Saturday, July 13, 2013

Wuthering Heights: Seasons of Good & Ill

I wasn't even going to write anything about this movie until I glanced at the Netflix reviews and saw that, with a couple of exceptions, most of them were terrible. Really? Was it really as bad as that?

The thing is, I've never watched another movie adaption of Wuthering Heights. I just couldn't, ironically, stomach any others. I only started watching one and stopped a few minutes in: it was too ridiculously different from the book. Although I believe that there is a love story within the book, there is much more to it--and it is a very specific kind of love story.

The 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights by Andrea Arnold was, from start to finish, confusing and disturbing. Slow, too. But that, my friends, is why I could stomach it. The novel is confusing and disturbing and multi-layered (which can force slower reading). It's a brilliant masterpiece, but it is also confusing and disturbing. So for the movie to include these rather non-cinematic traits was, in my view, a success, whatever else the film did or did not do. Everything that is outside of the cinematic norm (from the lack of music, the often close camera angles, the dialogue shown from a distance, the quietness, the nature shots, the violence, etc.) is what helps make this movie different and moving in a much more methodical way.

That isn't to say I loved everything about this movie. For instance, while the cinematography constantly likened Heathcliff to Nature, implying the theory that the cycles of violence in the story are just seasons of Nature that will run their course and then pass away, there is no cycle after Heathcliff. There is no story of the "new generation" that takes over once Heathcliff and Cathy and Linton are all gone. But, as I understand it, this isn't something that most films include, anyway. And it's understandable: the plot is long, convoluted, confusing, and circular. It's a great plot, but a difficult one to portray on film. So while this version may not have portrayed all the cycles, at least it got one near right.

It needs at least a mention to address the (first) casting of Heathcliff as black. What could have been a complicated introduction of race into the story felt, in fact, more subtle. It simply helps to emphasize, for modern audiences, Heathcliff's isolation. In the book, he does look like an outsider and he is nearly always treated this way; the casting just gives a visual to this difference. It also helps to further liken Heathcliff with Nature. In the scene where he starts covering Cathy in mud, it isn't as if he's trying to make her black--it's as if he's trying to connect her deeper with the earth.

All this said, I still wouldn't recommend the movie to most viewers. It's more of an art house film, and yes, you're right if you call some of it disturbing (but I thought The Hunger Games was disturbing, and look how popular that was). So watch it if you're familiar with the book and want to ponder one visual approach to the story.

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