Gone With the Wind is one of those movies I had heard a lot about. I knew that it was highly regarded by movie critics and maintained high ratings on websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, but I had never watched it. To be honest, it probably wasn’t going to be a movie that I necessarily sought out on my own. Kristen was a fan of the book and had seen the movie before and wound up getting it last Christmas, so I somewhat reluctantly agreed to watch it.
I must say that Gone With the Wind didn’t quite wind up being what I had expected in both good and bad ways. For one I didn’t expect the movie to be so long. The movie is over 3 1/2 hours long. For some reason, probably my experience with older Disney animated movies, I expected an older movie to be substantially shorter for some reason, so I was very surprised by an almost four hour running time.
Most of what I had heard about Gone With the Wind made it seem like a romance movie with an unhappy ending, but that’s only a small part. It is more of a chronicle of the south before, during, and after the Civil War through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara. I found the setting and story to be very engaging and captivating. In some ways, the setting itself seems like a character that changes and develops just like the other characters in the story.
As I said the story follows Scarlett O’Hara who starts out the tale a spoiled rich girl, who has practically all the men around her eating out of her hand. Her world changes though when the Civil War begins and steals her life of leisure and luxury away from her. While you follow her throughout her trials and tribulations, I found it hard to find Scarlett a likable character. There are times you feel bad for her and kind of understand why she is doing what she is doing, and a good number of other times where you don’t. I liked her resilience, strength and will, but disliked how that played out in rather selfish and manipulative ways. She may be an interesting character, but she was not one that I really liked.
My favorite character was Rhett Butler, particularly in the first three quarters of the movie. He was charming and witty, was able to read people rather well and saw past the facades of the southern way of life. This combination made him very wealthy, but also made him a bit of an outcast from high society. He was a rascal and had rather ambiguous morals, but seemed to take pride in that fact. His one downfall was that he seemed unable to see Scarlett for who she truly was, and I felt that he overestimated her quite often. This of course leads the famous ending scene of the movie, which was about all I knew about the movie before watching it.
I found that although the movie draws you in, you can’t help but feel mixed about the events that go on. The plantation culture that many of the main characters relied on was not something that really should have been extended. Even after the war was over, many of the male characters are part of the KKK and that puts a strange angle on what develops. These kind of issues, plus the annoyance I felt towards Scarlett, made for a strange kind of dissonance.
On the one hand I was drawn into the world presented by Gone With the Wind. As I said the world was almost a character itself was deeply engaging and well presented. On the other I struggled to completely relate with the actions and viewpoints of the characters. Issues like a high view of plantation era south, slavery, and the southern perspective of the Civil War made it hard to fully embrace the characters. The often selfish and sometimes even childish actions of Scarlett frustrated me and made it hard to even want her to have a happy ending, even though in the end I still did wish for her to have one.
Despite one’s wish for a happy ending, Gone With the Wind is a rather depressing affair. Even with the dissonance between the characters and a modern, particularly northern viewpoint, it is hard not to feel bad for the characters who seem to go from one disaster to the next. The last quarter of the movie particularly hit me, perhaps because it seemed like there was at least the potential to have a happy ending, unlike dealing with the Civil War because you knew that would bring no good for the South. Unfortunately they seem to pack a good deal of loss and sorrow into the last portion of the movie and end on a rather bleak note, with a tiny bit of hope.
The whole movie just left me asking, “What is the message of this story?” It’s hard to call it a coming-of-age story, because I don’t feel that Scarlett really grows up that much. What little she does grow up is forced by circumstances beyond her control. It is more that she survives and that survival is a central message of the story.
Yet I can’t help but feel that while survival may a major theme, the cost of survival is perhaps an even more significant theme. We see it with Scarlett who loses her way of life, her parents, and struggles to keep Tara, her family home. Her will to survive causes her to use people, focus solely on money, and act in ways that, in that day, were looked down upon for a lady. It can be seen with some of the men, like Ashley Wilkes, who seem broken by the loss of the war and unable to cope. Even Rhett who is perhaps the most well off after the war is unable to secure happiness despite his rather secure position after the war. They move on because they have to, even though they all lose important parts of their lives by the end, they still survive on.
Now it may seem that I’m being overly hard on Gone With the Wind and I’m not really trying to be. I really did enjoy the movie. In some ways the movie only made me think about some of these issues because it was good. By no means would I call it my favorite movie or a movie that I would desire to re-watch over and over again (that 3 1/2 hour running time doesn’t help), but it is a movie I would recommend to be watched at least once. It is not the most uplifting movie, you may even be annoyed with some of the characters (maybe you’re even supposed to be a bit?), but I’d say it is a classic for a reason and definitely deserves a chance.