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Wuthering Heights

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I mean the movie, with Laurence Olivier and all, not the book.

I confess, I’ve tried to read the book three times, and found it emotionally exhausting. This is the first book I had not been able to conquer, and it surprised me. I had loved Jane Eyre. But Emily is not Charlotte, as I discovered.

The next book that conquered me was the Silmarillion. I don’t imagine that anyone is surprised by that.

I tried to read Wuthering Heights again later, and it had the same effect. It was just too much! I needed a break, and afterwards, I didn’t feel like hanging out with those people again.

But I knew there was a movie, and I figured that I could make it through a movie. I did want to know how the end turned out.

The movie was on TCM this weekend, and I had my chance.

You know, it was less exhausting to see Cathy beating her brother with the riding crop than it was to read about it. Imagining it made it seem more cruel than seeing a little sister whapping at her brother.

Of course, Heathcliff as Laurence Olivier made it easy to believe that Cathy would be in love with him. Oh, Olivier is beautiful!

It was all gothic, love beyond death and stony castles and craggy rocks and a smoldering young hero. These elements have been used to good effect in many other places.

I guess what made the book so hard to read is how unlikeable Heathcliff and Cathy both are. When Cathy says “I am Heathcliff!” it is easy to believe, since they are both so mean to each other.

It really could be one of those “They deserve each other” situations. One over-riding message of the story is that true love conquers all.

But equally apparent is the idea that one does not need to be virtuous to have true love. Of course, the victorian idea of virtuous was mostly keeping up appearances. And staying in your given social place.

Heathcliff wouldn’t do that. Cathy wished she didn’t have to, but still wanted all that her priviledged position could give her.

I think she wished she could run away with Heathcliff, and didn’t. In the end it killed her.

It’s convenient, how heroines are so fatally unhealthy. Makes for dramatic death scenes.

This one was nice, I have to say.

I remember believing in love that tempestuous. I’m a little older now, and I am mostly glad that I am not afflicted with it.

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  • I love the book and Wyler’s version of it, but it’s also worth checking out Luis Bunuel’s own strange version from 1953, variously known as either Cumbres borrascosas or Abismos de Pasion. Not a complete success — no version has ever really captured the book’s Gothic eroticism — but Bunuel does achieve some rich and evocative moments: the tree full of buzzards that opens the film, for example, and another scene involving the killing of a pig. The ending is a real revelation, where Heathcliff opens Cathy’s grave, and hallucinates that he sees her, although it turns out to be Edmond, who shoots him. Carlos Fuentes called the film “a nightmare of miscasting in which Cathy speaks with an Italo-Polish accent, Heathcliff with Andalusian pronunciation and the Mexican actors sound like Cantinflas. Yet all is redeemed by the final scene at Cathy’s tomb, where l’amour fou, necrophilia, homosexuality, murder and incest blend in a fantastic visual statement: Desire encompasses and surpasses good and evil, for the alternative to desire is solitude, and solitude is death. That scene alone is worth twenty William Wyler versions.”

    My advice? See both.