Psychological and Family Issues of Film and Literature

         We have studied unfortunate fictional characters in class this semester. We have read plays and novels and viewed film adaptations of six basic stories, and all the characters are crazy. They all have psychological issues or family problems that squish happiness.

         Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë 1847--William Wyler 1939)/Los Abismos de Pasion (Luis Buñuel 1954): This story is all about family problems and their effect on two young people in love. It is a story of unrequited love that ends in tragedy unless you count the whole spiritual reunion part. The lovers, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier)/Alejandro (Jorge Mistral)] and Catherine (Merle Oberon)/Catalina (Irasema Dilian), die at different times but their spirits end up together, reconciling them in a way they never could be reconciled in life because of family problems.

         Washington Square (Henry James 1880)/The Heiress (William Wyler 1949): This story is about a girl, Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) who falls in love with a man, Morris (Montgomery Clift), her father, Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson), thinks is a gold digger; and he is right. Once again, family problems prevent happiness from ever taking hold. Her father’s threat to disown her causes her boyfriend to run out. Had he not run out, they would have ended up happily together. It is one of those gray areas: the fact that he was a gold digger would not have ever affected their happiness together, had it not been brought up.

         The Turn of the Screw (Henry James 1898)/The Innocents (Jack Clayton 1951): This one is about a rich uncle (Michael Redgrave) who has two children, Miles and Flora (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklins) whom he throws into the hands of a pedophile/schizophrenic governess (Deborah Kerr) so she can raise them, but she goes crazy from seeing ghosts, and the story ends with no one’s being happy about how things turn out. Once again, a dysfunctional family situation combined with insanity prevents happiness.

         Pygmalion (George Bernard Shaw 1913--Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard 1938)/My Fair Lady (Cukor 1964): This is the least problematic setup, and the only real problem is the insensitivity of Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison), the linguist in charge of making a flower girl into a duchess. He treats Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) as if she were a thing, though he never takes advantage of her vulnerability. The problem is a minor and fixable one—if someone made a romantic comedy spin-off—and it is that Higgins needs to get in touch with his sensitive side. Then everything would be fine, which makes these characters lucky considering the characters in most other stories have much more severe and permanent problems.

         A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen 1879--Joseph Losey 1973--Patrick Garland 1973): This one is about a man, Torvald Helmer (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins), who does not take his wife, Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom), seriously, and she ends up leaving him because he is proud and takes her for granted. She is a liar and has no money sense, but that could be fixed with discipline. The fact that her husband thinks of her as a toy and not an equal in the household, however, is irreparable, and they need to be divorced, anyway. A lack of love is the family/relationship issue in the story.

         A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams in 1947--Elia Kazan 1951): These characters--Stanley (Marlon Brando), Blanche (Vivien Leigh), and Stella (Kim Hunter) are probably the worst off because they all have big problems that cannot be fixed quickly: anger issues, rape, compulsive lying, and codependency issues. They need the most extensive therapy and also to not be around each other anymore.

         Stories are often told to point out the ills of society and the problems of certain kinds of people. The healthiest characters are from Pygmalion. Other than them, we have studied characters this semester with serious psychological and family issues that need to be dealt with. None of these people will end up happily due to too much bureaucratic drama.

Eric Hovis

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