The True Meaning Lost in Hollywood's Glitz

     A comparison of the 1939 movie Wuthering Heights with its original novel, written in 1847, shows that the true intentions of Emily Brontë became lost among the reels of film. The producer lost sight of the Heathcliff Brontë portrayed to her readers. Hollywood falls into the same kind of mistakes in portraying villains today. Movies consistently romanticize villains, backing up the cliché that good girls fall for bad boys. The movie viewers do not like to see bad people successful. Producers, knowing this fact, changed the villain Heathcliff into a romantic, likable man who just could not live without Catherine.

     Brontë portrayed Heathcliff in a completely different light. In the beginning of the novel Heathcliff's character commanded reader sympathy. Practically alone in the real world, he was taken in by Catherine's family and treated as one of them. Growing up, Catherine and Heathcliff were practically inseparable. But as Catherine underwent the change over from childhood into adulthood, she began looking at Edgar as a possible suitor. He had more money and he had a respectable family. In comparison to Edgar, Heathcliff had nothing to offer.

     Catherine ultimately chooses Edgar, but Heathcliff does not give up. In both the novel and the movie Heathcliff pursues Catherine. In the novel Heathcliff starts this intricate plan which involves revenge and integration into her new family. He obtains riches, marries her sister-in-law, and starts acquiring the surrounding land. He turns into a cold, introverted bastard who cares about no one including his own son and daughter-in-law.

     But viewers of the movie never see this side of Heathcliff. William Wyler's screen version Mr. Lockwood (Miles Mander) is introduced to Mrs. Heathcliff (Geraldine Fitzerald). Neither Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) nor Catherine (Merle Oberon) has children either. This simplifies the complexity of the novel and compromises the overall integrity of the story. To most appealing aspect of this novel is its complexity. When a reader encounters this complex story line for the first time, the reader becomes intrigued and returns many times to reread the complexities presented in the plot. But if the reader watches the movie, the mystery and complexities are omitted, and the reader may ultimately never return to this otherwise great story.

     Hollywood takes truly great villains and turns them into wonderful heroes. What happened to the true appreciation of villains? Villains are the people we love to hate, but they are becoming an endangered species. Hollywood should realize villains play a vital role in the novels and should respect the authors by not romanticizing a work's characters.

Denise Higgins

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