I have experienced many American films. I am a moviegoer, one of millions in today's entertainment-hungry society. I have also been one of the innumerable people to engulf myself in the written word. While being a reader of literature and, more importantly, a viewer of film, I have become painfully aware of society's obsession with the happy ending. In a world filled with famine, death, and war, it will always seem strange to me that the masses want to see nothing more than a gawky, ignorant blonde fall in love with a brooding, misunderstood, yet strangely handsome jackass. The only thing worse than seeing the public subjected to another trite romantic comedy is sitting and watching what was once a brilliant piece of written art turned into just another film to pacify the percentage of people in American culture that could be hypnotized by, well, anything. This practice of employing the happy ending in films based on books or plays without a trace of such endings is nowhere more evident than in the "classic" movies of the first half of the twentieth century. Some examples of this are two films directed by William Wyler, The Heiress (1949), based on Henry James's Washington Square (1880), and Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontë's 1847 book.
Why is it that early cinema is littered with examples of films that end with a sunset, kiss, or triumph? In my opinion, it is simply that the overall majority of citizens of said time period were the most repressed people in the short history of film. I mean, are we really to believe that men of the time were any less sexually obsessed with the opposite sex and women enjoyed having the opportunity to be at the blunt end of the infidelity, abuse, and never, even momentarily, want divorce? This type of repression spilled over into the adaptations of the day, like Wuthering Heights, where the book tells us about lovers driven crazy by the situation of an oppressive microcosmic community that die without ever truly being together. Yet as we watch the film, we see the ghost of Heathcliff and his earthly desire (ghost-acted since Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon had departed the set) holding hands as they walk into a beautiful mountain scene. What brought on this change in the story's ending? The people of the time that not only made it but viewed it were so afraid of facing truth that even their entertainment had to be layered in denial. Because if they dared view a work of art that faced an issue with honesty, they themselves might have been compelled to face their own delusions, and no one wanted that. The governing forces of the time (political or otherwise) wanted an ignorant, oppressed society blinded by lies, for it is much easier to lead the blind to slaughter, for personal gain.
I feel it is a good lesson for the patrons of today's society to look back at these films as an example of a once completely blind culture. While they watch in horror as the impending doom of an original work is transformed into a ray of sunshine glistening over a field of sexual tension, butterflies of retarded self-worth flutter apprehensively above the flowers of denial. I hope they then want to watch and/or make a film that challenges our minds and makes us question our reality. More than likely, film makers will watch these failures and create another piece of art harbored by self-denial for the majority that still refuse to see.