Wuthering Heights: Artistic License Taken Too Far?

     In today's society, it is usually taken as a fact that the book is almost always better than the movie. When one mentions that one is going to see a movie adaptation, people generally caution that the "book is always better."

     I had read Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights once, when I was in the sixth grade. I found myself totally confused and did not know what to think about the book at all. My teacher suggested that I read it again, but I refused. I did not feel like trying to analyze the book again at that time. Perhaps I was too young to fully grasp the complexities of the book.

     When it came time to read the book and the screenplay, and to see the movie, I thought that I would be fine. I had never seen the movie and only vaguely remembered the book as a somewhat disturbing ghost story. However, when the time came to re-read the book, I only found myself more confused. I re-read it again; and, though that did clarify some things that I had missed the first time around, I found that I had ambivalent feelings about the book. I found the plot incredibly complex, and the characters, well, mind-boggling! Were people really this sad?

      I was almost relieved when it came time to read the 1938 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and to see William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of the book. Perhaps I would find some clarity...or not. As I began to read the screenplay, my mind began to point out difference after difference. How come Heathcliff was not as "rotten?" He has been toned down! So has Catherine! What happened to baby Catherine?--and Linton? Where did everyone go?

      And then there was the movie. I am quite sure that Emily Brontė would have spun in her grave had she heard about the movie, much less seen it. I think that it was the worst movie adaptation that I have ever seen! The characters, especially Cathy and Heathcliff, as played by Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, were tamed down to the point of making them downright pathetic, characters were missing, details were cut from the book, giant mutant heather was threatening to take over the set, among other things. And the final scene?--poor Emily must have been doing back flips!

     I must admit that I have learned a lesson. Apparently the movie's film makers decided to exercise their artistic license and make the movie "better." Or perhaps they thought that the audiences would not tolerate the raw emotion that is so prevalent in the book. I expected too much from a movie adaptation and got what I deserved. Perhaps it was the case because Wuthering Heights has been regarded as one of the best books ever written?

Sarah Fuchs

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