Wuthering Heights is a film directed by Andrea Arnold. It is based on the classic novel of the same name written by Emily Bronte. The screenplay was written by Andrea Arnold and Olivia Hetreed. It was released in the UK on November 11, 2011. It holds a 68% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 70% on Metacritic.
The film open with a mature Heathcliff causes himself harm alone in a room at Wuthering Heights. The setting jumps back to his childhood when he is first brought to the Heights.
His first moments at the Heights are not pleasant as he is not well received. Earnshaw’s children Catherine and Hindley are not happy about his arrival. Earnshaw declares Christian duty as explanation for his behavior. It quickly becomes obvious that Hindley hates Heathcliff, while Catherine and Heathcliff become fast friends. They run and play all across the sparse moors freely. However the fun is short lived. When Earnshaw dies Hindley becomes head of house. He banishes Heathcliff to the stables. As they grow up Heathcliff and Catherine continue to care for each other. Catherine does her best to protect Heathcliff, but he is severely mistreated by Hindley.
The pair are curious about their neighbors, and sneak up to their window. When the dogs notice them Catherine is bitten. They bring her into the house where Heathcliff follows. She is tenderly cared for while he is thrown out. Edgar and Isabella Linton befriend Catherine during her visit. Upon her return Heathcliff is flustered at the changes in her and angry that she stayed away so long. Soon Edgar comes to visit regularly driving them further apart. When Edgar proposes to Catherine she is torn between Heathcliff and Edgar. Heathcliff overhears her talk with the house keeper and runs away.
Years later Heathcliff returns, suddenly wealthy and intent on seeing Catherine. They begin to resume their frienship much to the concern on Edgar. Heathcliff rents a room from Hindley at the Heights, and slowly takes possession of the Heights through loaning Hindley money which he spends on booze. When Isabella begins to fall for Heathcliff he uses this against Edgar by sneaking her off and marrying her. She soon realizes his true nature. These events make Catherine very sick. She soon dies from heartache. Heathcliff is beyond help as he mourns this loss. The film ends with several flashbacks to their wild childhood together.
Love and Passion
The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is not only the driving force in this film it is also the root of the destruction that spreads pain across the moors. In this film we see them damage every creature in their vicinity. In this film their love is very raw. We see them riding a horse together and watch Heathcliff breathe in Catherine’s hair. Her affection is a possessive act as she draws him in, yet pulls out his hair. This theme hinges on their shared pain. They also pull their interactions from the interactions of others. Heathcliff, after seeing Hindley and his wife together out in the field, straddles Catherine in the mud. Her submission is a role reversal of their usual interactions.
Heathcliff, hell bent on revenge takes his vengeance out on Hindley for treating him as a slave and hindering his relationship with Catherine. His sole purpose upon returning seem to be to cause pain wherever possible. Throughout the film we see images of life and the power held over it. Heathcliff is driven, and beyond emotion even as he finally becomes master of the Heights. Catherine also finds herself exacting revenge as she is torn between Edgar and Heathcliff. She accuses them of killing her, causing her death.
This film is deeply rooted in nature. As the characters interact or sit and brood we are constantly looking at long views of the moors, zoomed in images of bugs, and close up shots of animals. The stark setting reflects well on the isolation the characters experience within themselves. As Heathcliff is sent out of the house and degraded to a servant we see him alone on the moors letting the rain wash over him. He is again in this same frame after seeing Catherine when he returns. When he and Catherine are out together with Isabella the setting reflects their harsh nature toward each other and those aroudn them.
This adaptation is a stripped down, visceral interpretation focused on nature and its reflection in life. Arnold creates a world that is almost desolate. The characters seem suspended between nature’s isolation and the solace of society. Their interactions hinge on a deep sense of survival. Nature has a role of its own in this film. There are many long shots of the moors, animals, and bugs. With little dialogue and almost no score the visual is placed at the forefront as the characters fight their desires. Arnold takes great care to create a background that enhances the central conflict between Catherine and Heathcliff.
Their interactions are primal. They appear to feel a love that is possessive, innocently erotic, and wild. This film goes farther than others to express the intense attachment between the two that go beyond class, love, and death. It is clear that these to care for only each other. Their relationship is portrayed in scenes of play that quickly become about domination and power. Cathy expresses her love by pulling out Heathcliff’s hair and literally licking his wounds. Her actions are no less menacing when she takes advantage of Edgar’s weak nature.
The bare scenes of the moors are quite contrasted with the more civilized home of Edgar and Catherine. Their love is more reserved and formal. However Heathcliff and Catherine create change wherever they go. In one of the most disturbing scenes Heathcliff is so desperate to be connected to Catherine after her death that he climbs onto the table where he body lies, straddling her lifeless form and holding her as if he can fuse them together. The scene is almost painful to watch it is so intimate. In many ways this adaptation takes the dark yet bleak tones of the novel and brings them right to the front. The love shared by Heathcliff and Catherine is beyond manner or human decency, it is beyond words.
The film was received with general approval. Reviews focus on Arnold’s bare style, including the first person camera angles and lack of score emphasize the isolation. The most talked about detail is Arnold’s decision to cast a black Heathcliff. While some purist didn’t appreciate the change, siting the shift from class to race as evidence, most found the choice added to the “otherness” we see in Heathcliff’s experience. The film was nominated for over a dozen awards, winning Best Director of Photography at the Valladolid International Film Festival.