Disappointment, Thy Name Is Film

     Reading a book before watching the film version is the biggest mistake a bibliophile can make because, invariably, the movie is a huge disappointment. It is like anticipating a juicy, scrumptious dinner all day, only to have all four courses taste like sawdust. It is like staying up all night to see the glorious sunrise, then watching the thick fog roll in just before dawn. It is like waiting for months for Zoolander to hit movie theaters, then actually seeing it. The film version is always a letdown for the same few reasons, too: the small details that make the book successful are changed; new characters are added or old ones deleted; and a totally different, worse ending is created.

     William Wyler's 1939 version of Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights is a perfect example. There are many small details in the film that are completely different from those in the book. The stories begin with two different conversations between Ellen/Nelly (Flora Robson) and Mr. Lockwood (Miles Mander). The dialogue leading up to the beginning of the tale is of little importance, but it would have been very easy to match the movie's with the book's. It took more effort to create new dialogue than to just use the original, and it only detracted from the movie. It should have been left as it was in the book. Also, the details of Catherine's final death scene were changed for the movie. The movie made the scene much more dramatic, with Catherine (Merle Oberon) dying in Heathcliff's (Laurence Olivier) arms in front of the window. This melodrama made the scene almost laughable. It was too overdone and too nauseatingly sentimental to be real. The book was much more understated and heart-wrenching.

     Not only do the details of Wuthering Heights the novel get lost in the movie, but the characters do, as well. The entire second generation is missing, in fact. Perhaps the film makers thought it would make the movie too long or too boring to include the entire novel. Whatever the reason, the best half of the novel, along with Hareton, Linton Heathcliff, Cathy, and even Frances, is left out. Instead, the film gives the audience Dr. Kenneth (Donald Crisp). He is presented as a way to explain Heathcliff's (Rex Downing) arrival at Wuthering Heights and Catherine's death at the end. The book manages both just fine without the good doctor, who only manages to slow the film down with his unnecessary observations.

     Dr. Kenneth was not the only unnecessary addition to the film. The very last scene with Heathcliff and Catherine, ghost-acted by doubles, walking out into the moors together was completely useless and contradictory to the plot. It defeated the very point of the book. Heathcliff and Catherine were not supposed to be happy together, even after death. They loved each other with a burning passion, but they also hated each other too much to ever be together. It was this complexity that made their romance, and the novel, so tragic and famous. The movie's happily ever after ending destroyed that.

     The film versions often destroy the carefully crafted complexities and ironies of novels in the name of high box-office returns. No one cares about the authors' visions as long as the movies sell tickets, which they do because book lovers cannot help but want to see their favorite characters on the big screen. Unfortunately, all they get to see is a foggy Zoolander that leaves the taste of sawdust in their mouths and the wish that they had stayed in the library in their hearts.

Meg Schoenman

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