Diagnosing Wuthering Heights

         Wuthering Heights, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, has been hoisted on a pedestal for many years as a great work of fiction. The characters and the settings are intricate and amazing to many people. However, as I read it, I looked at it in a different way. While personally finding this book and subsequent films, directed in 1939 by William Wyler and in 1954 by Luis Bunuel as Los Abismos de Pasion, as absolutely abysmal, I did find it interesting because I was applying my current major of psychology to the characters of Wuthering Heights. Most of the characters in this story could appropriately be diagnosed with some type of mood or anxiety disorder; I will only focus one of the main characters. In this story I will diagnose Heathcliff with psychiatric disorders, describe what treatment he should have received and portray a possible new movie using the framework of the Wyler film.

         Rehabilitating Wuthering Heights

         Slow dissolve from the title to a medical chart.

         Narration by Dr. Kenneth (played by Donald Crisp): “Chart Number: EARHE213 Patient’s Name: Heathcliff, (Laurence Olivier) patient claims to only have one name, but he was adopted by a Mr. Earnshaw, (Cecil Kellaway). Patient is a thirty-five year old married white male who presents a mixed, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, affect.”

         Camera slowly pans up to the doctor reading the chart while his voice continues.

         “Presenting Problem: Patient describes an unrelenting feeling of emptiness. He states that he has lost his desire to do things that he used to love. Patient used the examples of running in the fields and pretending that he is a long lost prince, actions that are quite inappropriate for a thirty-five-year old to do.” Camera cuts to Catherine Earnshaw (Merle Oberon) wandering through a field of heather. “He seems to have an obsession with his adopted sister, Cathy claiming an inability to sexually perform on a regular basis with his current wife, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald), because in his words, ‘Cathy’s presence will not leave my heart.’”

         Camera dissolves to a close up of Heathcliff’s face and continues to zoom in to his eye with a transition into a scene of the past with the action following the doctor’s narration. “History: Patient has very few memories before his adopted father ‘saved’ him from the street. Patient claims that his feuds with his adopted brother Hindley (Hugh Williams) often caused rifts in the family household. Patient’s adopted father died a few years after the patient had been adopted, and the patient’s feuds with his adopted brother got worse as the brother became ‘master of the house.’ Heathcliff claims he suffered from emotional and physical abuse from his brother over the next several years. Patient claims that ‘his heart was stolen’ but declined to elaborate as to why, or on any further detail of personal history. Camera transitions to present-day Heathcliff angrily looking out the window at the doctor’s office.

         Camera dissolves to the doctor writing, as his voice continues to narrate. “Diagnosis: Heathcliff suffers from dysthymia, which is a long-standing form of depression. It is less severe than major depression disorder but can form and absolutely become part of that person. In treating dysthymia problems arise when the patient does not know what his or her life would be like without this ‘disease’.” Camera sweeps back to Heathcliff angrily looking out the window and dissolves to young Heathcliff with the same angry look on his face. The doctor’s voice continues. “Patients, and particularly males, will compensate for this depressed feeling by presenting it as anger. Therefore, to individuals such as Heathcliff, anger is much more socially acceptable than being sad because sadness or ‘emptiness’ is seen as weak. Patients with this disorder will use a common and helpful technique in coping, which is called the self-serving bias.” Camera transitions to the individual characters as they are named doing nominal tasks such as walking or sitting. “The self-serving bias is a helpful coping mechanism where the individual will externalize failures. For instance when Heathcliff says (voice of Heathcliff): “This is all Cathy’s fault. Edgar (David Niven) stole my heart from me. Hindley caused me to be this way.”

         Doctor’s voice, “The individual will also internalize successes.”

         Heathcliff’s voice, “I am now rich because I am smarter and better than everyone else.”

         There is a transition back to the doctor’s voice as he looks compassionately at Heathcliff, whose look has softened as he gazes back at the doctor. “This is a positive coping skill because it allows the individual to avoid focusing on the failures and thus increasing his depression. If the individual is able to externalize his failures while in this state, it will probably keep him from thinking about suicide because suicides often occur when such individuals take on an unrealistic amount of responsibility for things that could not possibly be their fault.” There is a slow dissolve to Heathcliff sitting alone and crying in the middle of a field of heather.

         The doctor’s voice continues as the action slowly transitions to the doctor handing Heathcliff a bottle of pills. “Treatment: The patient needs to be started on an anti-depressant, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and begin talk therapy based on CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy.” Doctor’s voice continues as the action shows the doctor and Heathcliff talking with calendar pages flipping in a half-fade behind them to denote the passage of several months. “CBT is based on thoughts leading to actions which, lead to behaviors, which lead to thoughts. If the patient can isolate the ‘bad’ thought, then he can begin to retrain and ‘reroute’ his thoughts to being positive.”

         Heathcliff: “Nobody likes me so I cannot like anyone else and must keep everyone at arm’s length.”

         Doctor: “Don’t you see that your thoughts are self fulfilling prophesies; they are the starting point of your depression. If you think that nobody likes you then you will keep everyone away, therefore making anyone who does like you not like you anymore. What I need you to do is to act contrary to those beliefs because nobody can like you if you have already predetermined that no one will.”

         Heathcliff: “All right, Doc. I will try.”

         Narration continues with the Doctor’s voice over the action of a smiling Heathcliff shaking the doctor’s hand. The camera follows Heathcliff as he walks home smiling and waving at everyone he sees. “Upon completion of treatment, Heathcliff went home to Wuthering Heights where, through his example of proper mental health he was able to convince Hindley to check himself into a chemical dependency unit.” Camera shows Hindley smiling in group therapy. “Isabella became the center of Heathcliff’s life (camera fades to the happy couple laughing together in front of the fire); and, after a few years, Isabella and Heathcliff were able to talk Cathy (action transitions to the happy couple talking to Cathy), into therapy where she was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. With proper medication management (action transitions to Cathy working with Dr. Kenneth) and a good support system Edgar (action transitions into Edgar and the family all smiling and helping Cathy), Isabella, Hindley, and, of course, Heathcliff, Cathy was able to lead a normal and happy life. All had many children and grew old together.” There is a slow dissolve from a portrait hanging on the wall with older versions of all of the main characters with several children at their feet.

Christian F. Runyon

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