A cinematic triumph which exists as a time capsule of the golden days of Hollywood and as a symbol of an era gone with the wind
Gone with the Wind is a timeless classic which is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago. Though the film centres around a sentimental view of the American Civil War, the true struggle in the film is not between the North and South, but rather between the woman Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) wants to be and the woman she is. This journey of self-love is cloaked well in the film and yet strikes a chord with all of us and makes Gone with the Wind enduringly relatable. The film portrays a tainted nostalgic view of the Civil War and is one of few films that can convincingly create sympathy towards the losing side. Learning about the facts of the war in a history lesson, there is no doubt that it would be nearly impossible to root for the Confederacy and yet Gone with the Wind makes one do just that.
Scarlett is truly a woman out of her time. Her lustful headstrong passions have little to do with the fables of the Southern Belle and stand in strong contrast to her loving and gentle rival, Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett would be far more at home in the 1930’s with the sex symbols of the movies which shaped her creation; she’s a woman who wants control of her life and at no point is she willing to relinquish that. The timing of Scarlett’s creation was superb as she could become the symbol the nation needed as it headed into the second World War. But, unfortunately, the oppression of the time meant that she still was not able to truly be a successful modern woman; we are left with a weeping woman, a shadow of the bright Southern beauty from the beginning. And when she utters her famous final line – “I’ll go home and I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day!” – we see that the Scarlett we have come to love has not been broken by everything and that she will go on to fight another day. Scarlett is not necessarily a lovable character but we want to see her happy and Rhett Butler’s (Clark Gable) painful parting line – “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” – truly hurts. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were so perfectly suited to their roles and so well matched to one another that to imagine another duo who could have done half as good a job is nigh on impossible.
Where the film lacks is in the consideration of the horrors of slavery, yet this is somewhat of an advantage to the plot. The story is presented through the eyes of Scarlett who sees the Civil War as stripping the world of gallantry and leaving the Old South as “a Civilisation gone with the wind”. It is not questioned whether the slaves would have shared her view and neither does she consider that this world she loves was built upon the backs of slaves. It is hard now to recall that segregation was still the law in the South and reality in the North at the time of the film’s writing. In a subtle way, the film challenges the views that African-Americans were not true humans by portraying them with humanity and complexity, with Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) as the most practical and levelheaded person in the entire narrative. In a way, it can be argued that the stark painting of Scarlett’s obliviousness to the suffering of the slaves brought issues of segregation into greater light. A politically correct Gone with the Wind would have been neither accurate nor worth making. In fact, many of the great classics come from worlds where ethics and expectations are primarily different from our own and, in a way, it is that they are still so relevant despite these differences in culture which makes them so great.
Gone with the Wind is also refreshing in its flamboyant visual style. There are few modern films which contain scenes as emotional by themselves as those in Gone with the Wind. Take the early scene where we see Scarlett and her father looking over the land; the camera pulls back until we see the two figures and the tree in black silhouette to the landscape. The scene is powerful enough in its own right and yet this is increased thrice by the reprise later when we see Scarlett standing by herself after her moving speech that “God is [her]witness” and she will do whatever is necessary to survive. The cinematography is similarly commanding in producing an evocative effect to the scene in which Scarlett is searching for Dr. Meade among a sea of the dead and dying. As the camera slowly pans out and we see the scale of the war for the first time, the idea that they are fighting for something they truly believe in, rather than just to keep their money, land and slaves, is enforced. Scarlett’s obliviousness to the evil of slavery is perpetuated across the whole Confederacy.
Ultimately, Gone with the Wind is a cinematic triumph which exists as a time capsule of the golden days of Hollywood and as a symbol of an era gone with the wind.
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