06 June 2012


Here's what you do. Hold on to this link for Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay" (the whole dang thing is on the Poetry Foundation site--good work Poetry Foundation site!). Wait until a few hours before Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights opens in your town. Read the poem then go see the film.

Both address the textures that make Emily Bronte's novel linger on the WTT brain much longer than others from the period. They're punishing, inescapable dreams of thwarted love and bitter chill. With disconcerting pileups of hanged puppies (it's one thing to read that puppies are hanged on the page but even a coldhearted cinephile might get a little squirmy watching it onscreen). 

On the whole, however, humans prove less violent than nature. Carson writes "spring opens like a blade" and Arnold's nature is daggers of wind, cutting through any shelter. Even the mud of the moors seems to breathe, sucking down and threatening to swallow young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, a boy essentially without language) and Catherine (a spot-on Shannon Beer).

Arnold snaps a tremendous cut from luggage being dropped off a wagon to a coffin thunking in the ground. The funeral features some of the only sunlight seen in the picture and when I reread "The Glass Essay" it resonated with the description "wooden sky carved with knives of light."

The director works in a square frame with enough rack-focused blurring that she could be using Instagram functions to dictate the look of the film. She's probably not though. It's probably more her representation of the enclosed wooziness of the Earnshaw house, groaning like a ship at sea.  And she doesn't eschew with her now trademark slow motion shots. Heathcliff trails Catherine, petting her horse, her curled behind like gorse.

Youth ends and Heathcliff (now a somewhat less affecting James Howson) comes back home. The results are as disastrous as we might expect if Mia had returned to Mardyke Estates in Fish Tank. Heathcliff moves from the "bluish dusk like a sea slid back" to Thrushcross Grange, dappled in pink and white light. He ignores Catherine's husband (whatever his name is--it's especially irrelevant in this adaptation) and returns to crushing on Catherine (now a significantly less affecting Kaya Scodelario).

Heathcliff waits for her to reappear in the unfamiliar shadows of bird cage and crystal. Arnold inserts enough flashbacks that we know his position is hopeless, that the girl with whom he wrestled in the mud is not walking through those ornate doors.

I saw the film a month ago at SFIFF and I've grown more convinced that this story is the worst kind of horror. Heathcliff comes in to Wuthering Heights for the light and the fire and the humanity and is worse for it. Better to have been merely stripped to his bones in the cold. As he sees it, life is bitter but bitterer without Catherine. So he waits out his prison sentence of grey mornings and still the hope that a pair of lapwings will rise over the moor.

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