Abyss of Passion

         Unlike William Wyler's movie Wuthering Heights (1939), Luis Buñuel's 1954 movie Los Abismos de Pasion strayed far from the book. Much as Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca borrowed the situation and characters from a novel by Daphne Du Maurier to create a new masterpiece, Los Abismos de Pasion changes the characters' personalities and adapts the plot of Wuthering Heights to make something new. While many elements of the story remain largely unchanged, a new twist is given making the dramatic plot with gothic undertones of Emily Brontë’s 1847 book into an emotionally charged suspenseful horror film.

         Instead of trying to tackle the characters' childhood and capture the nuances of the relationships in the book as the 1939 version does, Los Abismos de Pasion takes the viewer right into the middle of the love story. It alters the events and the actions of the book but holds to the love triangle made by the two different marriages. Eduardo (Edgar in the novel, Ernesto Alonso) and his wife Catalina (the movies’ Catherine, Irasema Dilián) argue early on, revealing an already troubled relationship. Catalina, in return, is very open to her husband about her love of Alejandro (the movies’ version of Heathcliff, Jorge Mistral) but promises she will not have an affair. When Alejandro marries Eduardo’s sister Isabel (Lilia Prado) he is extremely cruel to her, but she never leaves him. While the over the top emotional displays characterize the movie, Los Abismos de Pasion captures the feeling of the book better than Wuthering Heights does. It makes overt the subtler emotional connections of the book; whereas the 1939 movie makes comes across almost sterile making the characters' relationships much vaguer, as depicted by Merle Oberon as Cathy, Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, David Niven as Edgar Linton and Geraldine Fitzgerald as Isabella Linton.

         Furthermore, Los Abismos de Pasion, keeps the gothic feel of the book completely lost in the other film except for the misfit sequence at the end. The movie keeps the gothic element the same way it kept the emotions of the characters, by changing the book. Early on death becomes a strong theme with Eduardo impaling a butterfly despite his wife’s disgust. The dark subjects continue with the movie building suspense showing Isabel forced to sleep in a storeroom and stuck in a dangerous relationship with Alejandro. In the end even the love story between Catalina and Alejandro takes a twist toward the macabre when, after cursing her to stay on earth until his death, Alejandro breaks into her crypt and sees her ghost.

         While altering Brontë’s book much more than the film Wuthering Heights, Los Abismos de Pasion in some ways stays truer to the book. It keeps the strong emotional elements by playing up the emotions of the characters in both their hate and love; from Catalina admitting to desiring Alejandro to her brother shooting him. It also keeps the more gothic feel by adding scenes focusing on death and despair. It peppers these scenes with symbols like the long dark staircase to Alejandro’s room, the junk room Isabel is stored in, and Catalina calling to Alejandro after her death. Interestingly the parts in the movie that best carry these elements from the book are either not in the book, or are seriously altered. The movie really brings out the abyss of passion that is displayed in the book though.

Andrew B. Hildenbrand

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