Cecilee Linke

I can write you a story, teach you French, sing you a song.

Best Picture Winners #12a – Wuthering Heights (1939)

One of the first “classic” books I ever read was a book from the late 1800s called Wuthering Heights.

That wouldn’t be significant except that when I read it, I was in eighth grade. I finished the book on New Years Eve of my eighth grade year. I remember because it was my goal to finish the book by then.

You could say that I was a very precocious reader. I started reading Emma when I was ten years old. I didn’t get through it all, but the point was, I was reading this thing when I was ten years old! I was also a huge fan of The Little Princess and Little Women, which I also read around that time. And somewhere along the way, I found the Brontë sisters and Wuthering Heights.

The book was unlike anything I’d read to that point. While I’d read tragic books before (Where the Red Fern Grows), this one was OMG SUPER TRAGIC HOLY CRAP. The heroine dies halfway through the book (SPOILER), the male lead is a psychopath to the nth degree (OOPS ANOTHER SPOILER), and the atmosphere is NOT a happy one. Not at all the romantic story that it’s sometimes portrayed to be, especially in this movie adaptation. They say when you read a book like that so young that you probably don’t comprehend all the nuances.

Oh but I did.

I knew going into this that it would be different from the book. And that this was the first of many adaptations of Emily Brontë’s story. I’d expected things to be different from the book. Because a book and a movie are two different ways of telling a story. One is more visual, the other allows you to get into more of the character’s heads with words instead of visuals.

This adaptation starts off the same way the book does: a man named Mr. Lockwood finds himself wandering around the Yorkshire moors on a stormy night and comes across Wuthering Heights. Needing a place to stay to wait out the storm, he asks the owners, a Mr. Heathcliff and his wife, if he can stay for the night. Heathcliff tells him they aren’t usually prepared for visitors, but he’ll be put up in one of the spare rooms that hasn’t been used in years.

While Lockwood is sleeping, he is awakened by a ghostly, woman’s voice at the window begging for Heathcliff to let her in (cue the famous Kate Bush song because, well, it’s Kate and any excuse to put one of my favorite all-time artists in a blog post!)

Lockwood is spooked of course and lets Heathcliff know that he can’t sleep in that room because he heard a woman calling for him. At which point, Heathcliff runs out into the storm, calling for this Cathy. When Lockwood asks about that Cathy, Ellen, the old servant at Wuthering Heights, tells Lockwood the tragic story of Heathcliff’s love for Cathy. How Heathcliff was a foundling on the streets of Liverpool, and Cathy’s father Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to raise him as his own. Hindley, Cathy’s brother, hates how their father favors Heathcliff, he treats him badly, but Cathy loves him, they fall in love, but then can’t be together when Cathy wants to go be with the rich Edgar Linton down the road. Heathcliff leaves, comes back rich, but can’t have Cathy because she’s already married, so to spite her, Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella, who actually IS into Heathcliff, but he doesn’t love her. He’s just doing it to get back at Cathy.

Then she suffers from Victorian illness and dies, leaving Heathcliff unhappy. And then fast forward however many years later to where the movie started, and Heathcliff is still pining over Cathy, but is stuck in a loveless marriage to Isabella, and then, oh, he dies in the storm and you get to see him wandering the moors with Cathy again.

It’s all very dramatic and drawn-out, and I’ll admit, I was a bit more into this movie than Andrew was. Probably because I’d read the book, knew the story well, and was curious to see how this adaptation held up against the book. Which is to say, the atmosphere was there, but the ending was totally changed. In fact, I’d say that the ending almost spoiled it for me. Other than Isabella being there when Mr. Lockwood comes in (by that point in the book, Isabella’s said “screw this, I’m leaving” and left the child she and Heathcliff have together with him and disappeared), and not having Cathy die in childbirth like in the book, the movie I thought was accurate to that first part of the book.

But that ending…..

NO.

The whole point of the story, in my opinion, is that obsession can ruin people. Note that I didn’t say love. Because as much as this movie wanted them to be portrayed as tragic lovers, I think of their relationship as more of an obsession than true, deep caring love. They would NOT have been happy together. They are too similar and would’ve just driven each other nuts.

Also, if Heathcliff and Cathy had truly loved each other, they wouldn’t have dragged other innocent people like Edgar and Isabella into it and tried to ruin each other’s lives because they couldn’t have what they wanted. And in the second half of the book, which isn’t even touched on in this movie, you get to see more of that obsession driving Heathcliff to ruin. You don’t see him trying to ruin the lives of his child with Isabella, Hindley’s child, or Cathy’s daughter, because of how he was mistreated as a child and because, well, he’s super psychopath-sociopath-you-really-don’t-want-to-make-him-mad.

So this has turned into a bit of a rambling post, and I might as well just end it here with my rating for the movie before this turns into a literary analysis. Was this worth watching? Yes, if you enjoy these kind of stories and if you’ve read the book. A well-done movie, though different from the book.

Three out of five stars (well-done movie, but docked for changing that ending and thus the whole point of the story)

Next time: Another literary adaptation and one I haven’t seen in years: Rebecca. Also, another book that I read when I was in high school!