Setting the Stage

     "It was a dark and stormy night"--so begin a countless number of scary tales. In many scary movies, the set consists of a large antique mansion shadowing a dark, foreboding landscape. The movie always seethes with fog and the sun never seems to shine. Perhaps this is because such a setting makes a person naturally edgy. Why then is one of the world's greatest love stories set in eerie setting such as this?

     After viewing the movies Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontė's 1847 novel, and The Innocents, based on Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, I noticed an uncanny resemblance between the two settings. Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler, is set among the Moors of England. The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton, takes place in a mansion that gives one a case of goose pimples just to look at it.

     This essay does not actually deal with a precise aspect of cinema; it instead poses a question that is part of a rather broad theme. How can Wuthering Heights come across as a love story while being in such a "horror story" setting? Most love stories are bright and sunshiny, full of beautiful color and laughter. Yet laughter is unheard, and color is lacking in more than just the picture. The setting just does not seem to fit. The more and more I think about the Moors; the more and more they remind me of the rolling sea instead of rolling hills. And what is the great story of the sea?--Moby Dick, of course.

     Captain Ahab is so obsessed with killing Moby Dick that he fights his way into insanity. This is just what I believe that Heathcliff does in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is beyond the point of love; he is obsessed with Catherine (and obsessed with owning everything). Thus in his struggle to have Catherine, he only drives her away and she dies. This drives him into insanity and he kills himself -- much as Ahab surely knew he would die. The hills of the Moors will roll for a thousand years just like the waves of the sea. The stories are incredibly alike. I believe that is the reason William Wyler refused to shoot the ghost scene at the end of the movie. That is the scene that belongs in some cheap horror story. The Moors in Wuthering Heights were actually a character just as the sea was in Moby Dick.

     Wuthering Heights may be a love story, but there is an underlying theme of mindless obsession, and how the world goes on without you.

Matthew Dycus

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