Friday, October 14, 2022

Emily, Is That You?

What? There's a movie coming out this month about Emily Bronte? (In the UK--there's no US release date yet.) Why didn't I know about this sooner? Let's watch the trailer (here's the link). 

Hmmm. Must've been the wrong link, the wrong trailer. That didn't look like Emily. Oh, wait, no, there's the title. Emily. Hmmm. Well then.

I admit first and foremost that I'm reacting to the trailer only. Trailers are generally sensationalized. Maybe the movie is completely different. But for the sake of conversation, here is why the trailer leaves me questioning whether I will even watch the film at all when it becomes available for me to watch. 

My Victorian novels professor liked to reference "the Bronte myth," this idea of the Bronte sisters as these wild figures wandering out on the moors. It's an idea that stirs up people's imaginations and has been in large part responsible for people's fascination with the sisters--but it's not an entirely factual look at the three small town, parson's daughters. A couple of years ago, we had that quiet film To Walk Invisible that aimed at showing the reality of the sisters' lives without sensationalizing them. This film is obviously taking a completely different direction and just sticking with the Bronte myth, adding to the embellishment. 

We get it. Emily was the more disturbed of the three sisters, if that's the word you want to use. Even though Charlotte is labeled the genius, the argument can be made that Wuthering Heights is a more perfect novel than any of the ones Charlotte wrote. And when you read the sisters' poetry, Emily generally has the best. There is obviously that "artistic disturbance" to her writing, that deep way of thinking about all aspects of life. And all of those thoughts were contained in one shy young woman who didn't like to venture out and was hesitant to share her writing even with her sisters. Of course our imaginations latch onto that and want to make it so melodramatic and modern.

I realize in watching the trailer that I know less about the specifics of Emily's life than I do about Charlotte's. I don't know whether her tutor friend in the trailer is based on a real person or not. I would imagine he is--unless the movie really is just throwing reality out the window. (By the way, is Branwell in this movie? What's a sensationalized Bronte film without the drunk brother?) But even if Emily had a close friendship with him in reality, what's this passionate kiss in the kitchen? Come on. Did we forget what era this is? This is why I sometimes have only so much patience for period films: they're too modern. And oh, yes, then we have to follow with her father's voice warning her about bringing shame on the family. Yes, father Bronte was harsh on his family--but let's call that what it was without having to add more to it. I sense the stirrings of modern, feminist perspective--and I don't think the Bronte sisters would have been modern feminists even if they had been born in the current era. But that's a whole conversation.

Yes, the fact that the sisters were women who were writing and then even publishing what they wrote went against the norm of society. It was quite bold of them. But those stirrings in the heart that lead many of us to write are common to humanity. I really love reading their writings and studying their lives; I can relate to a lot of things with them. But the Bronte sisters were just people. Emily Bronte was just a quiet woman living in a small town and thinking deep thoughts because she observed so much life in every little thing she saw. That's why her novel is set similarly in a small town dealing with a very isolated set of people. It's all about getting to the humanity of it. 

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