Throughout the 1847 book Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontë, and 1939 film, directed by William Wyler, I was very interested in Heathcliff's (Laurence Olivier) sudden changing mood at the end. In most of the book he is a horrid man up until before his death, and I want to explore why he is this way? The book displays that, during Heathcliff's life, he is capable of a nasty hatred toward others. And it seems as if he is incapable of any kind of forgiveness or compromise at all.
Throughout most of the book but slightly less so in the movie, Heathcliff's dislike for the characters is shown through his unthinkable actions. He gets great satisfaction from making others miserable. One example is snatching the Wuthering Heights estate from Hindley during games of cards while Hindley is intoxicated to the point that he could not make a rational decision. However, in the movie, Heathcliff quietly pays off Hindley's (Hugh Williams) drinking and gambling debts while taking over the estate. Another is marrying Isabella (Geraldine Fizgerald) for the sake of making Catherine jealous. This ruins Isabella's life.
It comes as a huge surprise when in the last chapter, Edgar Linton's daughter, young Cathy, upon seeing Heathcliff, says that he looks, "almost bright and cheerful--No, almost nothing--very much excited, and wild and glad!" This is totally unlike the Heathcliff up until this point. Even Nelly, who has been familiar with Heathcliff's personality and dark moods, is taken back by the sudden change. During the final days of his life, Heathcliff's questionable behavior continues. He refuses to eat and does not want to be around anyone. Most disturbing, his strange excitement continues, causing discomfort to all those that surrounded him. Joy in Heathcliff is a horrible, frightening thing; it arouses fear in others because the change is dramatic that its cause is almost unthinkable. In the movie, after a terrified Lockwood (Miles Mander) tells Heathcliff about Cathy's ghost calling for him, Heathcliff runs yearningly out into the snow and is later found dead after Dr. Kenneth (Donald Crisp) recounts how he had seen his and Cathy's ghosts.
When Heathcliff finally dies, the cause of his death and mood change is never really determined. The only explanation I can think of for Heathcliff's mood change is that, before Catherine's death, he could not be with her because she was with Edgar, so he is miserable and takes happiness in making others feel as he did. I believe he assumes he will be united again with Catherine in eternal bliss, so at the end, before he dies he is in a state of euphoria, and this accounts for his sudden mood change. In the movie, the audience is treated to a visual affirmation of this "life after death" when the two ghost-acted lovers are shown walking hand in hand into the clouds.