This has been a topic of debate among critics, viewers, sexual experts, and even the cast and crew. Much of it has to do with the question of what it means for a human being to be of a particular "sexual orientation". The supposed phenomenon of bisexual erasure may factor into it as well. Jake Gyllenhaal himself took the opinion that Ennis and Jack are heterosexual men who "develop this love, this bond," also saying in a Details interview: "I approached the story believing that these are actually two straight guys who fall in love." Still others stated that they felt the characters' sexuality to be simply ambiguous. Clarence Patton and Christopher Murray said in New York's Gay City News that Ennis and Jack's experiences are metaphors for "many men who do not identify as gay or even queer, but who nevertheless have sex with other men". A reviewer at Filmcritic.com wrote,
We later see Jack eagerly engage Lureen sexually, with no explanation as to whether he is bisexual, so in need of physical intimacy that anyone, regardless of gender, will do, or merely very adept at faking it.
Ledger was quoted as stating in Time
I don't think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don't know that he ever would have come out.... I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other.
Conversely, others stated that the characters were undoubtedly gay, including LGBT non-fiction author Eric Marcus
, who dismissed...
talk of Ennis and Jack being anything but gay as box office-influenced political correctness intended to steer straight audiences to the film
Roger Ebert also agreed that both characters are gay, although in doubt of it: "Jack is able to accept a little more willingly that he is inescapably gay" (the corresponding review being here
), and the film's producer James Schamus said, "I suppose movies can be Rorschach tests for all of us, but damn if these characters aren't gay to me." Annie Proulx herself, the author of the short story on which the film is based, opined, "how different readers take the story is a reflection of their own personal values, attitudes, hang-ups." Sex researcher Fritz Klein
also asserted his opinion that the film is "a nice film with two main characters who were bisexual", and further analyzed that Jack is more "toward the gay side of bisexuality" and Ennis is "a bit more toward the straight side of being bisexual".
Many say that the tone of the film is not about physical sexuality but just human emotion; possibly inferring that Jack and Ennis are emotionally in love with each other and not necessarily physically attracted to each other, perhaps that the sexual activity was merely a habit borne of a mere side effect of them being isolated for long periods of time with their mutual emotional attachment.