The Not So Happy Endings

         I feel there are two types of movies. There are those that make one feel warm and fuzzy by their “happy ending” and then there are life-changing movies. These movies help you find one’s inner hero or there are those movies that change the way one see the world by making one think. I feel that warm and fuzzy movies are a director’s way of making a quick dollar. Everyone knows that death makes one cry and love makes you smile and that is the easy way out. The movies that tear love away, make the woman the powerful character or forever change a person’s life are the movies that stay with someone long after the stop button.

         Wuthering Heights (1847) is a classic novel by Emily Brontë that was transformed into a movie in 1939 under the direction of William Wyler. The beginning of the movie sets up the love story between Heathcliff (Rex Downing), the boy from the street and a woman destined for a profitable marriage, Catherine (Sarita Wooten). These two characters grew up together sharing stories and playing games. Heathcliff ran away because he believed that Catherine could love him because he was lower (on a socioeconomic level) and he had to make something better of himself. When he (Laurence Olivier) returns, he finds that Catherine (Merle Oberon) has married Edgar Linton (David Niven), a much richer man than anyone thought Heathcliff could become. Once we see that Heathcliff has returned to find the love of his life married, the not so happy tale begins to unfold. Though Catherine loves Heathcliff even in her marriage to Edgar she tries to hide it. In an obvious attempt at making Catherine jealous Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Edgar becomes enraged and forbids Catherine from seeing Heathcliff. The twists and turns in this story make it an exciting drama that keeps one wondering, “Will Catherine and Heathcliff ever be together again?” Very quickly Isabella realizes how much Heathcliff cares for her sister-in-law and she tries desperately to gain back Edgar’s trust.

         Finally, this family falls apart completely when Catherine is on her death bed. Catherine confesses her love for Heathcliff and begs him to stay with her until she dies; she wants him to be her last kiss (reference to the movie). In the movie Heathcliff becomes a horrible, unlovable man only wanting the love of his Catherine. In the end Heathcliff dies, and in the movie version Catherine’s ghost walks with his ghost into the clouds. Even though it seems as though this may qualify as a “happy ending,” it is not the way it written in the novel or how Director William Wyler wanted to present it. Catherine and Heathcliff may have found each other’s souls in the end, but they could only find peace in their deaths. Heathcliff treated people with such hatred that it makes one think about how they treat others during their time on earth.

         Wuthering Heights might be considered a “happy ending” if you remove the deaths and lifetimes of torture and struggle. There are other movies that show the struggle of women that eventually leave their husbands, sometimes leaving their families and movie that have powerful women never marrying at all. A Streetcar Named Desire was originally a play written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 that became a movie in 1951 directed by Elia Kazan. The scenes are set in New Orleans, and the story starts off pretty typically. Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) live in an apartment and are expecting a child soon. Everything seems normal until Stella’s sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh), comes to visit. Blanche brings one trunk and a whole lot of emotional baggage. It is not until about halfway through the play that we realize that Blanche is a flirt and a liar, or bender of the truth.

         Stella does not realize the craziness she has just let into their home, but Stanley picks up quickly. Stanley overhears his wife and Blanche talking and hears Blanche call him an animal. He sees that Blanche is trying to take Stella away from him, so he decides to strike back. This home soon becomes a battleground with Stanley and Blanche fighting for Stella’s affection, and where there is a fight there is trouble.

         Eventually, Stanley rapes Blanche, leaving her used and tossed out once again. Blanche tells Stella about what Stanley has done to her, and Stanley calls her crazy. Blanche convinces herself that a man is coming to take her on a cruise even though no man exists. It becomes hard to determine whether Blanche knows there is no man and is trying to escape the web of lies and constant bickering or she truly believes her savior is coming. Having that thin line of crazy and sane made this a great production and a wonderfully abnormal tale.

         Stella decides that in order to stay with Stanley she has to believe that her sister is crazy and calls an institution to take her away. Before she is even out of the house Blanche hits on the doctor, saying, “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” Right after Blanche left the home Stella realized how terribly her husband had treated her sister through this whole ordeal and runs up the stairs. The audience has seen Stella run up those stairs just to come waltzing back down them but not this time. Stella leaves Stan making her a stronger woman because she realized the damage he would cause a family one day.

         Another woman that finally stood up to take responsibility for herself was Nora Helmer of Patrick Garland’s A Doll’s House, scripted by Christopher Hampton (adapted from the 1879 play A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen. Nora Claire Bloom) grew up being her father’s puppet. She would do as he said and even grew to have the some opinions as he did. When she found love in Torvald Helmer (Anthony Hopkins), she thought she had it made. She moved in to his home and bore three children. She finally felt like an adult when she was forced to borrow money to save her husband’s life. Torvald was a banking man and was very against having debt, so Nora had to lie in order to keep him from knowing about her debt. The first sign of abnormal happenings in this film came when we learn that Nora is very happy that her husband has no idea and she is proud that she lied and got away with it. Turns out that the man she borrowed the money from, Krogstad (Denholm Elliot), has just been fired because of a woman (Christine) (Anna Massey) that Nora got hired in his place. Another twist comes with Torvald being the manager at the bank that had just fired Krogstad and hired Christine in his place.

         Krogstad comes to Nora, convicting of fraud, which turns out to be true. It seems that Nora’s happy little lies are about to go up in smoke. Krogstad threatens to turn Nora in if she does not get him his job back as the plot thickens. When Torvald refuses to give Krogstad his job back it appears that a “happy ending” is impossible. As if from nowhere, the audience finds out that Christine had once dated Krogstad, and she feels that he would still do anything for her. Could Christine save Nora from pending doom even though Krogstad has sealed a letter to Torvald explaining Nora’s fraud?

         Christine tries to get Nora to tell Torvald what she has done, but Nora is convinced that Torvald will not let anything happen to her. When Torvald finds the letter addressing Nora’s fraud, he gets horrifyingly mad. He tells Nora that she will have nothing to do with their children any longer. Torvald tells Nora that she will be the ruin of his name and his family. It feels like the end will not be as happy as it could have been; why did Christine not step in and do something?

         It turns out that Christine had convinced Krogstad to wait to tell Torvald that he would not be reporting Nora. When Krogstad told Torvald that he had forgiven Nora and he was not pressing charges, it was too late. Torvald thought everything in his world was back to where it should be. He threw all evidence of Nora’s fraud in the fire and forgot all about it. At this point, we are meant to think that the world has corrected all the wrongs and everything will be warm and fuzzy.

         That is the case until Nora needs to talk. Nora has decided to leave her husband. Her reasons include her never living on her own and never having to take care of herself, her husband refusing to stand up for her and take the blame for her wrongdoings and finally the fact that she had lived first as her father’s doll and then as Torvald’s doll.

         Living the way one thinks other people want one to live, is not living; it is playing a part. In the 1949 movie The Heiress, directed by William Wyler, and in the 1880 novel, Washington Square, by Henry James, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) had attempted to play the part in her father’s play her whole life. She was a creative, well-educated woman with no social skills. Her father (Ralph Richardson) wanted her to be the belle of every ball. In the book she could dance, but in the movie she had two left feet. It seemed as though Dr. Sloper wanted someone to marry his daughter so he would have someone respectable to leave all his fortune. He admitted that his daughter was nowhere near the woman that he wanted her to be. She was quiet and had a very difficult time in social situations. Finally, Catherine met a man during a dance party; his name was Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift).

         Catherine was a little taken back by the affection Morris showed her and how quickly he let her know about his feelings. Dr. Sloper was, of course, not satisfied with this boy, so he did a little investigating. It turns out that Morris had once had money but had spent every last penny while traveling in Europe and had just returned to the city, broke. Upon hearing the news about Morris’ lack of fortune, Dr. Sloper refused to give Catherine her inheritance if she married him.

         Catherine decided to run away with Morris; but, before she did, she told him that they would be living on their love alone, plus her mother’s inheritance, which was only $10,000 a year, because of her father’s demands. Morris promised to meet her later that night so they could run away together, but he seemed hesitant. Once the audience sees the desperation in Morris’ eyes, it is almost perfectly clear that he will not be returning. As the scene changes to Catherine packing her bags, I began to feel sorry but still hopeful that that “happy ending” is on its way. I hoped that Catherine is about to run away with the man of her dreams and be happy ever after. But the clock strikes several times before Catherine is sure that she has been left by Morris Townsend.

         The story goes on to show Catherine as a single older woman living in the home that her father had given her upon his death. Again the hope for a happily ever after ending comes when Morris Townsend returns to the city and comes searching for Catherine. I could see in her eyes that she wants someone to love her, but not him. She does not want him any more, but Morris does not know that. Catherine gets a message to Morris telling him to come and see her, so that they can live happily ever after. Morris comes late at night just as Catherine has instructed him to. He knocks on the door and knocks with hope, but Catherine has him figured out. She listens to him knock as she sits in the waiting room, not allowing anyone to answer the door. She then goes to the door, reaches for it and locks the door. The last scene shows the shadow of Catherine’s candle climbing the stairs until darkness falls over the entire house. Catherine leaving Morris standing there made me think that she finally became everything her father wanted her to be.

        Catherine and Heathcliff will only live together forever as spirits that never got to experience real love in real life. Stanley will never know what it is like to stare at his wife and his child at a loving family meal, and Morris will always know exactly how much he hurt Catherine. These tales may not leave warm and fuzzy feelings in one’s stomach, and they may not be happy endings, but they are good endings. Nora left Torvald and her family out of selfish need to be independent. The tale of Catherine and Heathcliff hits on every love that was almost had. This story helps its audience to reflect on the things that could have been but also allows the thought of letting the thought pass because should hold on forever. Stanley and Stella’s saga touches on the importance of family even the crazy ones. This story makes one appreciate what one has. Stanley had a lot going for him. He had a beautiful wife, wonderful friends and a baby on the way, but he did not see what was in front of his face. Finally, Morris could have had Catherine if he was willing to be patient and prove to her father that he was worthy of his daughter.

         These stories did not have happy endings, but they did touch on important topics that some people should reflect on from time to time. Love can be torn away in a flash, women know more than they let on and will probably use their knowledge when one least expects it, and old flames should be put out before they come back to burn one’s doorstep.

Maggie McKay

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