Misunderstood Man


Not the same Heathcliff.

As I said in my previous post I’m going to go into a bit more detail on Heathcliff in this post. So the movie. The Academy Award winning/nominated film was produced by the infamous Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler (Director of Ben-Hur) and of course starring the even more infamous Laurence Olivier and Merle Obern. Apart from the fact that it was defiantly packed with talent it didn’t seem as grand as I expected it. Understandably the film pretty much has to cut a good deal out and since the romance between Heathcliff and Catherine is the main thing, if not the only thing, people know/remember about the book than it certainly makes sense to focus on it. Unfortunately I felt that other aspects of the book were just as important, especially when you look at creating the character of Heathcliff.

Heathcliff is an amazing character. While Heathcliff is supposed to be a Byronic hero, I really don’t see him that way. To me he is a villain. If having a good heart in the end is supposed to redeem him into a hero, than I can’t really agree with Heathcliff fitting that mold. Heathcliff to me is a villain and a real villain in my mind. Villain’s are nto supposed to be cartoonish and setting out simply to do evil, they commit evil acts for other means. Heathcliff continually commits acts of ‘evil’. At times he explicitly states that he is putting events in motion purely for revenge, which considering his situation is logical. A child who is brought up in such a violent way as he was would undoubtedly turn out to be a less than warm person. At other times though, he does appear to simply enjoy being a badass, particularly in the instances of Isabella and Hareton. He seems to enjoy harassing and torturing them for the hell of it. The fact that he is so complex in regards to the negative side to him, is what makes him so nifty. I personally love villains. Hannibal Lector really is one of the greatest villains even without Anthony Hopkins amazing film portrayal of the character. Ignoring “Hannibal Rising” and to some extent “Hannibal”, the books are never explicitly about Hannibal Lecter. He is simply this creepy guy who pops in every now and than to ‘help’ the FBI. You never really learn much about him. You only get bits and pieces of his history. It isn’t until “Hannibal” that you really see his character develop. The majority of the novel is simply going over a bit of his past and his present situation, but never in much detail. There is always the mystery. Even in “Hannibal Rising” everything isn’t explained. There are some hints at some things that most certainly could have had an impact on Hannibal in similar ways as Heathcliff, but it’s not a fact. The mystery is what makes them such great ‘villains’. If they are an open book than they simply become cartoonish.

One of the great things about Heathcliff is the supposed redeeming qualities he has. He clearly has strong feelings for Cathy #1. He is her biggest fan. Those feelings aren’t exactly clear though, especially if you consider what we talked about in class. What if the feelings are less about sexual urges and more about a bond of kinship? What if Heathcliff simply covets Cathy and has a strong urge to posses or collect her and nothing more. There are countless ways at which their ‘love’ could be looked at and I feel like the novel is almost purposely ambiguous on this in regards to Heathcliff. Once again it adds to the mystery. It’s much better not to know his exact feelings. It’s wonderful that he doesn’t pull a Darcy and write a long note explaining everything or giving long speeches at how much he loves her. Personally, regardless of his true feelings for Cathy, I don’t feel that’s enough to redeem him, especially since he’s cruel to her as well. The closest he gets to any sort of ‘good doing’ is near the end. At this time though, he simply seems weak to me. It’s not that he’s had any change of heart, he’s just become sick, weak, and altogether lost.

Now to the movie. The poster clearly takes on that gothic look by making Laurence Olivier look quite the dark brooding badass as well as showing him in the corner fighting some people off. The poster seems to do a better job at showing his villainy than the film. Laurence Olivier is an amazing actor and does an outstanding job in the film, but he still isn’t Heathcliff. I the novel Heathcliff is a badass. There are a number of things that are never explicitly explained, but going with my view of the character I interpret them as he is doing something evil, such as I pretty much assume that he rapes Isabella. In the film he never does anything bad really. The only thing I can think of is slapping Isabella. Everything else in the film is turned around to make Heathcliff look like a swell gent. I mean the scene with the horses in the film shows Hindley throwing a sizable rock at Heathcliff an hitting him on the head (which I incidentally think would have killed him or at least caused quite a bit of damage). In the novel however it is Heathcliff whose being the little prick and harassing Hindley. There is never any hint at Heathcliff being raised as a ‘brother’ in the film either. He shows up and runs around with Cathy having fun, but any other time he is seen he is being abused, which really is to his heroic benefit. Being abused by people like Hindley gives a sort of excuse or at least logical reasoning as to why he exacts ‘revenge’ on them later on.

Having written everything above, I found the following video intriguing and is actually where the title of my blog post comes from.

Apparently there is a musical entitled “Heathcliff” which is telling the story of “Wuthering Heights” in musical form from Heathcliff’s point of view. I’ve never seen the musical, though I’ve now watched some of the clips on youtube and I have to say it’s interesting and seems like it might be a decent musical.

And now for something completely different.

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Posted on April 22, 2011, in Old Nic At The Movies Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wow. Intense post. Really interesting though! Two things you wrote really struck me: First, the film consensus seems to be that Cathy the Younger’s life is not important. I totally disagree. At first, I thought that the novel was just dragging on. It should have ended with Catherine the Elder’s death. However, as I got to the end, I started to think that the parallels and (slight) reconciliation with get with Cathy and Hareton is really important. That leads me to my second thought. I think Bronte makes an attempt to redeem Healthcliff at the end through his envy (and grudging acceptance) of Cathy and Hareton’s love. However, I thought your comments about his love for Catherine possibly being more about domination and possession was really insightful. I wonder, is Catherine’s love about similar self-centered notions? How do we read Heathcliff’s prayer that Catherine will haunt him always? And why doesn’t Heathcliff just kill himself when Catherine dies? That seems logical in the world of Wuthering Heights…

  2. I also agree that Olivier’s Heathcliff is much more romanticized than the source character. His cruelty is downplayed, and I think the story and the character loses a lot for that. I really liked your analysis of Heathcliff’s ambiguous feelings for Cathy I in the novel. All we really know is that she possesses his mind and emotions at a level that we can hardly comprehend; if that is true love or something else, we’ll never know. I also wonder about Cathy I’s feelings, which Ginny mentioned above – she’s seen throughout the novel as a self-centered girl; perhaps her love for Heathcliff was something not so pure. Perhaps it was the ultimate in narcissism, given her statement that she and Heathcliff are one and the same. I think these ambiguities are really interesting and some of the strongest things in the novel.

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