Journal Article

The Ethics of Alterity: Adapting Queerness in <i>Brokeback Mountain</i>

Matthew Bolton

in Adaptation

Volume 5, issue 1, pages 35-56
Published in print March 2012 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI:
The Ethics of Alterity: Adapting Queerness in Brokeback Mountain

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‘The Ethics of Alterity: Adapting Queerness in Brokeback Mountain’ addresses issues of audience, asking what happens to an author’s intentions for her audience when they are translated into a new medium. My texts here are Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” and Ang Lee’s 2005 adaptation, and I focus on the debate in queer studies regarding how queer texts should treat their predominantly straight audiences: ease them into sympathy by stressing similarities between the straight and queer or make them uncomfortable by insisting on the difference queerness makes. Rather than taking a position in the initial debate, I examine instead what Brokeback Mountain actually does. This seemingly simple move leads to new attention to the fact that Proulx published several different versions of her story before the film was made, raising the question of which version the film should be read against. My analysis shows that in each of these different versions, Proulx’s purpose is to champion difference, whether that difference is one of sexual orientation or regional affiliation. By contrast, Lee’s film initially emphasizes the similarities between straight and queer desire but ultimately invites his implied straight audience to recognize the ambiguity of the protagonists’ experiences and to register the gap between the audience’s heteronormativity and the protagonists’ queerness. In this case, the shift in authorial conception of audience leads to a shift in narrative purpose, but both source and adaptation are highly effective.

Keywords: Brokeback Mountain; queer film; Levinas; alterity; ambiguity; ethics

Journal Article.  12024 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film ; Television ; Literature

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