Latin Passion Brings Life to Wuthering Heights

         Comparing the films Wuthering Heights and Los Abismos de Pasión, two adaptations of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, is a complex process involving many angles. However, one angle will be isolated in this paper: the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff (or Catalina and Alejandro). For this relationship is the backbone of Emily Brontë ’s1847 novel.

         In her novel, the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is very complex and defies all modern expectations of a “romance story”; although seemingly on the surface, their relationship appears to be cliché. The audience expects the rough, unrefined Heathcliff to change and ease into the ways of society and gain Catherine back as a wife. Yet, this does not happen. In addition, their bond is very obsessive and passionate, yet asexual. They describe themselves as being “one,” as Catherine famously says, “I am Heathcliff.” This oneness is commonly used to describe marriage or sexual intimacy, yet this is not the case with their union. For they possess more of an eerie feeling of shared identity rather than anything sexual, almost in a perpetual state of latency. This is due to their connection formed while children roaming in the wild of the Moors, and both Heathcliff and Catherine hold these memories as pure innocence, untainted by the soon to come outside corruption. Neither of them wants to let go of these memories and move on; therefore, they share a desire to freeze the past. However, Catherine confines herself to social standards that do not allow the past to remain the present and chaos ensues. Yet, Catherine and Heathcliff still share the connection that no one else can understand, because it is above any earthly relationship between man and woman.

         Directed by William Wyler in 1939, the film Wuthering Heights successfully adapts the first half of Emily’s novel, with the exception of a few changes. Spanning over many years, the movie takes the audience from the time the young Heathcliff (Rex Downing) arrives at the farm to after the death of Catherine. Therefore, the development of their relationship can be seen on the screen. Yet, because the film lasts less than two hours, the attempt to show this time span results in an overview course of Heathcliff (Laurence Oliver) and Catherine (Merle Oberon) instead of an interesting, detailed analysis; and in the details, the passion and ethereal nature of the two characters comes alive. In addition, the viewers who have not read Emily’s novel are left confused, because a few holes remain in the plot. One minute, Catherine is swooning over Heathcliff, and in the next scene, she is married to Edgar Linton (David Niven). She ignores and almost despises Heathcliff for years, but on her deathbed, she is hopelessly in love with him. Catherine’s fickle nature also exists in the novel, but her changes between the two men are explained; yet in the movie, she appears to be reduced to soap opera impulses.

         In addition, both characters seem to be detached, and when deep emotion is displayed, it seems forced and melodramatic without any foundation. The ethereal, almost haunting passion behind their relationship is what makes the novel’s love story so unique, yet it is completely lacking in the film. Although Heathcliff, in appearance, greatly portrays the “dark-skinned gypsy,” he lacks the intense ferocity that is behind the character. Furthermore, Catherine’s character seems to lack the wild, unbridled nature that always lives inside her from her experience with the Moors. Therefore, their obsessive relationship is diluted to a cliché love story divided by class conflict and expectations of society.

         Los Abismos de Pasión, the 1954 film directed by Luis Buñuel, has all the sincere passion that William Wyler’s version lacked, as the title appropriately suggests. However, this version lacks the close adaptation of the former; for the setting is in Mexico, the character names are changed, and it only concentrates on the time when Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) returns from his travels. In addition, many other aspects of the plot are changed such as Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castañeda), this film’s Hindley, murdering Alejandro. Despite these alterations, the film is cohesive, so the audience unfamiliar with Emily’s novel is not left confused. Also, because this version transfers the British novel set in the 1700s to a film set in nineteenth-century Mexico, even Emily herself would pardon the adjustments for cultural and generational differences, especially because the film so successfully brings alive her novel’s brutality and obsession through the differences. For example, Alejandro strangely kisses Isabel (Lilia Prado) on the neck in a vampire-like fashion, and this represents Heathcliff’s violent nature. Alejandro even demonstrates more of Heathcliff’s brutality after her marries Isabel and leaves her in the horror of a situation with Eduardo. Hence, unlike the stoic relationship in William Wyler’s film, Catalina (Irasema Dilián) and Alejandro actually seem to have a pulse.

         However, it is not Alejandro’s character that the relationship is a head above William Wylers, but instead, Catalina’s character carries the film. Although in the novel the Lintons polish her looks and behavior, Catherine never loses her untamed desire. Catalina perfectly embodies this wild nature, for she is bold in her passions for Alejandro and makes no excuses. She goes against the grain and defies the expectations of a woman with her audacious behavior, which in return upsets Isabel. The audience feels her untamed nature and knows that she does not quite fit in the world she currently inhabits. In addition, “the oneness” of Heathcliff and Catherine is more sincerely portayed in Absimos. For, the audience can feel the pangs that Catalina and Alejandro experience when separated.

         In conclusion, both film adaptations successfully portray Emily’s novel onto the big screen, yet in different ways. William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights attempts to bring the novel to life in a more holistic sense. In doing so, the passion of the love story suffers. However, although loose in adaptation, Los Abismos de Pasión best exemplifies the relationship of Catherine and Heathcliff due to successful portrayal of the fierce, eerie bond between Catalina and Alejandro. I think Emily Brontë would be proud of both.

Sarah Landolt

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