Lowering or Igniting the Flame

                      When seeing a movie based on a book, there is an expectation that the two will not be equal. It is accepted that out of necessity the movie cannot represent the whole of the book.  There are constraints like time, production funds, and even an inability to show parts of the book on film. When writing screenplays, the author must do his best to capture the essential message of the book, and include the parts of the book that convey that message. This often results into an acceptable film version of a book. The problem occurs when a screenplay author does not capture the essential message of a book.  The film can then be considered almost a different story completely. In the case of Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights and William Wyler’s 1939 film adaptation, the audience is presented the problem of two different stories.

                    In Bronte’s novel the focus of the story is on Heathcliff and his need for revenge against those that have harmed him and those that have stolen his love Catherine away from him. While some portion of the book is meant to convey the love story between Heathcliff and Catherine, that portion is limited to the first half of the novel.  The revenge Heathcliff takes against all of the books characters, receives much more attention.  The love story itself is somewhat unbelievable and very twisted.  The love between Catherine and Heathcliff is based on a child’s fondness and a mutual need for escape. It is a selfish love that ends up destroying or temporarily harming every character in the book, especially Catherine and Heathcliff themselves.  The real story is Heathcliff and his cruel path of revenge.  The book mentions an older generation, Catherine and Heathcliff’s generation, and finally the children of the aforementioned generation. Heathcliff takes his revenge against all of them and becomes the controlling force behind two families’ destinies. Even Catherine does not manage to create that much discord.

                    In William Wyler’s film there is a very different focus. The story becomes a tale of love between the high class girl and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The film follows the novel until the death of Catherine. This leaves a little more than half the novel unsaid. At the death of Catherine, Heathcliff had only just begun his revenge, so we do not see him as the evil and cruel revenge taker. The film creates an image of an undying love between Catherine (played by Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (played by Laurence Olivier).  It is a love that survives all the hindrances in its way; and, even though Catherine and Heathcliff try to hurt each other by being with others, in the end their love can only be for each other.

                    To conclude I would say that the novel is a fully developed discourse on a selfish love and the web of cruelty it creates with its overwhelming power. The film is simply a love story between two people who do not know how to be together.  In a metaphorical sense the film is a slow blaze, while the novel is a scorching wildfire.

Lace Gilger