One of my favorite novels is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The story of the orphan Heathcliff, whom Mr. Earnshaw brings home in an inexplicable act of charity, and the subsequent primal attraction that occurs between the boy and Earnshaw’s young daughter Cathy, has haunted me since I first read it in college. Since then, I have read it about seven times. There’s something about a doomed passionate attraction that pulls at my heartstrings. And the novel’s popularity since it was penned more than 150 years ago tells me that I am not alone.
I am intrigued to learn that yet another movie adaptation of the story is due out in October 2012. To anyone familiar with the book, most of the nearly thirty film adaptations have probably been disappointing. They either focus on the youthful love story, and not on the impact that the almost feral attraction had on their descendants (which was so much a part of the novel), or they attempt to encompass the entire and lose the audience in the translation.
Which is why reading the book, at least in this case, is always better: it has provided me a much more emotionally powerful experience.
The love between Cathy and Heathcliff is one of the great romances of literature. Her dark good looks and his dark psychic demeanor—and the powerful connection that they forge between them in childhood—claw at the reader’s soul.
In this adaptation there is an interesting new twist: Heathcliff is played by a black actor.
The tragedy in their lives was so unavoidable. The hurt that Cathy caused—by choosing to marry a man who could offer her respectability even though she truly loved Heathcliff—helped to create a monster set on destroying everyone who ever hurt him. Including the only woman he could ever love.
While no film adaptation quite captures the power of the story (the 1939 version with Laurence Olivier was awful—he made an insufferable Heathcliff), my favorite was the 1970 version with Anne Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton. The scene in which Heathcliff learns that Cathy has died giving birth and bashes his head against a tree is truly powerful; Dalton was Heathcliff.
So, I will go to the new adaptation when it comes out in the hopes that maybe–just maybe–a film might finally capture the spirit and the power of Bronte’s story of love on the moors.
Somehow, though, I fear I will be disappointed.
Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris