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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Gone With the Wind is the Perfect Movie

Scarlet O'Hara may be one of the most vindictive, selfish, spoiled, narcissistic, irresistibly charming anti-heroines written in cinematic history. Perhaps without her, there'd be no Cersei Lannister, or Regina George, or Amy Dunne. She and her contemporaries are the perfect examples of 'toxic femininity'. But more than this; she is compelling, controversial, and absolutely stunning to watch, the embodiment of this incredible movie.

I remember my mum watching Gone With the Wind when I was a kid, and I was so bored, thinking it some rubbish old film. Sometime in my teens I sat and watched it all for the first time, curious about it. It's infamously long, so I watched it in two parts. I was amazed, by the story-line, characterization, and excellent depiction of Ms Scarlet.

On a second watch I was charmed even more, watching thinking 'wow, this film has everything!' Romance, drama, dry humour, deeply fleshed out flawed characters, and a rich historical backdrop.

Of course, many despise GWTW for its apparent 'glorification' of southern American slave owners. There are so many ways to address this, so I'll start with comparison: a movie made about Germans living in Nazi Germany would naturally portray Jews in a horrible light, due to the time period. A movie set in Victorian England with a homosexual protagonist would skewer us to snarl at his peers, due to the time period. Thus, a movie set in southern America during the American Civil War is obviously going to depict slaves and slave owners due to its fucking time period.

No, GWTW is not a 'racist' movie. It makes no sense to measure it by the standards of today, due to the context of the time period and what was going on.

Of course its wonderful to watch as the deep south lost to the northern liberals, and seeing black Americans walk as free men and women. We already know how it turns out because we know history. And yes, it's hard not to watch the southerners discuss the liberal 'yankees' without screaming 'haha, you fucking slave owners lose!' But it's very easy to say and do this now, when we're living in a world where the idea of owning a person and referring to black people as 'darkies' is appalling.

I think it's important to show everybody's perspective, even the perspective of 'villains.' It reminds us that everybody is human, and everybody has someone who cares for them. We can look at these people and think 'god, what a horrible movie forcing us to empathize with slave owners!' Or, we can think 'okay, let's watch this visually stunning film about people living their lives and see what they endured.'

Scarlet is horrible, and ironically she's not particularly more/less horrible to black people. She's just a nasty, selfish brat. She is as awful as Melanie is kind and gentle. No one in GWTW is particularly likeable, with the exception of Melanie and Mammy. But we still empathize with Scarlet. It's deeply disturbing seeing her home be blown to pieces, and thinking of all those people who lost their lives and their families during the war. Of course, this war was deeply necessary, and goes to show how sometimes 'the ends justify the means.' But think of those individual people, who loved their nearest and dearest, and had to watch them be blown away.

This makes me think of the coronavirus that we are enduring at the moment. It may be a small part in human history, but the lives that have been lost to this virus were living, breathing people. They all mattered to someone. When you realise that everyone is a breathing, conscious person, with thoughts and dreams and fears and insecurities, it makes us remember that colour, culture, class -- these things all become shallow and inessential.

My all-time favourite movie is Titanic, and I see a lot of similarities to that and GWTW. Both are epics; both feature spoiled, privileged white women (although Rose is kinder than Scarlet); both take place during a shocking and traumatic time period for humans. Both capture the fragility of humanity, and yet the strength of the human spirit in times of crisis. One of the best lines of that film is when the captain says to Cal 'money won't save you now.'

In times of crisis, money won't save you. 

Rich, old, white, pansexual -- a virus or a war or a sinking ship don't discriminate. They don't care 'what' or 'who' you are -- if they get you, they get you.

Anyway. I want to talk about how amazing the story of GWTW is. It is such a simple and universal tale of unrequited love. Scarlet spends most of the movie infatuated with Ashley, claiming to love him when it is really just an idealized obsession. Rhett does love her, despite what a cold bitch she is to him, but she never really loves him. At the end, I don't think she goes back to Rhett because she loves him, I think it's because she feels like he's the only thing she has left. Rhett finally wises up and leaves the bitch, uttering his famous line.

I think the only person Scarlet truly loves is herself. She has some heart; she does care for Melanie, Ashley, Rhett, and her family, and of course for her plantation 'Terra'; but primarily, Scarlet only ever prioritizes her self-interests. She is ruthless and sharp and cunning and clever. You hate her but can't help but want her to succeed, because all stories make us side with the protagonist, even if the protagonist is heinous. (e.g. Joe Goldberg, Walter White, Amy Dunne).

Melanie is the 'anti' Scarlet; she is sweet, kind, selfless and sees the good in everyone. She is irritating at times with her gushing goodness, making us wish we could be that forgiving. Scarlet is cold, but she is also strong, and fierce, and uses this determination to deliver Melanie's baby in a moment of heroism; build Tara back up after losing everything, build her mill business and bag herself three husbands along the way.

In the end, Scarlet has everything -- a rich husband, a career, a beautiful child -- but she still isn't happy, because nothing can truly satisfy a person who only ever wants more. Rhett is fascinating. What I like about him is that he is deeply aware that he is a scoundrel and a sleazy charmer, but he doesn't shy away from his flaws or shortcomings, he accepts and even entertains them. He isn't a hypocrite, which I find admirable. He never tries to be anything other than what he is; never acts like he's some 'perfect gentleman.' It's easy to see why he is so drawn to Scarlet, time and time again; she is full of fire and passion and fearlessness, which he sees in himself.

Both are very similar, and such a coupling can either be fantastic or a disaster. We tend to dislike those who embody traits we dislike in ourselves. Rhett and Scarlet mirror egotism, arrogance, pride, carelessness, and self-absorption in each other.

The saddest bit of the movie is probably when Bonny dies. For me, seeing how deeply Rhett loves his little girl is so touching and lovely. The movie showcases all elements of life, while honing in on a few characters. That, to me, is the best kind of story-telling; letting the characters drive the narrative, and zooming in on a few to show universal themes of betrayal, lust, jealousy, fear and despair relevant to us all.

TL, DR; Gone With the Wind is the perfect movie.

Other movie analyses:

The Shining

Mean Girls


American Psycho

Jungle Fever

The Little Mermaid

Black Panther


The Hunchback of Notre Dame



Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging


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