Happy They Were Dead

         As the semester progressed, it became obvious that the film versions of the literary works were becoming more true to the original written versions. This is nowhere more obvious than in the first film we watched. William Wyler's 1939 screen adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, was the most glaring example of this. The novel was full of characters. Some of them were more important to the telling of the story of the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff, and since the producers decided to transform this classic story of despair and revenge into a love story of star-crossed heroes, those characters who were not viewed as essential to the progression of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Cathy's (Merle Oberon) relationship were simply omitted. Wyler and company ignored an entire generation.

         But the most abominable liberty taken with Brontë's only real piece of classic literature came in the film's last scene. Poor Cathy dies in the arms of her true love as the man she has married (David Niven) watches. Heathcliff's heart then implodes, and he dies shortly afterward. And just before the closing credits scroll up the screen, their ghosts are seen roaming the moors together. I know this does not seem like a happy ending, but compared to the hell these characters (especially Heathcliff) endure in the book, it is. He is able to spend eternity with the girl he loves in the place he loves the most.

         Face it. Heathcliff is a real bastard in Brontë's novel. Why should he get the girl, even if it is in the afterlife? The simple answer is money. Love stories were profitable. If people wanted to be miserable, they could often just reflect on their own lives. People went to the movies then for the same reason they go to the movies now--to escape. That is why they parted with their hard-earned $0.25 price of admission and snacks.

         Poor Brontë must have rolled over in her grave. Her Wuthering Heights became unrecognizable when it hit the big screen. Maybe two dead people walking around in the damp English countryside does not seem like a happy ending, but after reading the novel and seeing Wyler's translation, I was just happy it was ending.

Bo Fowler

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