I wasn’t all too interested in giving my first (and probably only) viewing of Gone with the Wind a write-up. First, is that its reputation precedes itself, to the point that any critique on the film is null and void – its status as an epic masterpiece is not given a second thought. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is that I simply didn’t care enough about Gone with the Wind to want to provide a substantial argument against its social politics.
But, I made a promise to myself to look at every film I see and provide some sort of statement on it, to provide a written down account of how I experienced it. So I suppose in a word, Gone with the Wind sparked ambivalence.
It begins innocently enough – a rich girl named Scarlett is upset over the proposed marriage between Ashley (whom she loves) and her best friend Melanie. In a frank display of emotional bravery, Scarlett attempts to urge Ashley to call off the proposal. This act is overheard by the local playboy Rhett Butler. Rhett is not the sort to sit down and marry; though he finds himself in awe of Scarlett’s selfishness and materialism.
It’s just that there happens to be a war in between the relationship drama.
This is where I found the film to become a morally offensive exercise. The stripping away of humanity from black characters was unbearable. Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mammy – the House Servant. But it boggles my mind that a performance like that, one that reaffirms submissiveness to the hegemonic elite, can be construed as a good act. None of the black characters here show so much as an inkling of thought in regards to the war that goes on outside. There’s a clear dependence on white characters, to the point that the film promotes slavery, as there’s no greater sense as to why the war is fought in the first place.
Could this be some subtle commentary on the South’s violent reactionary nature? With murmurs that war is inevitable, several characters announce their intense hatred for the North (those damn Yankees!). It’s only Rhett Butler, the most worldly of men in the film, who realizes that the North has a distinct advantage. His realist nature works in sharp contrast to the hot-headed Southern characters. But this contrast hardly does anything to defy the portrayals of the North throughout the film – soldiers of the North steal, rape, and kill throughout most of the runtime. Meanwhile, the South is portrayed as noble (you’ll have to excuse their hot tempter), who stick up for what they believe in – which just so happens to be slavery. But this minor detail is overlooked by the film’s central characters, including house servants. There are four principal characters here, with the war and its meaning stripped away to focus on their melodrama.
There’s nothing particularly effective about that either. The characters in themselves are largely attributes of real people – Scarlett is conceited, Rhett is promiscuous, Melanie is loyal, Ashley is timid. The four play together somewhat convincingly, but ultimately, their interactions go against my personal sensibilities of how relationships ought to work in film. There’s an overarching submissiveness throughout the film, to which Scarlett both reinforces and deconstructs. She is able to secure a business and essentially does so through her sexuality. But her motives are still tied down to attaining Ashley for herself. It’s contradictory and does her character no favors.
Ultimately, I found the film’s inane portrayals of race and gender to be problematic and incredibly dated. If there’s one aspect to the film I can appreciate, it’s the impressive art direction. From its visual sense to its costumes, Gone with the Wind obviously looks the part. But its social commentary strips away its artistry and makes it a very ugly and disappointing film.