Foreshadowing in The Heiress

         William Wyler's 1949 film, The Heiress, based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, is filled to the brim with foreshadowing. Foreshadowing can be found at every corner of this film and with every character. The irony and future telling that is found throughout this film made me smile and sometimes even laugh.

         One of the greatest foreshadowings in this film is the song that Morris (Montgomery Clift) plays and sings in French for Catherine (Olivia de Havilland). The English version of the lyrics are as follows: "Enjoy love while it lasts. It only lasts a short while. The pain lasts forever." It is almost as if Morris is trying to warn Catherine not to fall too hard for him because it is only temporary, but the pain of finding out that he does not love her will last forever. This is only the first of many future-telling moments in the film.

         One of the greatest lines in the movie that can be considered foreshadowing is heard when Dr. Sloper says to Morris, "There are many poor men but they do not go around claiming they are not thieves." I think that is the moment Morris realizes without a doubt that Mr. Sloper is onto his game. This sets up the mood for the rest of the film.

         In another instance in the film Aunt Lavinia Pennimen Miriam Hopkins) is playing checkers with Morris while Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) and Catherine are in Europe. At one point she makes the comment: "Why is it that you always win?" Morris responds, "I cheat." In two words Morris describes his very character and intentions with Catherine. He is a cheater and a thief and has no intention of playing fair when it comes to love and Catherine. He is in it for the money, and he will do whatever it takes to get it.

         One great irony in the film is apparent when Catherine, who has planned to elope with Morris that night, realizes that Morris is never coming back for her. She sits by the window, screaming: "Morris! Morris! Morris!" The film ends with this same type of dialogue, but this time it is Morris, who has been abandoned. While pounding on the bolted door, he is yelling: "Catherine! Catherine! Catherine!" This is a great example of foreshadowing and irony.

         Foreshadowing is one of the most interesting devices in film and literature. I always find it interesting to go back and watch a film and see where foreshadowing alludes to something that is going to happen or shows something that has not yet been revealed. The Heiress is a great example of this.

Curt Stewart

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