This week, the Gentleman Caller and I decided to go to the Irish Film Institute and see the new version of Wuthering Heights. Earlier this fall, we saw Jane Eyre, the one that was released in the U.S. -- when was it? Last spring? That version erased race from the story by making the "Madwoman" and her brother clearly white.
I never really loved Jane Eyre, although I grew to appreciate the story and the things that Charlotte Bronte was saying. I also admired Jane's flintiness. Still, I just hated all of the male characters, and hated that Jane had to choose to spend her life with one of them. This particular version of the film reiterated my reasons. I kept thinking, "GAWD! These men are full of shit, all tyring to mansplain Jane to Jane. Shut up, Rochester! Just SHUT THE HELL UP!" I suppose that was some of the point that Charlotte Bronte was attempting to make. I think she hated them, too, but Jane was trapped in this world so had to make the best of it. Better to make the richer creep blind and dependant on her, right?
But, as long as I'm digressing, I discovered the comic strip, "Hark, A Vagrant" the very day after I saw Jane Eyre when I came across an article about the artist in Salon.com. The very comic referenced in the article was one about the Brontes. Hee!
Anyway, I had come across an article about the actress playing the older Cathy, which made me look up the movie, which led to my discovery that Heathcliff was cast as black. Interesting. This I had to see.
What a powerful film! I have seen the Olivier version and am convinced that he totally did not understand the book. I'm not overly certain that he understood much of the Shakespeare that he interpreted, but I'm not in a position to elaborate with any great knowledge on that. In fact, not having actually read Wuthering Heights in more years that I can even remember -- I may have listened to an audiobook version of it in the past decade in a half -- I'm probably not in a position to say anything with any authority on the adaptation of the book.
Of course, that hasn't stopped me before.
Making Heathcliff black enhanced his isolation and sense of not belonging. Little asides, both vocal and visual, connect him to the slave trade. His back has scars from branding and beating, and someone says something about Daddy Earnshaw having found him in Liverpool. For me, that made any further beatings, such as when he is thrown against a wall and his back thrashed in a way reminiscent of images of slave whippings, more chilling and hateful, connecting this remote location to a wider world of violence and brutality.
I remember reading the book the first time, and I remember wondering why people thought that it was such a great love story when it seemed to be about horrible abuse, and that the abuse begat more abuse, and that all of the characters were ultimately vicious. The director does not shy away from that unrestrained and perverting power. Wuthering Heights is a savage world, and the Grange isn't much better, with only a polished veneer. So, Heathcliff seems a much more sympathetic character and his vengeance at the end seems the logical result of his treatment since birth. You can't be kind and sympathetic in these worlds because you will end up destroyed -- like Isabella.
I had no sympathy for Cathy, and I'm not sure if that is a product of the story or of the actress who plays the older version of her. The actress playing the younger version was a revelation. She was tough and scruffy, a product of the landscape as much as her family. Yet, she could also show affection for Heathcliff through her rough exterior.
The older actress's performance I can hardly evaluate because I was too distracted by the impossibility of this younger Cathy growing into this older Cathy. Not simply the looks -- the two Heathcliffs did not look that much alike, but you could believe that one became the other -- but the way that she played the character had very little in common with the younger version. You couldn't even write the differences off of her change in environment. She just was not the same character. As for that character, she kept saying that Heathcliff had betrayed her by running off. Well, she had become engaged to Linton! What did she think was going to happen? How did she think things were going to work?
Of course, again, I haven't read the book in a while. The book has all of "I am Heathcliff." The film does not. The film is clearly from his point of view, so the film cuts out of that confession when Heathcliff does and I'll have to go back to see what she actually concludes. Still, in the confines of the film, the viewer doesn't know what her side of the story is, so the viewer comes away thinking, "what an irrational woman! Did she expect to keep him on the side in her marriage? Did she think anyone but herself -- or even herself -- would find that acceptable?" That may not be fair to the character.
Nonetheless, this film was haunting. The moors seemed so big and desolate in panoramic views, and yet also teeming with life through extreme close-ups. But the life is also not friendly. It's nasty, brutish, and short. You are either the rabbit in the trap or the one doing the trapping, and there is no reward in being the rabbit. The trapper doesn't have things very well, either. This seems very much like the book that I remember reading.
Is it playing in the U.S., yet? The fact that we had to see it in an art house suggests that it isn't in wide release even here.
Here is the trailer:
Here is "Hark, A Vagrant's" interpretation of the book, parts 1, and 2, and Kate Bush, for good measure.:
That also reminds me, the film keeps most of the story -- and there is a lot of story in the story -- but dispenses with the framing device and the next generation of Earnshaws and Lindleys. Heathcliff wins, but, like the trapper, it isn't much of a victory.
I actually think I may go back and read the book, now.