Wuthering Heights: Language or Tone

         Wuthering Heights's two film adaptations schism into two primary deviations from the source novel. The 1939 William Wyler film of the same name keeps the settings, language, and characters faithful at a glance while the 1954 Luis Buñuel film, Los Abismos de Pasion, abandons these surface characteristics. But which film is actually more faithful to Emily Brontëís 1847 book?

         The Wyler movie adapts the first half of the novel into a film produced with the cultural limitations of Hollywood circa the1930s. Heathcliff incites more sympathy. Earnshaw (Douglas Scott) vows to take Heathcliff's (Rex Downing) horse instead of the opposite, thus whitewashing Heathcliff's character of any capacity for harm or revenge as the novel documents. Further sanitizing the content of the film, the second half the story is truncated in favor of avoiding the incestuous relationships of Catherine II, as well as dodging Catherine I's pregnancy. The pieces leftover constitute the film produced. Rather than showing a truly tempestuous love between Heathcliff and Cathy that takes a generation to unknit, Wyler's film becomes a happy hollow caricature of Wuthering Heights.

         Luis Buñuel's film, in sharp contrast, preserves the flavor and fester of the novel while omitting even more material and changing the surface texture. The setting is relocated in Mexico, Heathcliff is renamed Alejandro (Jorge Mistral), and the ending of the film deviates completely from the book. In spite of all this, the film accurately captures the tension of the book. Earnshaw's equivalent, Eduardo (Ernesto Alonzo), has a sharp antagonism toward Alejandro and even his own sister (Iraseme Dilian). Catalina and Alejandro are shown to push each other away as much as they draw themselves together. Finally, Alejandro's death on the coffin of Catalina, while absolutely not in the book, matches the venomous love that leads to the demise of both characters documented in the novel much more than the happy ghosts wandering off into the snow of the Wyler film.

         For these reasons, Los Abismos de Pasion is the more accurate translation of the novel. It preserves the fire and intensity whereas Wuthering Heights extinguishes it.

Clay Wyatt

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