Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 134 - Gone With the Wind

I have never watched Gone with the Wind. Considering a part of my “I have never...” journey has focused on watching one classic film I have never seen each month, taking time to see Gone with the Wind was an obvious choice. After all, the movie is consistently listed as one of the top ten films of all time, and its role in cinematic history has been firmly established as one of advancing the art in a way that that continues to echo through film today. As a result of these factors, I added Gone with the Wind to my list of films to see some time ago, but it wasn’t until recently I was inspired to make it a priority in my “I have never...” journey.

Following the recent passing of my Grandmother, I reached out to my mother and her siblings to gather information regarding my Grandmother’s favorite movies. With intent to watch her favorite movie as my classic movie for this month, I figured such information would be readily known by at least one member of the family. Much to my surprise, there was some degree of uncertainty among the family regarding my Grandmother’s favorite film, but one title kept emerging as the best choice for my “I have never...” event, Gone with the Wind. Although I was unaware as to whether the movie was my Grandmother’s favorite, the frequency of its mentioning was enough to set into motion my plans to track down the film and watch it for the first time today.

Luckily, very little effort in tracking down the movie resulted in me obtaining a copy of Gone with the Wind from the local library. With Rachael’s help, I had a copy of Gone with the Wind in my hands by the end of this afternoon, and I was ready for another new cinematic experience in my “I have never...” journey. In turn, I grabbed a few snacks and took a seat in front of the television, ready to spend the next four hours watching one of the most storied movies in history. With thoughts of my Grandmother in my mind, I pressed play and let the story of Gone with the Wind begin to unfold before me.

Scarlett in her youth
Following the film’s extended overture, I found Gone with the Wind quick to delve into character development. The focus on Scarlett O’hara became immediately apparent as the film introduced the variety of characters that would inevitably construct the story around the female protagonist. As I watched the party of people celebrating the forthcoming Civil War at the O’hara family’s Georgia plantation, Tara, I couldn’t help but feel a slightly dismayed by the film’s portrayal of the glory and righteousness of the Old South. As people that relied on slavery for their wealth and way of life, the excitement with which the characters discussed the idea of war to defend such practices was nearly ubiquitous. Quite frankly, the underlying theme of that early portion of the film left me feeling somewhat disgusted by the story’s premise. Thankfully, the introduction of an opposition voice in the form of Rhett Butler provided some impetus to continue with the film.

As the film continued, Scarlett’s obvious desire the fiancé of her cousin Melanie, a man named Ashley, set the tone for the remaining parts of the film. After witnessing Scarlett make a plea to Ashley for his love, Rhett made his interest in Scarlett readily known, which led to outright rejection of the idea from Scarlett. Undeterred by her response and her obvious desire for Ashley, Rhett made his intentions to win her over known before returning to a party stirred to madness at a declaration of war with the North. In response to the pending uncertainty brought by war, Scarlett was quick to take the hand of another man in spite of Ashley and Melanie’s marriage, which left her disheartened as the men went off to war. Although Scarlett’s first husband quickly perished on the battlefield, it was clear her heart remained with Ashley. In fact, her lack of concern over the death of her husband was one of the most revealing aspects of Scarlett’s character development early in the film. It quickly became clear she was a woman that wanted what she wanted and that she was prepared to persevere long enough to obtain it.

Making the move...
Meanwhile, Rhett Butler took Scarlett’s quasi-mourning as an opportunity to grow closer to her, driven by his persistent desire for the woman. As their budding relationship developed, it quickly became clear Scarlett’s situation would become much more dramatic. After reiterating her feelings for Ashley while he was on Christmas furlough, he showed her signs of reciprocation, despite his marriage to Melanie, before returning to the battlefield. In response to the developing story, I started feeling like the film was taking a turn toward the sappy dramatic styling more attributable to modern day soap operas than one of the greatest films in history. Gone with the Wind was losing my interest quickly, and I didn’t know how much longer I would be willing to stick with the story.

After the Siege
Resolved to continue watching the film for several reasons, I refocused and did my best to find some points of interest in the continuing story. Luckily, the film’s shift to the siege on Atlanta breathed new life into the tale and forced Scarlett’s character to quickly develop from that of a privileged daughter to that of a true family member and a woman bent on springing back from the rubble of a war-torn nation. After surviving the siege with the help of Rhett Butler, Scarlett and her cousin Melanie began the trip back to Tara at Rhett’s side. The experience among such turmoil eventually brought Scarlett and Rhett closer, where they showed their first signs of a bond before Rhett parted with the women to join the Confederate forces outside of Atlanta. I watched on as the women were then left among the devastation of the war to find their way back to Tara as their only refuge from the ongoing war.

Eventually, their effort proved successful although they were left in tatters much the same as the Tara estate itself. It was easy to feel the heartache and loss that came with Scarlett’s journey as they traveled, which was worsened by news of the death of Scarlett’s mother during the rising tide of war. With her family, her home, and her future shattered, I quickly found myself becoming more involved in the film, curious about how Scarlett would emerge from destruction and start anew. As I watched Scarlett state her commitment to help her family make it through the hardship and resurface stronger, it started to become clear why the story and the film had gained its reputation over time. Although it felt a bit long in the tooth during the first part of the movie, I could see Scarlett becoming a different, more resolute person. From a life as a spoiled child, she was becoming a woman, and that transition was more than enough to keep me interested.

"I'll never go hungry again."
Roping Ashley in...
With the second half of the film came what I though was the most engaging part of Gone with the Wind. Through poverty and struggle, Scarlett rose from the ashes of the Civil War and began her life anew. Although some saw her actions as those of a sympathizer, Scarlett rose about stubborn pride, made sacrifices for her family’s well-being and moved forward to find success and well-being in a very new and very different world. With Ashley back from the battlefields, underlying tensions rattled some aspects of her home life, but Scarlett pushed past her desires and remained focused on reclaiming the life she had lost to war. Although she ended up in a loveless marriage to a man that originally has his heart set on Scarlett’s sister, I found Scarlett’s resilience and strength to make her way back to position of comfort and prosperity rather impressive, albeit self-centered by some accounts. Eventually, her efforts resulted in Ashley running Scarlett’s business on her behalf, led to an odd, periodic reliance on Rhett Butler, and drove Scarlett back to a position of privilege that would ultimately be her undoing.

Half-hearted love
I stayed glued to the story as I saw some predictable aspects of the tale, like the death of Scarlett’s second husband, unfold toward the conclusion. With Scarlett’s desires for Ashley persisting through each aspect of the remaining tale, I saw her enter a marriage with Rhett Butler built on a foundation of sand. Eventually, this drove Rhett to a position of jealousy and rage upon realizing he couldn’t overwhelm Scarlett’s feelings for Ashley with his love. Even when the couple had a child together, Scarlett remained a half-hearted partner, which showed in her actions and in the hollowness that existed in her relationship with Rhett. Although aspects of the final portion of the story felt like the plot of a soap opera again, the realness and heaviness that came with the final scenes of the movie were gripping, and the emergence of Melanie as a guiding light for a group of confused souls was enlightening.

Falling apart...
As the story progressed with the miscarriage of Scarlett and Rhett’s second child, the accidental death of their first child, and the unforeseen death of Melanie, I was left wondering how Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley would move forward. Then, in one fell swoop the pieces fell together and Scarlett fell apart. After a somber rejection from Ashley in the wake of Melanie’s passing, Scarlett realization of making the most of what she had seemed a realization too late to correct the wrongs and misplaced feelings she had held for years. With her moment of awareness hitting her headlong, I couldn’t help but feel Scarlett had taken for granted the wonderful things and people she had in her life for the sake of her personal pursuits and desires. Then came one of the most memorable scenes I have ever seen in a movie. With Rhett telling Scarlett he was leaving her in the face of her half-hearted love and unending desire for another man, Scarlett turned the Rhett and said, “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” Passing through the front door of their palatial home, Rhett then stopped, looked Scarlett in the eye, and gave a response that plucked the thoughts right out of my mind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The perfect line...
Alone, Scarlett made one last decision to return to the Tara plantation and start anew before the film reached its a conclusion. With the movie finished, I took a few minutes to rehash all of the events that occurred throughout the course of the story. Although I initially didn’t feel as though the movie stood out among the best I have seen in my life, I quickly began to realize the ups and downs of Gone with the Wind was a story of strength, resilience, and change. The character development of the film was deep, and the underlying lessons that could be taken away from the undertone of heartache and discontent that followed Scarlett through the stages of her success and hardship were undeniable. Basically, I reached a conclusion that Gone with the Wind was not a glorification of material and wealth, but was instead a story about finding happiness in the people and things a person has, not in what they covet. In other words, the story focused on one simple truth; those that focus only on what they don’t have fail to recognize the amazing things in every aspect of their lives.

With those thoughts stirring in my mind, I turned off the television and sat for a brief moment in silence. My takeaway from the film made me think about why my Grandmother would like such a story, and then I realized it was likely because the conclusion I pulled from the story was everything my Grandmother was. She was a person that loved all of the time, and she never sought to obtain things she didn’t have and didn’t need. In fact, she spent most of her life doing things for others and helping those in need, putting her time and her heart in her actions as a Mother, as a Grandmother, and in her actions. She never wanted more than she needed, and she went out of her way to ensure those with less had what they needed. She always lived her life with the beliefs it took Scarlett O’Hara a lifetime to discover, never taking for granted the people and things in her life and always finding happiness in all things. Those realizations alone made it worth watching Gone with the Wind today. Sure, the story was one worth remembering, but the takeaway from the film’s conclusion made me realize a few things about life and living I might not have realized otherwise. That’s a powerful thing, and it’s something worth holding onto.

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