The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

But Heathcliff remains a mystery

with 13 comments

Heathcliff.

Please explain it to me.

Is there any reason why a woman should fall for him?

Pitying I can understand. It’s a shame that the kind man who brought this orphan to his family as an act of Christianity dies, leaving him to the mercy of the less than kind stepbrother.

But still. It boggles my mind how this guy could become a faint love interest for any girl. What do they see in him?

In Andrea Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights, they’ve switched his skin colour, making him black instead of a gypsy, but as soon as you’ve gotten used to it, you see that it’s only the surface that has changed. He’s still as grumpy, violent, cruel, hateful and constantly swearing as ever before. Most of the time we see him, he’s staring sullenly, observing the world while saying nothing at all. Sometimes he gets violent and threatening. Very rarely does he seem to consider the interests of someone else, offering affection, friendship or love. Is he even capable of loving? Or are the cravings he apparently has for Catherine in fact a different force?

Heathcliff is someone who tortures puppies hanging them in bushes in their necklaces. So when Catherine finally decides to marry the rich brat of a neighbour rather than him, I don’t blame her for a second. Rather I wish that he would leave her alone, letting her live the rest of her life happily. But of course my hope is in vain. Heathcliff returns as he always does, to take out his aggression and get his revenge.

Not a romance
Compared to the novel, a lot of the story is left out. For instance the parts about the second generation are completely gone. But the core remains the same.

And I think to myself: maybe I’m doing it wrong when I’m looking for some kind of romantic love story about a couple that were made for each other but are wrongly kept apart by circumstances?

Maybe Brontë and Arnold didn’t intend me to cry over the misfortune of Heathcliff. It could be a different kind of story: one about the category of women who for some strange reason is attracted to men who treat them badly, heavy drinkers and abusers. Regardless of what they do, they’ll always excuse them since they’ve been treated badly in the past.

It could also be about physical attraction in its purest for, animalistic lust that has very little to do with romance and good behaviour. But if that was the case, I think Andrea Arnold misses the target a little. Apart from a little bit of innocent wresting in the mud, I don’t really sense the chemistry between Catherine and Heathcliff. The steam isn’t dense, so to say.

Taking cover
But let’s leave the Heathcliff mystery aside for a while. What did I think of the movie? Could I like it, even if I didn’t fully understand this relationship? Oh yes, absolutely! Above anything else I was absorbed by the cinematography. I’ve seen those areas on the screen before, but this was different. It felt as if someone for the very first time had managed to really capture the soul of the moor, showing the dampness, the loneliness and the darkness and at the same time the beauty of it.

I was so pulled into the landscape that it almost made me shiver. Instinctively I took cover under my parka, using it as a shield against the chill and the misery that poured out from the screen. I haven’t felt as cold as since I watched Winter’s Bone.

All those close-ups of plants and animals and insects might make you wonder a bit if Arnold or her cinematographer is planning for a career at the Discovery channel and I’ve seen some critics grumble about it. If you ask me, it’s what makes this movie so enjoyable despite all the misery. What could possibly be better than to explore the wildlife from your armchair, safe from blisters, thunderstorms and midges?

Heathcliff remains a mystery. But Andrea Arnold brought me closer to the moor. And for that I loved Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

April 13, 2012 at 1:00 am

13 Responses

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  1. Considering your initial reservation, thats a pretty strong grade. The moors must have been irresistible indeed 😉 But isn’t the problem with “all” the Brontë books (I’m here only referring to the ones I’ve read, WH, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey, so a bit of a sweeping statement) that they manage to conjure up completely unlovable men? Be it because they are mean or because they are dull.

    Sofia

    April 13, 2012 at 6:04 am

    • I haven’t read Agnes Grey, but in the case of Jane Eyre Eyre I like him more. But then he gets his punishment and gets to suffer a bit for all his sins, doesn’t he? Things get even in the end.

      It’s a weak 4, mind you. But in the end it reflects my gut feeling after returning from it. I was so into it that I felt the urge to check up other Wuthering Heights versions. That’s a reaction I don’t get all that often. And it wasn’t boring for a moment. I had expected a very slow movie that made me fall asleep but it managed to engage me.

      Jessica

      April 13, 2012 at 7:46 am

  2. This is a film I’m eager to see because of Andrea Arnold as I’m really interested in her work though I’ve only seen Fish Tank. If it’s coming nearby to my place, I’ll watch previoius versions of that story and then see this new one just to compare/contrast. Plus, I love that Kate Bush song.

    Steven Flores

    April 13, 2012 at 6:47 am

    • I wasn’t super enthusiastic about Fish Tank, sadly enough. However I’m a big fan of her debut film, Red Road. In case you haven’t watched it, it has my strongest recommendation.

      Jessica

      April 13, 2012 at 7:47 am

  3. This is not really my cup of tea. I have it to watch and will get around to it eventually, however I do really like the director and red road is one of my fave films ever!

    • She’s very interesting indeed. My ranking so far is Red Road as number one, Wuthering Heights on second place and Fish Tank last. I’ll definitely see whatever comes next.

      Jessica

      April 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

  4. Cathy’s dream of being flung out of heaven explains the sinister nature of the romance just moments before she unintentionally slights Heathcliff with “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff”. So you know from this moment on that things are not going to be pretty. Cathy explains it herself as “something of little visible delight, but necessary” The romance is not supposed to be understood, The final paragraph of the novel sees Lockwood suggesting that they are resting in heavenly peace but we know Cathy contradicted this completely. We know that their relationship is beyond normal understanding.

    Dan

    April 14, 2012 at 12:55 am

    • You seem to be way more educated in this than I am. It’s somehow a bit comforting to hear that it’s not only me that doesn’t understand that “romance” or whatever you should call it. It’s merely working as intended.

      Jessica

      April 14, 2012 at 12:59 am

      • Other adaptions have left out the second generation entirely as well but that leaves their relationship out of context and more confusing. Hareton and Cathy Earnshaw’s harmonious love takes over from the chaos of the previous generation. It literally takes up half of the book. It’s a wonderful comment on how the world actually works. The chaotic and the ordered binding together to make up what we know. Forgive my enthusiasm, I really love this book 🙂

        Dan

        April 14, 2012 at 2:21 am

        • It’s wonderful to hear your enthusiasm! It makes me itch to revisit the book.

          Jessica

          April 15, 2012 at 4:55 pm

  5. I can’t speak for the film, but for the book I always have the impressoin is that Catherine (elder) and Heathcliff are in many respects a purely elemental couple – something on the bedrock of humanity, with all our civilised graces stripped away and just each in the other knowing a primordial need which they cannot escape. None of the characters in the book – not even those that know both characters for years – actually understand these two, so what hope have we? One might as well I think understand a thunderstorm.

    I also think in a sense the love of Catherine and Heathcliff is quite subsersive. A response perhaps to the prettier love tales of Jane Austen and so on.

    My final thought is that – to me – Catherine and Heathcliff represent something of the moors themselves as they were at that time: only half-tamed, and sometimes catastrophically able to break free of human restraint.

    Just my thoughts

    Lewis Maskell

    April 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    • “One might as well I think understand a thunderstorm. ” That is incredibly well put, as your entire comment. I have nothing to add. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Jessica

      April 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm

  6. […] Wuthering Heights: My dislike for Heathcliff kept me from embracing this film fully. But I can’t deny it was beautifully shot. […]


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