So. I am way, way behind on my 2015 Best Picture Winner Challenge. Thus far, I’ve only watched one film and I didn’t care for it at all. I thought maybe I’d reward myself with a movie that — hopefully — would be more my speed, but I took too long in doing so, and before I knew it, spring had come. Which meant only one thing: I had to watch Gone With the Wind.
See, knowing that Gone with the Wind is a four-hour American epic, Mek and I decided to make an Event out of it: an indoor Easter picnic. We spread a blanket out over the carpet and ate classy finger foods like lunch meats and cheese slices and Bagel Bites. (Briefly, we considered classing it up for real, but I don’t much like cucumber sandwiches, and Mekaela chose Martinelli’s in wine glasses over actual wine, so that was basically that.) I put on my petticoat and we both wore our fancy hats and it was, all in all, a pretty good time.
But maybe we should have gotten real booze because oh my God this MOVIE.
To my mother: Mama, if you read this, I’m sorry. I know how much you love this movie, and I will say some nice things about it. Just possibly not very many.
To everyone else: this movie came out in 1939. SPOILERS abound.
The melodramatic life and times of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), a spoiled Southern belle who finds her courage, greed, and — I guess — love in and after the Civil War. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) also shows up periodically to flirt like a scoundrel or act like an ass.
1. Before I get into the movie itself, I feel like I should more properly set the stage.
I had a great deal of fun flitting around in that petticoat. Mekaela, meanwhile, chose to color-coordinate her fancy hat with her purple pajamas. Clearly, between the two of us, we are the future of fashion.
Alas, the cats would not wear any matching fancy hats of their own — such infrequently cooperative creatures, cats — but they did have a great deal of fun with our picnic basket.
A week later, and we still haven’t had the heart to put up that basket. Bane and Nygma keep climbing in there for naps. It’s adorable.
2. Now that I’m through with the blatant kitty cuteness, though, let’s move on to the actual film. I think I would like to begin my cinematic blasphemy with this question: holy fuck, what is wrong with everyone? Gone with the Wind is many things, but it is NOT a romantic film.
We’ll go into more detail about each of these points later, but if it’s been a while since you’ve seen this classic romance, let me just remind you of some of the things that take place besides all the flirting:
Stealing Your Sister’s Fiancee
Domestic Disputes That Lead to Miscarriages
Everyone Treating Their Partners Like Shit
If I’m supposed to find any of this passionate and stirring . . . well, I guess that explains why I’m still happily single.
3. But maybe I should back up. I’m discovering that Gone With the Wind is sort of an unwieldy film to tackle — there is, after all, a great deal of material to go over.
As I’ve already
complained groaned wept said, Gone with the Wind is roughly four hours long, and though Scarlett sometimes makes me wanna hit my head against wall, I didn’t have any real big problems with the first two hours. (Well. Other than the horrific racist stereotypes, but we’ll get to those shortly.) I felt like the story was building to something. I was interested to see how our silly, spoiled protagonist would grow — and she did grow, at least for a short time. The first fifteen minutes or so in Hour 3 where Scarlett kills the Union soldier who comes into her house, and she and Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) have to get rid of the body?
Man, I adored that scene. Not only did it quickly fulfill Scarlett’s promise to “lie, cheat, steal, or kill,” (which, upon hearing, I was immediately like, “Okay, all that shit better come true”), but it was awesome to see another turn in the relationship of these two women who were once sorta-enemies (even if Melanie never actually realized it). I really wanted these two to be genuine friends after this. In fact, I was shipping the two of them pretty hard. (I support a surprising amount of ships in this story.)
And I’ll be honest — a big chunk of my problem with Gone With the Wind is that I kind of want it to become Fried Green Tomatoes. You know, with more petticoats. And that’s not entirely fair because clearly no one ever intended for this story to turn out as Fried Green Tomatoes — but I’m just desperately unhappy with what it actually became.
Hour 3 is okay — Scarlett does some deeply awful things, sure, but they’re done in the service of saving Tara and never going hungry again, so they work for me because they’re consistent with her character arc. But I think the pacing seriously starts to suffer when Scarlett marries Rhett Butler, and sweet Jesus, Hour 4 is such insane melodrama — and not the fun Melrose Place kind of melodrama, but awful, awful shit. Hour 4 is what breaks Gone with the Wind for me.
4. But let’s go back to Hour 1. This is how we begin Gone with the Wind.
Yeah, this is a problem for me. Of course, this movie was made in 1939. Romanticizing the antebellum South probably wasn’t particularly controversial back then. Hell, I’m not sure it’s all that controversial now — I sometimes get a little tired of Hollywood’s love affair with the Confederacy, particularly when you hear news stories about the various states who want to ban AP US History courses because they want to pretend that America wasn’t partially built on blood. But holy shit, people. Look at that language. This is the age of gallantry, of knights and their ladies fair? We’re going to address slavery in a tone of wistful nostalgia? I mean, Jesus. That’s some scary shit right there.
5. The stereotypical black characters are also, well. Upsetting. I know there’s a lot of mixed feelings on Mammy and Hattie McDaniel’s career in general, but I also think she put a lot of force and character into that performance, and the fact that she actually won Best Supporting Actress for it — I mean, there aren’t words for how huge that is. I can’t see a lot of shame in that role.
Prissy, on the other hand.
Let me clear: I don’t believe that shame belongs to Butterfly McQueen at all; the shame in its entirety should lie with the writers and directors of Gone with the Wind. But holy God, is watching Prissy painful. She is a cringing, lying, idiotic mess of a character, and a horrifying reflection of how white people saw (and, in too many cases, see) black people, as not only inferior but . . . but subhuman.
6. But let’s move on to something a little more lighthearted than problematic messaging and institutionalized racism. This era did have one thing going for it, and that one thing is fashion.
Man, you guys. The costumes in this movie are amazing. Scarlett’s wardrobe alone, I mean, damn. I’d wear that dress above in a heartbeat — it might’ve been my favorite in the whole movie, even more than her spectacular green curtain dress. (Between this and The Sound of Music, I guess the lesson here is that I really need to learn how to sew. My creation, unfortunately, would probably turn out more like this.) Admittedly, I don’t know what I’d wear the dress to, exactly, but still. We can’t all be practical in our desires, can we? And I must confess, I’m mildly delighted by the idea of grocery shopping in a dress that could fill the entire width of an aisle. “Where am I going in this fine outfit? Oh, just to Lucky’s. I need to pick up some canned chili for dinner. Also, Pop Tarts. Can’t miss out on the essentials.”
7. Also, for whatever problems I have with Gone with the Wind, acting isn’t really one of them. In fact, I’m still having trouble deciding who I want to give MVP too.
Vivien Leigh gets a lot of the acclaim and, in my opinion, rightly so — Scarlett is not a deeply likable character, and yet — up until Hour 4, anyway — I find her an engaging lead. Flawed, certainly. I absolutely want to pelt her with terrible Easter candy, like Peeps, which are obviously the Devil’s food. But that I am invested in her character at all, that I find any sympathy for her spoiled, silly ass, well, I would put that down to Leigh’s strong performance. And — not for nothing — I didn’t catch her British accent once.
And of course Clark Gable himself is charming as hell.
In a way, I suppose it’s no real surprise that Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship is considered one of the great romances in cinematic history. They do have remarkable chemistry with one another, after all, and I really did get a kick out of watching their antagonistic flirting. Let’s be real here: Rhett Butler is basically Han Solo in the Civil War, and who doesn’t love that? (Up until that dread fourth hour, anyway, when Rhett’s shitty behavior is too awful for even Gable’s near endless charm to overcome.) Plus, Gable has chemistry with everyone — I really loved Rhett’s relationship with both Mammy and Melanie. In fact, there were a number of scenes in this movie where I kind of hoped Rhett and Melanie would get together at the end. In case you needed more cinematic blasphemy.
(Also, this: I went to Archive of Our Own in search of either Melanie/Rhett or Melanie/Scarlett fanfiction and found absolutely bupkis. Everyone’s OTP is, for once, both a het romance and the traditional pairing. Fanfiction writers, I’m a little disappointed in you.)
Actually, it’s Olivia de Havilland herself that I feel gets overlooked.
If Leigh has the challenge of making a terrible person sympathetic, then de Havilland has the challenge of making the Nice Girl not syrupy and boring. And there’s no doubt about the fact that Melanie is the Nice Girl. She never turns on Scarlett, ever; it’s like she’s simply incapable of thinking the worst in people, which is not actually a character trait that I particularly admire in real or fictional people. I should at the very least find her a little pathetic — but I actively like Melanie. Maybe it’s that one scene with Scarlett and the Union soldier that does it, the one where she comes down the stairs, sickly and frightened but also with a sword in her hand. She may not make me laugh the way Rhett does, but she still might be my favorite character in the whole movie. Melanie’s only Fourth Hour problem is that she dies. I guess you can’t really blame her for that one.
8. And then there’s Ashley (Leslie Howard).
Honestly, I think most of my problems with this movie have to do with this guy.
See, in the beginning, Scarlett is infatuated with Ashley and is certain that he loves her as well, despite the fact he’s getting engaged to Melanie. Scarlett pretty much throws herself at him, a proposal he politely rejects. And seriously — take a shot, people. Scarlett throws herself at Ashley, what? Three more times in this movie? It’s insane. At the beginning, Scarlett is young and immature and makes intensely stupid decisions, like responding to this rejection by spitefully deciding to marry Ashley’s cousin. (Lucky for her, Charles dies in the war.) But she’s sixteen and I suppose I can forgive her for it, even if I feel like I personally had better common sense at sixteen. But Scarlett stays in love with Ashley for a VERY long period of time — twelve years, I believe? That’s what Google is telling me anyway; I’ll admit to initially thinking it was fifteen or twenty years.
And the thing is, I have absolutely no idea why Scarlett fell in love with Ashley in the first place, much less why she stayed in love with him for over a decade. Ashley has next to no personality, no apparent sense of humor, no real defining character traits. He is the blandest of bland love interests. Also? He’s not particularly attractive. I mean, the guy’s not ugly, and obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but I don’t think anyone would argue that this dude is so Joseph Morgan or Jensen Ackles levels of hot that it somehow makes up for his total lack of personality. Hell, even if Ashley had been played by someone unfairly gorgeous like Tom Hardy or Idris Elba, I mean, come on. Ashley has still said NO for 12 YEARS. Rejection sucks for everyone and I appreciate that Scarlett isn’t a quitter, but by the end of the movie, this is just equal parts ridiculous and pathetic.
Mind you, Scarlett is supposed to think that Ashley loves her too, that it’s only his marital duty to Melanie (and not actual feeling) that has kept him away. She only discovers at the very end of the film that Ashley actually loved Melanie all along, which apparently causes her to realize that she really loves Rhett after all, or something like that. Which, what total shit. Seriously, you shouldn’t realize you love someone only when another dude’s like, “Actually, I never wanted to marry you in the first place.” I feel pretty bad for Rhett here, and I don’t even like Rhett at this point in the movie.
Also, who CARES if Ashley loved Melanie or not? Regardless of his motivations, he was still pretty clear about the whole ‘I’m Not Going to Leave Her’ plan. I get that the heart wants what it wants and that intentions matter, but for Christ’s sake, people. Actions matter too.
9. And the thing is — I’m okay with the fact that attaining Ashley is Scarlett’s driving motivation for the first two hours. Sure, it’s maddening — Girl Pines After Guy is not really my favorite type of story — but it works. She’s immature and frivolous and she imagines that this one entirely boring guy is the most important thing in her life. Fine.
But once she’s been through the horrors of war, once she’s delivered Melanie’s baby on her own (Prissy hardly counts) and makes it through a dangerous and devastated countryside back to her own home? Ashley should no longer be her driving motivation. Too much has happened. She’s grown up. Scarlett’s driving motivation for the rest of the movie should be to keeping her promise to God that she’ll never go hungry again.
I’m not saying she can’t have feelings for Ashley. She can. You can’t turn off your heart, I get that. I could even have dealt with one last seduction attempt (even though I heartily rolled my eyes when she did so — and that wasn’t even the last attempt). But after that, that’s it. It’s time to move on, not just because I want her to but because I think the story needs her to. I mean, clearly I’ve been outvoted by time, God, and everyone, but still. Gone With the Wind doesn’t have to be Fried Green Tomatoes, but it’s hard to hold onto any respect or even much interest in a character whose primary goal in life has been the exact same since she was sixteen and an idiot.
10. And it’s especially hard when this tale of unrequited love spirals into pure ugly melodrama.
So, here’s a rundown of what happens: Scarlett is attacked while traveling alone, and her second husband, Frank, is killed when he and some other men go to get justice and avenge her honor or something. Extremely shortly thereafter, Rhett proposes to her and it’s kind of romantic, I guess — as much as a proposal can be when the guy mocks the hell out of the woman he’s proposing to, and the woman admits that she’s in love with another man and that she mostly says yes because of the money. I do feel a little bad for Rhett because he obviously does love Scarlett and she repeatedly treats him like shit, but seriously, she straight up tells him that she’ll never love him, and he thinks, what? He can just kiss that away? Rhett, you’re an asshole. You absolutely knew what you were walking into, buddy — marrying someone with the belief that you can change them over time is just stupid. My sympathies are limited.
Anyway, they do seem happy for a short while, but then Scarlett remembers that she loves Ashley and it all quickly goes to hell. She has a kid, Bonnie Blue, who Rhett adores but Scarlett doesn’t seem to want. (I suppose that’s up to interpretation. She has, like, one scene with the kid.) She refuses to have any more children or sleep with Rhett. Then she ends up kissing Ashley, which everyone finds out about. Melanie, bless her soul, never believes it, but Rhett sure does — he forces her to go to Melanie’s party in this red gown, having her basically dress the part of a whore.
The whole thing is squicky and terrible, and it’s not going to get any better.
Rhett gets drunk that night, and the two argue again. This time Rhett threatens to get Ashley out of Scarlett’s mind by smashing her skull in. He doesn’t do that, which is good, I guess. Unfortunately, what he does instead is tell her that they’re having sex, and when she says no and fights back, he physically restrains her and carries her upstairs. So yeah, Rhett totally rapes Scarlett. But it’s clearly meant to be okay because the next morning she’s all smiling and content because all she really needed was a good fucking? Jesus Christ, this is so many levels of gross.
Rhett feels bad about his behavior — as well he fucking should — and offers Scarlett a divorce. She doesn’t want one, but he leaves for London anyway, taking Bonnie Blue with him. Bonnie misses her mom, though, so eventually he comes back to drop her off — because sure, Scarlett seems like she’ll make a great single parent — and the two get into another argument, this one conveniently at the top of a staircase. (Lot of staircases, in this movie.) Scarlett tells Rhett that she’s pregnant and that she doesn’t want the baby. Rhett tells her, “Cheer up. Maybe you’ll have an accident.” Scarlett wildly tries to strike him and when Rhett dodges, Scarlett immediately has that accident, falling down the stairs and losing the baby.
(I suppose I should point out that this scene is rife with moments where you can see that the two actually do care about one another. Scarlett is clearly ecstatic when Rhett comes home but immediately falls back to lying at Rhett’s cold greeting. Rhett is delighted to hear about the baby, but draws back when Scarlett jerks at his touch. I know I’m supposed to watch them and think, You guys are so perfect for each other, if you could only get your shit together, and in a way, I DO think that. But once again, my problem is that it’s not only intention — action matters. Sure, I shipped the hell out of them early on — but that was well before the rape scene, you know? At some point, love isn’t all you need.)
Because the staircase miscarriage isn’t tragic enough, little Bonnie Blue dies about five minutes later. And not only does she die — she dies the exact same way Scarlett’s father did.
Moral: horses get you dead.
I’ll say this: the whole thing about dead Bonnie being scared of the dark? That was actually genuinely sad. And I really liked that Melanie came to talk to Rhett, even though we disappointingly don’t get to see the actual scene itself. I really do think their relationship is interesting. I basically want to ship everyone with Melanie.
Unfortunately, Melanie dies too because of course she does. She collapses immediately after leaving Rhett — tragedies are one after another in this movie, paced like explosions in a Michael Bay film — because she also has a miscarriage and dies from complications, I guess. (Actually, that’s debatable. Wikipedia says miscarriage, but some people say that she did deliver the baby. I don’t remember seeing one, and she didn’t look particularly far along to me — but then I can’t remember if they bothered giving her a pillow to stuff under her dress the first time around, either. Look, Melanie died for Plot Reasons, okay?)
Before she kicks the bucket, Melanie tells Scarlett to look after Ashley. And once realizing that Ashley never loved her, Scarlett runs after Rhett to tell him she’s loved him all along. Rhett’s not having any of it and takes off, but supposedly the movie ends on an up note with Scarlett realizing that she’s always gained her strength from Tara and that she’ll go home and find a way to get her man back again.
And I get the idea, I do, but honestly, Scarlett’s speech here just reads to me as vaguely delusional at this point, that she’ll never get Rhett just like she never got Ashley, and at the end of the day, it will all end in tears.
11. Finally, I’m left with a small handful of random notes that I haven’t managed to address yet.
11A. The cinematography in this movie is pretty lovely. This famous shot, for instance, with 800 extras and 800 dummies?
It’s a great shot. And the rest of the movie, too, just looks beautiful — I’m such a sucker for Technicolor. Maybe we see that majestic vista one too many times, but hell. It is pretty.
11B. Scarlett is constantly hating people forever, especially in the first half of the movie, and that gets a little tiresome. Still, I’d be pretty pissed at Rhett, too, if he left me alone on the road with a very sick woman, a woman who’s clearly not all there, and a newborn baby, all so he could go ease his conscience by signing up for a losing war. Screw you, Rhett Butler.
11C. Finally, I couldn’t stop playing the Celebrity Game while watching this movie. Actors kept reminding me of other actors, so I kept remaking the movie in my head. For instance, Frank would be played by Mark Ruffalo.
Ashley would be played by Tom Hiddleston.
Melanie would be played by Amy Acker.
And Joan Cusack would play Belle.
Of course, my remake of Gone with the Wind would turn out a lot differently.
Rhett: “You should be kissed often and by someone who knows how.”
Rhett: “You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.”
Rhett: “This is an honorable proposal of marriage made at what I consider a most opportune moment. I can’t go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.”
Melanie: “Scarlett, you killed him. I’m glad you killed him.”
Scarlett: “Well, I’ve guess I’ve done murder. I won’t think about that now. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Scarlett: “Go on! I want you to go! I hope a cannonball lands slap on you! I hope you’re blown into a million pieces! I — ”
Rhett: “Never mind the rest. I follow your general idea.”
Jesus, I don’t even know. There are a lot of strong elements here. It’s certainly not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. But I hate where Scarlett’s arc goes. I’m appalled by her and Rhett’s romance, at least post-marriage, and that last hour of that movie is just ridiculous tragedy after ridiculous tragedy. I was probably never going to LOVE Gone With the Wind, but after that fourth hour, I can’t even really like it.
Clark Gable, I think. It’s his performance that really makes Rhett Butler so iconic, and while his love story with Scarlett ultimately doesn’t work for me (like at all), there’s no denying that it did for countless others. And if I didn’t like Rhett as much as I do (for 3/4 of the movie, anyway), I think the whole thing would have been torturous to watch.
Horses lead to death.
Pregnancies rarely work out well.
Marital rape isn’t such a bad thing.
Four separate rejections is not enough to stop a woman’s passion. All she really needs is to hear these words: “He’s just not that into you.”
Land is the only thing worth fighting for.
THE CONFEDERACY WAS GLORIOUS.