Getting Past Obsession

         We have always been a narcissistic culture, filled with a people only concerned with our own needs or most often wants. This is evident in the intentions of the film makers of Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler and based on Emily Brontė's 1847 novel. The film betrays the deeper themes of the original writing and once again obsesses about love. Even though the film makers do show the heavy brooding of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and the egocentric nature of Catherine (Merle Oberon), they clue in on the wrong catalyst of the characters' bad nature, thus leading the audience to believe that Heathcliff becomes morose due to the loss of his one true love. The decisions that Heathcliff makes are affected by Hindley's (Hugh Williams) constant belittlement of his "gipsy beggar" past. I believe the book Wuthering Heights is not another Gone with the Wind (directed in 1939 by Victor Fleming and based on Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer prize winning novel); instead it is about being a product of one's conditions. The character of the story that holds these conditions is the microcosm of Wuthering Heights the community. Leaning toward these key elements would have given the film makers a better movie and would have been far more powerful than focusing on the trite "love story" angle.

         While reading the book Wuthering Heights, a person cannot help but feel the implied darkness of the characters and conditions. While watching the film, a person cannot help but feel the obsession of the film makers with pubescent lost love. It is easy to get wrapped in the emotion of love; it is obviously a powerful and inspiring variable of life. But, to forsake all other emotions and experiences for the sake of this love's existence is irresponsible as an artist. In the film Wuthering Heights, the film makers show the viewers how the lost love of Catherine drives Heathcliff to his dark desperate nature. The real darkness of Heathcliff comes not from the lost love of Cathy but instead from the constant belittlement of his humanity by Hindley and the realization of being an orphaned boy left on the streets of Liverpool like a common dog. Brontė's wanted to show the correlations between the places that we come from and end up. Heathcliff is a product of his environment, much like the main character Maggie in Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. He is not another depressed lover of a romance novel driven down by the one that got away. He just thinks he is.

         The character that controls and creates the catalyst that leads Heathcliff and Catherine to their destiny is the social subculture that is Wuthering Heights. The film leads viewers to believe that the main (and to some extent only) characters in this story are Heathcliff and Cathy because it never shows the amount of control on people growing up in the skewed community depicted in Wuthering Heights. The constant worshiping of Catherine in the book by everyone from her father to Heathcliff enhances Cathy's narcissism, while the community's condescension toward Heathcliff fuels the anger that consumes his every decision. This view never makes an appearance in the film; there is scant time for it. Instead the viewers are treated to another cliched love story trying to be Gone with the Wind.

         It is my hope that more film makers focus on the deeper themes of the original work. The creative team of this film did not accomplish that; they only accomplished what many others have before them. The film is just a love story that plucks at a worn-out string of the human condition. Focusing on Heathcliff's developmental years and the power of a community would have led to a better film. Reinventing Rett Butler as a dark hero out of a character of much deeper depth like Heathcliff is not only unnecessary but also most unwanted.

Dennis H. Robison

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