Yes, They’re Basically Bratty Teens, but It’s Epic Just the Same

14 Feb

Those of you who know me know that I hate most romance. I hate flowers. I hate hearts. I hate Valentine’s Day. I have many things in common with Elaine Benes (as in, we’re just about the same person) but nothing so much as our shared hate of the world’s most boring film ever, The English Patient. And don’t even get me started on romantic comedies.

So I know people always find it incredibly odd when I start passionately defending Gone With the Wind against all detractors. Yes, the main characters are bratty and impossible. Yes, Ashley is pasty and boring. Yes, Rhett is a jerk and so is Scarlett. Yes, she gets what she deserves at the end. Yes to all the above.

And yet. I love that damn book and I love that damn movie even more. I know. It makes no sense. There are exactly three movies that make me cry and that is one of them. (The other ones involve animals and a Bronte.) Why? What is wrong with me?

This essay articulates it perfectly. Perfectly! It’s not about their relationship, really. It’s about the surrounding elements. The book and movie, besides being a gorgeous spectacle (and yes, I’m a sucker for war films, too–I also love Casablanca‘s star-crossed romance) are an unsubtle metaphor for the sweeping destructive force of the future. People who claim it’s a monument to the Old South–I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think it works like that for us today.  Somehow I love Scarlett, in spite of everything, because of the weird elemental brutality of her being. She is the bulldozer of the future. She has some of the Old South in her, yes, but with her comes the destructive force of change. She is the world, moving on, utterly practical, always hungry. And I like that. I root for change.  I feel for Ashley and Melanie because they are the done-and-gone past, those who can’t change, those stuck behind the false front of gentility and grandeur while their lives fade out like wallpaper. The whole damn war and the aftermath, music and grand costumes and sets and all, is not just a  grand spectacle, but the burning of the old ways, the old America, the turning point in our history. And even more than that, to me, as someone who loves classic film, it’s one of the last of the epic films. The kind that got made like this. The kind with intermissions and choreography and three bajillion extras. It’s 1939 as much as it is 1865, and it’s the sad blazing unapologetic end of an era when seen today, just as it was in a different sense for Flannery O’Connor when she used it in her own story.

There. Can I just link to this post from now on when people express their confusion about my love for Gone with the Wind? I think that I will.

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