Brokeback Mountain: story to screenplay vs. the film Brokeback Mountain

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The short story, Brokeback Mountain and Ang Lee’s 2005 film Brokeback Mountain [2005], tell the same story, though in some subtle different ways. While the story has all the space, time and freedom to express the story in quite lengthy details, the film is limited both for space and time, requiring that adopting of the story to screen play has to occur through effecting some changes. One of the notable changes between the story and the film is the manner and tempo of the development of the intimate and emotional feelings between Ennis and Jack, which translates into a sexual encounter. The story stresses the slow and progressive development of emotional connection and emotional attachment to each other, thus making a sexual encounter between Ennis and jack inevitable. On the other hand, the film screenwriters adds romance and insinuated intimacy to the story to give it the additional emotional dimensions required for the transition from story to screenplay.

The film has changed the apparently rough and rude way of sexual relations between Ennis and Jack, by adding elements that makes the film more romantic. According to the story, Ennis and Jack “were respectful of each other’s opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected” (Proulx, n.p). The respect for each other and the gladness of each others company, according to the story, inevitably beget the love transcending the two young men. The story clearly demarcates that it is based on the constant interaction between the two with much respect and appreciation for each other’s company that paved way for intimate connection and eventually the unexpected sexual encounter. The story reflects this in the narration before the sexual encounter through the words “Ennis…thought he’d never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon” (Proulx, n.p.).

However, the film does not first build this strongly intact companionship and intimate friendship that should precede the sexual encounter scene. Instead, the film overemphasizes the ‘first kiss’ scene through full frame camera shots that shows an extended moments of passionate and intimate pause. The two takes time to look deeply into each other’s eyes in this scene of the film, while caressing gently, before the finally kissed and got intimate. The film has therefore changed the actual occurrences the story, and failed to develop the growing intimacy and emotional connectedness between Ennis and Jack through the sequence that would culminate into an inevitable sexual encounter. In this respect, the film completely alters the fundamental message of the story to the effect that continuous interaction and long-term relationship between people, even, who were once strangers, can have a life-changing effect of breeding intimacy. Instead, the film comes out as depicting Ennis and Jack as naturally gay men, who already had the predisposition and attractions that led to their sexual encounter.

In fact, the film alters the whole essence of the story in the manner of its depiction of both the ‘first kiss’ and the ‘first sexual encounter’ scenes. This is because; the story intended to portray the sexual encounter between Ennis and Jack as the outcome of a longstanding respectful friendship and strong companionship that beget a surprise and unexpected reward through the sexual encounter. In this respect, the manner of occurrence of the sexual encounter narration in the story is haphazard, surprise and unstoppable. This is depicted very different in the film, because the film allows for an extended period of physical touch and caressing, as well as intimate kissing between the two, before finally the two engages in sex. On the contrary, the story depicts the sexual encounter as a split-second occurrence, characterized by surprise and uncontrollable fits, until the sex is over and the two get down sleeping. The story’s narration is very clear on how fast the sexual encounter occurred, when it states that “Ennis…unbuckled his belt, shoved his pants down, hauled Jack onto all fours, and, with the help of the clear slick and a little spit, entered him”  (Proulx, n.p.).

Geographic determinism has emerged as fundamental both in the story and in the film. The weather patterns, geography, climate, terrains and the weather all combine to define what happens both in the film and in the story. For example, the descriptions of the woods, slopes, terrain and the distance river sounds both in the story and its depiction in the film becomes the geographical element that precedes and precipitates the ‘bear scene’ and ‘bear event ‘ in the film and the story, respectively. The film depicts the scene through the geographical terrains of winding slopes just as narrated in the story, while also depicting the narrow path through which Ennis and Jack treaded before surprising the bear and causing it to dash into the woods. Nevertheless, even in this scene, the film has also altered the story’s narration, because in the story, the bear event occurred when Ennis and Jack were both together, but in the film, the scene is first depicted with Ennis alone.

Further, geography has been applied as a fundamental element that plays a crucial role in developing both the film and the story. The story and the film are in congruence in the manner they portray the Wyoming rough geographical terrain, with Brokeback mountain being the ultimate symbol. The Brokeback mountain is a huge and unattainable part of adventure for Ennis and Jack, offering them the opportunity to create an encounter and memory that will remain an insurmountable mountain in their lives, because they gained the first encounter in the Brokeback mountain, but they can never return together to experience its pleasures again.

Geographic determinism has also been applied in the symbolic manner of the wide-open natural setting representing the uncontained freedom, which can only be enjoyed in the open wilderness, but highly restricted in the unnatural settings. The story narrates and portrays the Wyoming terrains and the Brokeback Mountain as unadulterated natural settings, where everything is pure, including the flowing rivers, woods, slopes and the natural climatic conditions. The story accentuates the vastness of nature, when it states that when Ennis looked at jack while on the great gulf, he saw him look like a small dot (Proulx, n.p).

Cinematography of Brokeback Mountain and Wyoming helps to shape the relationship between Ennis and Jack, through the long camera shots that traces nothing short of the entire broad spectrum of nature in its multiplicity of components. The camera shots of the various elements of geographical and natural setting always brings out the depiction of pure and unaltered natural setting that grants Ennis and Jack the freedom to enjoy the gay pleasures, which are highly restricted and forbidden in the unnatural settings they live in the cities. For example, in the opening scenes of the film, the sheep are depicted spread throughout the green fields and are as numerous as the expansive fields can allow. The camera shot is long-range such that it allows the view of the entire expansive horizon of nature, begging the foreground with the sheep and extending to the very ending of the background in the white clouds and partially deep blue sky.

The film cinematography has done an equally good job in depicting the natural settings, with clear and long camera shots always being applied to show every aspect of the Wyoming wilderness, ranging from the mountain to the slopes, woods, rivers and an even more expansive field where the sheep graze.  In all the camera angles depicting the wilderness scenes, nature always comes out as extremely huge and expansive than any of the two could suffice to take all in. in other camera shots, nature comes out as the only element that conceals the secret deeds the two. For example, in the reunion picnic, the camera shot is mid-range, and thus allows seeing both the foreground and the immediate middle ground. Tall trees are shown surrounding Jack and Ennis and their horses, and run up towards the sky beyond where the audience is able to see, to create an environment of secrecy, where Jack tells Ennis after they hug “you know it could be like this, just like this always” (Brokeback Mountain, n.p.).

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  1. Brokeback Mountain Ang Lee. Focus Features, September 2, 2005. [Film]
  2. Proulx, Annie. “Brokeback Mountain”. The New Yorker, October 13, 1997. Accessed: October 23, 2017 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1997/10/13/brokeback-mountain
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