it's too late.
Ennis also finds his and Jack's shirts in the closet. (Check out our Symbols section for more about these old garments.)
Back at home, Ennis learns his daughter's engaged. Ennis starts to act distant, saying that he says he won't attend her wedding, but he soon reverses his decision. He cracks open some wine and toasts his baby girl.
Why the change of heart? Well, Ennis realizes how damaging a distant father can be. As far as distant dads go, Ennis is one of the better ones in this film. He's not a jerk, like Jack's dad, or a murderer, as his own father may have been. But he's still emotionally closed off, and his daughter is hurting as a result.
When she leaves, she leaves her sweater behind. Ennis gently folds it and puts it in the closet, where he keeps Jack's shirt. Jack and his daughter are the two people he loves. Ennis lost one already, and it seems he'll attempt to not lose the other.