To Paradise with the Devil

         The 1939 film version of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, portrays the two main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, in a unique way. The movie focuses on the major character flaws that the book gives for each of these characters, greed for Cathy and hate for Heathcliff. These characteristics dominate their personalities, and play a central role in what happens in their lives and the lives of those close to them. The movie shows these characteristics kept in check by the love Heathcliff and Cathy have for each other though, but the greed and hate become strongest when this love is threatened.

         From the time Ellen (Flora Robson) starts telling Lockwood (Miles Mander) the story of these two in the movie, their character flaws are mentioned. Dr. Kenneth (Donald Crisp) predicted young Heathcliff's (Rex Downing) behaving like a monster, saying he was “full of hate like a dog that's been kicked” and that he will bite. Heathcliff's hate revealed itself pretty quickly with him promising to get Hindley (Douglas Scott) back no matter how long he had to wait. Young Cathy (Sarita Wooten) showed her greed early in the movie asking her dad (Cecil Kellaway) what he got for her as soon as she saw him, and then later by fantasizing about Heathcliff being a prince and the Pennistone Crag rock on the moor being a castle paradise where she could know nobility rather than “vulgar little peasants like Hindley.” These flaws showed up more, but really do not become a problem until Cathy (Merle Oberon) contemplated marrying Edgar Linton (David Niven) for his inheritance.

         After Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) ran off upon overhearing Cathy discussing the possibility of marrying Edgar instead of him, she married Edgar and got the life of luxury she had dreamed of. Her act of greed later brought about the wrath of Heathcliff though. After coming back wealthy, Heathcliff tried getting emotional revenge by so cruelly destroying the lives of those Cathy cared for that he earned the titles “monster” and “devil” that people had given him. He treated Cathy as a dog treats its abusive master that it loves but has come to hate. This hateful revenge lasted even after Cathy asked for forgiveness of her greed, said she was his and would wait for him at their paradise in the moors, and then died.

         Heathcliff's hate lasted for years and ended only when his love for Cathy led him to the moors in the freezing weather where their love for each other overcame his hate and her greed and led them to true paradise.

Andrew B. Hildenbrand

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