Wuthering Heights
Rating -

Drama / Romance (UK); 1992; Rated PG; 106 Minutes

Juliette Binoche: Cathy / Catherine
Ralph Fiennes: Heathcliff
Janet McTeer: Ellen Dean
Sophie Ward: Isabella Linton
Simon Shepherd: Edgar Linton

Produced by Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway and Chris Thompson; Directed by Peter Kosminsky; Screenwritten by Anne Devlin; based on "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Peter Kosminsky's "Wuthering Heights" is a drone, depressing, and exhaustively revolting excuse for entertainment: the kind of film that provokes the illusion that people want to be assaulted for two hours without any relief. Why anyone would even consider subjecting themselves to such miserable shallowness, though, is beyond me. Its cruelty is incredibly depressing, not to any purpose of amusement or entertainment, but just to depress. It made my life miserable. No matter how I felt while viewing it, life was much more pleasant without even seeing it. Most good movies with an element of horrendousness are at least able to provoke a sense of relief somewhere along the line. Not so in "Wuthering Heights": the makers take the barbarity so far that, even if you are used to the cruelty, you still can't appreciate it. To admire any part of the truculence is to admire the pain of childbirth.

"Wuthering Heights" is a 1992 remake of the popular novel, of course, but since I never saw it and a teacher of mine showed it to her classroom the other day, I decided to follow along. That person, unfortunately, loved the film, and was shocked at my proclamations of its shamelessness and cruelty. She suggested that I 'review' the film to understand it more clearly. She said, somewhat specifically, that movies do not always intend to leave you feeling miserable. "Wuthering Heights" is what you call a 'gothic romance.' Gothic it is, romantic it is not.

Maybe there would have been some sympathy with the whole concept if it weren't too dang mean and grievous. The story involves Heathcliff and Cathy, two people who are obviously soul mates but troubled by life's ordeals. Originally, Heathcliff, a poor gypsy, was taken off the streets by Cathy's father. He was announced to be a member of the family, probably because this noble gentleman was so sincere to those in need of help. After his death, the heir to the family fortune, Hindley, cast Heathcliff out of the house and into the barn, where he acted as a caretaker.

Between these developments, Heathcliff and Cathy fell in love with each other. By the time we see them together, they have already developed a romance for each other. A few scenes afterwards, Heathcliff takes Cathy out into a field of rock formations, and tells her to close her eyes. When she opens them, "the sky will reflect her life." At first, the image is sunny and bright, and then a big storm approaches and darkens up the whole sky. Talk about over-extensive symbolism!

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous. Cathy's wish to protect her family honor leads her to marry a wealthy man named Edgar, even though her heart obviously belongs to the Heathcliff. Years after Cathy and Edgar's marriage, Heathcliff returns to the scene, wealthy, and in high power of Cathy's and his old home, Wuthering Heights. Oh, but your simple poor Heathcliff has undergone a little personality change since we last saw him. In the poor state, he was charming and decent; here, he's become a revenge-driven, malevolent maniac whose urges to prompt immediate downfall on those around him shut out any feelings that we might have had for him. By this point, I despised him with every living breath. The only relief in the whole movie from his evil tendencies is his own death, which, unfortunately, comes a little too late for me to appreciate.

For the sake of keeping your nerves calm, I shall reveal no more of the story, because, up until the last frame, the whole family is punished because of Heathcliff's jealousy and cold-heartedness. We're supposed to enjoy this? The material is presented like an old news story about an abusive husband who is driven insane by his love's death, and winds up taking everyone else along with him his downfall. In one of the film's most unnecessary scenes, he strikes Cathy's daughter, Catherine (played flatly by the same Juliette Binoche), who at first refuses to marry his son, but realizes she has no choice, since this man is, after all, determined to make everyone's life a living hell, no matter what the cost.

What's worse, all of this torture, this ludicrousy, is accompanied by brilliant sets and wonderful costumes, not to mention semi-effective performances by some of the film's more minor characters. The castle Wuthering Heights is breathtaking to the eye, as are the old-English costumes warn by the characters. The film's art direction is its strong point, which has large pillars enclosing the castle's large halls and corridors from sunlight. The look is probably the only thing that keeps it from being total trash.

None of it makes any sense. Why is Heathcliff so driven from human decency? Why couldn't his horrendous personality at least partially let up long after he had already destroyed the family? I have no doubt that people like this really exist, but I'm more sure that those type of people had something to do with making this movie. Like the unbearable "Mommie Dearest," this film knows its look, but certainly not its heart.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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