#120. Wuthering Heights (1939)

wuthering heights vaynerchuk.jpgGary Vaynerchuk is a vulgar, bombastic, occasionally funny entrepreneur/social media guru/motivational speaker whose work I really enjoy, and I think Thousand Movie Project has reaped a huge benefit out of all that I’ve learned from his videos and podcasts and books. He’s so prolific, and I’m so attentive to his output, that I’m basically saturated in his voice, his sensibility, which means that I bring him up in conversation pretty often, especially when discussing some course of action for the Project. For some reason, though, I feel like cringing every time I do it. I was once watching a documentary on Netflix about a Tony Robins weekend retreat/workshop thing, some self-improvement seminar that costs thousands of dollars to attend, and my dad walked in just as I was getting engrossed. Jolted me out of my focus by asking what I was watching, and right away I started putzing for the remote, panicked, wanting tot urn it off. It was like he’d caught me watching porn. Not sure why I’m simultaneously so open about consuming a motivational speaker’s content but, at the same time, mortified at the idea of somebody learning that I do. (I’m mostly talking about Vaynerchuk here. Don’t actually like Tony Robins.)

Anyway. One of the Vaynerchuk routines that always rings my bell – he says it at keynotes and on podcasts and vlogs – is the bit about “deploying patience” when you’re a young entrepreneur, artist, whatever. He says it’s the most consistent and adamant bit of advice he finds himself giving. Talks about young guys in particular wanting overnight success and being disappointed when they don’t get it. He says that he understands their frustration, especially when the young person is somebody who, like Vaynerchuk himself, did poorly in school and was made to think he’d never amount to anything. He praises the person with a chip on their shoulder. Respects the desire to rub your success in the faces of people who doubted or discouraged or insulted you.

Whenever I seem to be making some headway toward publication, or if the Project gets some attention from a news outlet, there’s a part of me – an ugly but vocal one – that starts wondering what John or Jane Doe, who once at a party in 2008 spoke derisively about my writing ambitions and general prospects, might say or think when they find out I’m doing well, that my work is being acknowledged, and if they’ll even remember what they said to me that night (I’m looking at you, Sebastian).

There’s a lot of this in Wuthering Heights – based on the Emily Bronte novel that I was supposed to read in the summer before my senior year of high school but did not. Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), who’s shat upon as a kid, runs away, and returns to his childhood residence, to the wealthy family that once mistreated and disparaged him, so he can flaunt his success (and also hookup with the love who once shunned his lowly status). While the movie is a romance, a tragedy, a kind of gothic period piece, it’s also an underdog story. Kind of.

When the movie begins we see Heathcliff as an old man, solemn and isolated, and we know that the love of his life, Cathy, isn’t just dead but appears to actually haunt him. Then a flashback shows him in childhood where, as an orphan (?), he’s brought to live with Mr. Earnshaw. Earnshaw has two kids: Cathy and Hindley. Heathcliff and Cathy get along, but Hindley hates him. Heathcliff is also kinda regarded as a servant. Mistreated. Anyway – the story’s convoluted but the heart of it is that Cathy, who’s big on status, says something about Heathcliff not being a suitable husband. Says it in private but Heathcliff overhears, and bails, whereupon Cathy’s riven with guilt because…maybe she doesn’t actually feel that way about him? Whatever. It’s too late. Heathcliff’s gone and Cathy marries some less-interesting dude.

wuthering heights laurence young

Coupla years go by and, look out: it’s Heathcliff! Back from nowhere and looking fine, wealthy, showing himself off to be exactly the thing he was derided for not being, back in the day, and there’s more than a hint of vengeance about him.

So we start off seeing Heathcliff as a hardened old misanthrope, with a clear spot of vulnerability about his departed Cathy, but then we cut to his humble origins. The birth of the chip on his shoulder. And for a while it seems like his bitterness is totally natural. He was mistreated, dismissed, and then he went off into the world and, by the parlance of these uppity folk, “became somebody.” Surely a wiser decision than coming home, and opening old wounds, would have been to just go off someplace and live happily ever after in his newfound wealth and status, but being myself a somewhat spiteful and grudge-bearing asshole at times I can see how his success creates a pedestal for his rage.

Then the pettiness gets the best of him. He buys the land on which he and the Earnshaw kids were raised, out from under the now-adult Hindley, an alcoholic. Then he exerts power over Hindley. Shames him. Tries to marry Cathy’s sister-in-law. Just a bunch of ugly spiteful shit that gets nobody anywhere.

 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)
Wuthering Heights (1939) Directed by William Wyler Shown: Laurence Olivier

In this respect it reminds me of Jezebel. Apart from both being period pieces about unrequited love both movies are about damaged young people who ruin their love lives with impulsive acts. We see their regret. The obstinate choice to nurture their spite turns seamlessly into the choice to dwell, forever afterward, on the consequences of doing so.

Neither protagonist, from either movie, is likeable, and at times they’re monstrous, but they’re penitent monsters, contending with their destructive impulses. They seem like some of the most human figures to grace the List so far.

All that said: I didn’t really like this movie. It’s interesting, but not for me. It’s similar to Jezebel, which I liked a lot, but I’m more inclined to group it with Camille, Queen Christina, and Peter Ibbetson – which I did not like. I actually disliked it so much that I only wrote this essay piecemeal, over the course of a couple weeks, barely able to focus on it, productively think back on the movie, for more than a few minutes at a time.

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