Gone With The Wind is the most famous film you’ve probably never seen. It awakens a mixture of emotions in me: fascination, disbelief, nausea, amusement… I recently sat through it for a second time to properly put my thoughts down on paper.
By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)
I first saw Gone With the Wind when I was twenty-two years old. It was recommended to me as essential background research, as I was in the process of writing a thesis on 1940s film scores. The music of Gone With the Wind was written by Max Steiner, a composer extraordinaire who churned out over 300 film scores in his decades-long career. I wasn’t studying Steiner’s work specifically, but he was such a towering figure that his influence was inescapable. Steiner popularised many of the film music tropes that audiences would subconsciously be familiar with today.
Although Gone With The Wind is regarded as one the most famous films of all time, I’d never felt curious enough to watch it. You can imagine my surprise when I found out it has a running time of THREE HOURS AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. That’s epic even by Hollywood standards. Have you heard the saying that something is “Bigger than Ben Hur”? The 1959 sword-and-sandal epic became synonymous with massive set pieces and bombastic cinematic scope. Turns out it’s the same length as Gone With The Wind.
While I wasn’t looking forward to concentrating on a film for such obscene amount of time (it doesn’t even fit on one DVD), I went in with almost no expectations. All I knew about the film was that it starred the stunning ice queen Vivien Leigh, and was meant to be a sprawling romance epic.
Gone With the Wind is an adaptation of the 1936 novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell. It’s a massive 1036 pages long, and is set in the state of Georgia during the Civil War. The book was a colossal success, selling millions of copies and securing Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The movie was released in 1939, so please bear that in mind if you feel tempted to cry out ‘But it was a different tiiiime!’ as some kind of excuse for the content.
For my own sanity, I felt compelled to deconstruct this bat-shit crazy and unbelievably frustrating movie. If you want the two sentence version, here it is: Gone With the Wind is an overblown and nauseatingly romanticised film focused on one deeply annoying woman during the Civil War. It contains brief cringe-worthy depictions of domestic slaves but the real sin is the way it pushes the lives of millions of slaves to the complete background.
For a long-winded (and hopefully entertaining) version, read on.
The opening titles are an indication of what’s to come. The music is schmaltzy and sentimental (which was not really Max Steiner’s fault, as the studio heads repeatedly demanded that he incorporate the title theme at every opportunity).
I’m going to let the opening prologue text speak for itself: (3:36 in the video)
There was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields called the Old South…
Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow…
Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave…
Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered.
A Civilization gone with the wind…
Gone With the Wind follows the trials and tribulations of Scarlett O’Hara, a southern belle whose family owns Tara plantation. Her father is a proud Irishman and her mother is a saintly woman who helps the local housewives give birth. Scarlett is the eldest of three daughters.
I would say that this movie is the story of the O’Hara family, but it’s not. The events of the film are squarely focused on Scarlett, played by Vivienne Leigh, who possessed a fantastically compelling face. (Those cheekbones!) It’s a shame then that Scarlett is one of most detestable main characters to ever exist.
The film begins by depicting the idyllic, beautiful grounds of Tara plantation. The field foreman announces “Quittin’ time!” when the bell rings at sunset. For a bit of fun at the end of the day, the bell is rung by two barefoot slave boys. What a sweet childhood ritual! Uh, wait…
Back to the more important issue, Scarlett’s dating life. She’s obsessed with Ashley Wilkes, who is rumoured to be engaged. We follow Scarlett to a social function at Twelve Oaks, the plantation owned by the Wilkes family.
Scarlett immediately begins using her considerable power over the men present to make Ashley jealous. But it looks like for once, she’s not going to get the guy she wants, as Ashley is indeed happily engaged to Melanie Hamilton.
We are given a brief glimpse into a charming Southern custom: that of the ladies’ mid-afternoon nap. Complete with a pig-tailed slave girl whose job is to just stand there and fan them while they snooze. Cute!
Scarlett throws caution to the wind and tells Ashley that she LOVES HIM, and that he cannot possibly marry Melanie now that she’s made it clear she is available. He says, I’m sorry darling, no can do, I’m getting married. She slaps him and throws a porcelain vase against the wall.
Enter the only interesting character in the whole film, Rhett Butler. Rhett Butler is played by Clark Gable and has absolute big dick energy on steroids. He is the only one capable of putting Scarlett in her place with well-deserved verbal barbs. I am deeply grateful for his presence.
Rhett Butler has a reputation as a bit of a player and you know he’s been around the proverbial block a few times. Apparently his family are ashamed of him because he took a young woman out on a buggy ride without a chaperone, then refused to marry her. (I’m not sure if that’s code for something). But it’s easy to believe when you see the way he looks at women at parties:
He might be a player, but he’s not an idiot. When the topic of the looming war with the Yankees comes up, the southern gentlemen are foaming at the mouth for some good old wartime fun. Rhett is the only one who talks sense:
“There’s not a cannon factory in the whole South.”
“What difference does that make sir, to a gentleman?”
“I’m afraid it’s going to make a great deal of difference to a great many gentleman, sir.”
“Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?”
“I’m not hinting. I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’re got factories, ship-yards, coalmines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbours and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, slaves… and arrogance.”
“I refuse to listen to any renegade talk!”
“I’m sorry if the truth offends you, sir.”
And with that he waltzes away from the outraged men, causally saying that he “[seems] to be spoiling everyone’s brandy, cigars and dreams of victory.” What a gangster.
Conveniently, minutes later at the same party, the Civil War is announced. The men are ecstatic and run off to enlist. Before joining them, a sweet deluded young bachelor asks Scarlett to marry him, because he’s so enraptured by how pretty she is. He’s clearly never had a full conversation with her otherwise he’d know better.
She stares out the window, spots Ashley and Melanie kissing goodbye because, you know, they are engaged and happy, and she decides to MARRY THIS RANDOM GUY FOR REVENGE PURPOSES.
Seconds later, we cut to Scarlett looking absolutely miserable in a wedding dress. She is shocked and appalled that her agreement to marry this man, has actually led to her marrying this man. (What’s his name again?)
But guess what! Scarlett is handed a Get Out of Jail Free card! Barely a minute later, it’s revealed that the sap she married has died from pneumonia (through a fade-cut to a handwritten letter, so that should tell you how important he was to the story.)
Now Scarlett’s a widow and has to avoid all social events while officially in mourning. Which sucks, but it’s not like anyone forced her to marry that guy. Now at least she won’t have to live with him or interact with him in any way.
Scarlett’s mum tries to cheer her up and suggests she stay with Melanie in Atlanta for a while. Scarlett hears the words “Visit Melanie” and immediately converts them to “Melanie’s husband Ashley, who I am intending to steal.”
At a fundraising gala for the boys on the front, Scarlett is reunited with the dastardly Rhett, the only man who can look her in the eye without melting into a puddle. He makes it clear he still has the hots for her.
He says that he wants to hear Scarlett say the same words she said to Ashley Wilkes, “I love you”. Scarlett smirks and says “That’s something you’ll never hear from me say Captain Butler, as long as you live!” Which is a good indicator she’s going to turn out to be completely wrong, as usual.
Despite the acerbic nature of their encounters, it’s revealed in the next scene that Scarlett has been getting regular visits from Rhett. He’s been bringing her gifts, like a silk bonnet from Paris, which he explains is most definitely a bribe:
“I’m not kind, I’m just tempting you. I never give anything without expecting something in return. I always get paid.”
“If you think I’ll marry you just to pay for the bonnet, I won’t!”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m not a marrying man.”
“Well, I won’t kiss you for it either.”
They have a moment, or rather they don’t, because Rhett decides against kissing Scarlett after all. They have one of their typically fiery exchanges:
Rhett: “You need kissing, badly! That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often! And by someone who knows how.”
“And I suppose you think you’re the proper person!”
“I might be, if the right moment ever came.”
“You’re a conceited, black-hearted varmint, Rhett Butler. And I don’t know why I let you come and see me.”
“Because I’m the only man over 16 and under 60 who’s around to show you a good time. But cheer up, the war can’t last forever!”
For all my shit-talking, the next hour of this almost four-hour-long movie is actually compelling.
A particularly interesting scene is where we see the Confederate army casualty lists passed out in Atlanta. The city square is full of weeping mothers, wives and children, as they start to realise victory over the Yankees may not be guaranteed after all. It’s pretty sad. It’s impossible to sympathise with the ‘noble cause’ the Confederate army were fighting for, but most of the army was made up of naive teenagers and young men.
Rhett randomly pops up again, as he tends to do. He’s angered by the senseless loss of human life: “The South’s sinking to its knees and will never rise again. The cause… the cause of living in the past is dying right in front of us.”
Anyway, back to Scarlett! She’s still living with Melanie, who has the patience of a saint. Ashley briefly returns home over Christmas. Scarlett makes a move on him again. Her attraction to him is puzzling, as he has all the personality of a pet rock. He rejects her far too politely considering his angelic wife is lying in a bed upstairs
Ashley goes off to fight more Civil War battles.
The pacing of this film is bonkers. Suddenly we’ve fast-forwarded nine months and Melanie is heavily pregnant. How convenient, Ashley was only home for a couple of days. Melanie just willed her menstrual cycle to co-operate.
Shit has started to hit the fan by this point. Despite the South’s staunch belief that Atlanta could never be taken by the Yankee army, Atlanta is days away from being taken by the Yankee army.
The hospital is overrun by horrifically injured men- a doctor is forced to amputate a soldier’s gangrenous leg without any chloroform. Scarlett takes one look and runs out of the hospital. For once I don’t judge her.
She’s halfway inside a buggy, ready to ride all the way back to Tara, when the doctor who lives next door reminds her that she has a heavily pregnant, bed-bound sister-in-law. Scarlett’s really pissed off and only stays behind because she promised Ashley she’d look after Melanie. You know, right before she tried to seduce him.
Soon Scarlett is having what is known as a ‘really shitty Tuesday’: Melanie is having contractions, Scarlett’s maidservant Prissy is cracking up under the pressure, and the doctor can’t help them because he’s tending to hundreds of dying men without access to painkillers. Oh, and the Yankees are set to break through the Confederate defense line in about fifteen minutes. Urgh, Tuesdays!
A famous example of cinematography takes place when Scarlett first goes looking for the doctor. As she weaves her way in between injured soldiers, we see they’re no longer able to fit them inside the hospital. The camera pans out to reveal hundreds of them lying in agony on the dirt road, and a tattered Confederate flag moving rather pathetically in the wind.
A bunch of things happen in rapid succession: Melanie gives birth to her baby and miraculously doesn’t die. Scarlett sends Prissy out to find Rhett (he’s at the local brothel). If you needed any more proof that Rhett actually has genuine feelings for Scarlett, for some reason, he steals a horse and buggy to help her and her posse flee.
In true Gone With The Wind fashion, that isn’t a stressful enough. As the Confederate soldiers retreat, they set fire to the leftover ammunition so the Yankee soldiers can’t use it. So now the horse and cart (carrying an infirm Melanie, a two-minute old baby, a panicked maid, and Scarlett and Rhett) is facing down a wall of fire threatening to blow up any second.
They all survive, of course. Death at this point of the story would be too kind.
The motley crew somehow arrive at the turnoff to Tara. While the horse rests, Rhett announces that Scarlett will have to steer the rest of the way without him, because he’s off to join the Confederate soldiers. Presumably he’s just going to walk in their general direction. He’s having some kind of crisis of conscience and wants to help the army in their last attempts at a graceful defeat. This makes no sense to Scarlett, or to me.
Before Rhett leaves they have another really awkward kiss moment. On top of all the other problematic stuff in this movie, Rhett kisses Scarlett with a fair bit of manhandling, bulldozing through her obvious reluctance. Not good at all.
Things get weird: Scarlett and co arrive at Tara while it’s still dark. Scarlett tries urging the horse on the final two hundred metres and it quite literally drops dead. Unfazed, she steps over its corpse, sprints up to the manor and sees that it’s somehow all in one piece. The door is locked, but she yells out and pounds on it. It swings open to reveal her father. He’s clearly traumatised and doesn’t say much.
Scarlett spots the family nursemaid Mammy, who as usual lifts the entire movie by just appearing. Actress Hattie McDaniel somehow managed to draw a vibrant performance out of a two-dimensional role.
Mammy tells Scarlett the reason the mansion is untouched is because it was used as a base by Yankee troops. They took everything they wanted on their way out and burnt everything else. The O’Hara family are living in dark, empty mansion with no food or money. The turnips growing in the fields are their only immediate options for sustenance.
Things get even weirder. It turns out Scarlett’s mother passed away the night before from typhoid, and her DEAD BODY IS BEING KEPT IN A MAKESHIFT CANDLELIT SHRINE. Of course the family should mourn her but what an insane way for someone to find out their mother has died.
Scarlett is thoroughly shell-shocked by this point. She discovers the only family asset left is a handful of Confederate bonds, which are completely meaningless now. She stumbles out of the house, spots a carrot poking out of the soil, immediately shoves it in her mouth and doubles over (either from hunger pains or the bitterness of this random vegetable, we don’t know). The camera zooms into her face she raises her first, and starts monologue-ing:
“As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me! I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again! No, nor any of my folk… If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”
The camera pans out in a fantastic shot, the orchestra working overtime to make this a really meaningful moment, and that takes us to interval.
That’s it. The film is only going to deteriorate from this point and we have another two hours to go.
STRAP YOURSELVES IN.
When we return, it’s a bright new day. In a divine stroke of irony, Scarlett and her two sisters have been forced to work the fields themselves. They are actually growing and picking cotton, and the youngest sister Sue-Ellen has the gall to complain that her arms are tired???
For once Scarlett isn’t the most annoying character on screen, because she’s working harder than all of them and telling everyone to toughen up. In slightly concerning development, Papa O’Hara keeps referring to his wife as if she’s still alive.
Turns out Scarlett not being annoying is a short-lived phenomena. Soon after the Confederate army officially surrenders, Ashley manages to find his way back to Tara. Scarlett makes a move on him for the third time. Sweet merciful God. He has all the charisma of a damp sock, I don’t understand why she’s doing this. They kiss, but Ashley immediately regrets it and says he will never leave Melanie.
A new problem emerges: the occupying forces are raising the land tax on Tara to $300 (the O’Hara’s have $0).
A second problem emerges: a stray Yankee soldier, probably a deserter, arrives at Tara to loot stuff. Scarlett spots him while she’s upstairs, so she grabs the gun Rhett gave her and shoots him dead. This has no further bearing on the story from this moment on.
Bad things come in threes: While chasing an opportunistic businessman off the Tara property, Scarlett’s father falls off his horse and breaks his neck.
What an eventful few days.
Scarlett decides to go to Atlanta to manipulate someone into giving her $300. Her first victim: Rhett, of course. He’s being held in a Yankee prison but is in no great discomfort. (His guards regularly let him out of his cell so he can take part in their poker games.)
As if things couldn’t get any more ludicrous, Scarlett is wearing a dress, cape and hat that Mammy sewed the day before from the velvet curtains still hanging in the manor. She has the curtain rope tied around her waist as a belt. WHAT IS THIS FILM?
Rhett wises up in time, thank goodness, and tells Scarlett to shove the $300 up her ass.
A stroke of luck for Scarlett darling: she bumps into Frank Kennedy, a sweet man who is engaged to Sue-Ellen. He’s held off marrying her until his business is well-established and he can comfortably provide for her. Awww.
Scarlett clocks that Frank does indeed have $300. And the beginnings of a decent business selling lumber! So she asks him to drive her to her Aunty’s house, and blatantly cooks up a bullshit story about Sue-Ellen marrying a young man because she was tired of waiting around for Frank.
Scarlett’s second marriage is consecrated: between her and Frank’s cheque-book.
You’d think Scarlett’s time mired in poverty would have made her humble, but no. Instead of paying free men to work the lumber yard, she hires a foreman who owns a bunch of convicts, and he’s just going to starve and beat them into being productive. Niiice. She’s roped Ashley into running the business with her and gives her husband Frank a two-metre berth at all times.
Soon business is booming. Scarlett runs into Rhett in Atlanta because of course she does. He’s been released from prison because he’s a straight white man and consequences simply bounce off him.
Scarlett is about to ride her buggy to her lumber mill alone, following a route which cuts through a dodgy-shanty town downriver. We know this isn’t going to end well because Rhett says, “You’re not going to ride that way alone, are you? It’s DANGEROUS.”
Spotting an expensive buggy and an attractive, well-dressed woman inside it, an opportunistic vagrant attacks the cart. He tries to pull Scarlett out of it but she is rescued by another inhabitant of the shanty town. This man turns out to be Big Sam, the former field foreman at Tara. In the book, Scarlett’s attacker is a black man but in the film he is definitely white, I suppose to make some minor concessions.
Also to create plausible deniability around the next part of the story: where Frank, Ashley and a bunch of other men participate in a ‘political meeting’ that is in fact a raid by the fucking KU KLUX KLAN. I’m not joking.
It’s an easy thing to miss in the movie; after all, Scarlett’s attacker isn’t black in the movie. After Scarlett is rescued, she makes it home shaken but unharmed. That evening Frank, Ashley and a few others go to a ‘political meeting’ which turns out to be a revenge attack on the shanty town. (This isn’t shown).
Rhett somehow catches wind of the plot, and manages to stop the police arresting the men by claiming they were out drinking with him all night. Ashley is unsteady on his feet and slurring his words, but from a gunshot wound. Thankfully one of the fellow racists is a doctor.
Scarlett is so concerned about Ashley (yuck) that she hasn’t even noticed her husband Frank hasn’t returned yet. Turns out he’s dead! Shot through the head defending his wife’s non-existent honour!
Finally, after two and a half hours of saying he’s not a marrying man, Rhett decides to eat his words. He visits the newly widowed Scarlett and proposes. It sounds more like a business arrangement. He reminds her of his wealth and the fact they could have fun together. He isn’t foolish enough to expect any great emotional investment from her.
She’s hesitant, but then after some forceful kissing and the promise of a really big diamond ring, she agrees. She’s overjoyed that she will continue to be rich.
So they have an lavish honeymoon. Scarlett’s dressed in designer clothing constantly (she does look pretty fantastic), and Rhett even promises to help her restore Tara manor to its former glory.
Half an hour before this godforsaken film ends, Scarlett gives birth to their baby. She doesn’t seem super maternal but Rhett is besotted with the little girl, who he names Bonnie Blue Butler.
While she is finally back living the life of luxury she always knew she deserved, for some reason Scarlett is still pining after the wet blanket Ashley. She informs Rhett she doesn’t want any more children, or for him to touch her in any way anymore. Ouch.
Rhett is as pragmatic as always, and despite his obvious feelings of hurt, he channels his attention into being a good dad and thoroughly spoiling his kid.
Scarlett visits Ashley at their lumber mill. Blah blah blah, they talk about the old days, blah blah blah. Fond reminisces lead to them sharing a platonic embrace, and at that exact moment Ashley’s sister and mother walk into the mill. Despite the fact Scarlett and Ashley are old friends and business partners, this is apparently a shocking sight. (??)
I gotta say, a hug is a really underwhelming and illogical thing to get slut-shamed for. I’m also surprised that this is the first time eyebrows have been raised over the nature of Scarett and Ashley’s relationship, all things considered.
So Scarlett is embarrassed (why?? She’s done way worse without conscience) but perhaps she’s never been called a harlot before. She doesn’t want to attend Ashley’s birthday party that night but Rhett makes her go, saying he doesn’t care about her reputation but if she doesn’t show her face, she will be effectively admitting guilt and making their daughter look bad by default. Because he’s feeling spiteful, he picks out her raunchiest dress and drops her off at the party alone.
She walks in the door, everyone spots her and goes all silent, and she stands there looking hot as hell and absolutely overdressed:
I really wish this iconic outfit could have been worn by more sympathetic character as a ‘revenge’ moment. Scarlett’s serving an absolute look, but it’s not as if she’s been suffering the entire movie and she finally gets to stick it to some judgemental old women. It’s simply a rather odd moment, much like every other moment in this fucking film.
Melanie is a class act as usual. She graciously welcomes Scarlett to the party, saying, “What a lovely dress!” without even adding ‘For a mob wife hitting the town in Vegas!”.
Stay with me, we’re almost there.
Later that night, Scarlett waltzes down her mansion’s ridiculously massive staircase for a nightcap. Unfortunately she runs into her very drunk husband.
I really can’t say for sure without reading the book, which I have absolutely no intention of doing, but it seems like Margaret Mitchell had some really problematic ideas about what constituted a sexy love/hate relationship (if such a thing can even exist). Rhett and Scarlett never, not once, have a moment where they mutually lean in to share a kiss. Every moment of physical intimacy we witness are ones wrestled from Scarlett by force.
I’m well aware of the love/ hate romance trope: two strong personalities meet, initially clash, constantly argue, but fall in love along the way because of how honest they can be with each other. Some of my favourite literary/ TV couples fall into this category.
I think this trope is what Mitchell was going for. Why else would she write such an elaborate and involved history between two characters, seemingly unable to escape each other? But their relationship is a pretty textbook example of a terrible one.
So Scarlett finds Rhett massively drunk, alone, sitting at the dining room table in the dark. (Never a good sign…) Rhett teases Scarlett about Ashley’s birthday party, correctly guessing that Melanie didn’t try to embarrass Scarlett in any way.
They bicker about Ashley for the 400th time… Scarlett says Rhett is ‘jealous of something he will never understand’, but Rhett gets a jab in by saying he knows that Scarlett hasn’t cheated on him, but only because Ashley is a gentleman. He also says something really awful about wanting to ‘crush her skull like a walnut’ to get thoughts of Ashley out of her head. He even jokingly pretends to do it:
Scarlett keeps her cool, gets up and walks away. Rhett chases after her, forcefully kisses her at the base of the stairs, she tries to push him off but isn’t able to, and as dark and stormy music crashes in the background, Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs exclaiming, “This is one night you won’t lock me out!”
In other words, a highly disturbing precursor to a sexual assault. Is there any other possible way of interpreting it? When Scarlett and Rhett first agree to start sleeping in separate beds, Scarlett makes a point of reminding Rhett that she’ll be locking her bedroom door. Rhett contemptuously replies that if he wanted to get into her bedroom, a locked door wouldn’t stop him. (!!!!!) That is an actual threat!
If your first instinct is to say, well it was a different time, I would say: yes that’s true, and that’s what makes it disturbing. It used to be impossible to reach a conviction in cases of martial rape, because being married to a man used to make you their legal property.
We cut to the morning after. Scarlett wakes up alone, smiling and seemingly happy as a clam. This is been cited by some viewers as proof that Rhett didn’t force himself on Scarlett, otherwise why would she be smiling?
But this is happening within the twisted, upside-down logic of a bad relationship. Scarlett O’Hara has never been given a healthy way of expressing her strong personality as a woman. Her need to survive at all costs manifests in a distrustful, ‘every person for themselves’ attitude. She’s never let herself believe that Rhett genuinely likes being around her, spiky personality and all (he says several times that he ‘admires her spirit’ and likes the fact she’s selfish and ambitious). So perhaps in Scarlett’s brain, Rhett’s actions finally prove that he does indeed desire her.
As twenty-first century audiences, we can recognise that Rhett did something terrible and not excusable. His feelings for Scarlett, and the fact he is married to her, does not magically stop this from being an instance of rape.
Apparently in the book, Rhett is immediately ashamed of what he’s done and avoids Scarlett for weeks. In the film, he appears the following morning and awkwardly apologises. He suggests they get a divorce, because clearly their union isn’t working, and makes a point of saying he will financially provide for her. Weirdly enough, Scarlett gets frustrated and says she doesn’t want a divorce. (Again, I think this is Margaret Mitchell doing the whole “they secretly love each other but are too proud to say so, awww” thing). Rhett says he’s taking Bonnie to London, effective immediately.
Okay, again with the erratic pacing! Somehow in the space of a few minutes, Bonnie has become a four year old. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Rhett and Bonnie go to London for exactly one scene.
Rhett and Bonnie return to Atlanta. I have no idea how much time has passed in the story because time is an illusion and this entire film is pain.
Up their return, Scarlett and Rhett have a tense exchange at the top of the stairs. He comments that she looks pale, she says it’s because she’s pregnant (he’s the father), she adds that she doesn’t want the baby any more than he does, and he replies, “Don’t worry, you might get lucky and have an accident!”. Outraged, Scarlett lunges at him, overbalances and falls down the stairs. I just-
Scarlett loses the baby, which is super sad. She wants to call Rhett to her bedside so they can mourn together but she doesn’t. In another room he is drinking himself to death from guilt, and somehow they don’t end up having a conversation. Guys!! COMMUNICATE.
The next day Rhett tries to apologise for the things he said and suggests they start over, if that’s what Scarlett wants. Meanwhile their daughter is frolicking in the backyard. She is definitely not spoiled, she’s just dressed in head-to-toe custom couture while riding her miniature pony around the backyard.
I wish I was joking, but seconds after this, Bonnie attempts to do a trick-jump while riding side-saddle, falls off her pony and dies.
Words fail me. This toddler was introduced fifteen minutes ago, added absolutely nothing to the story, and gets killed off in a tragic accident ten minutes before the film finishes.
Rhett has a nervous breakdown and refuses to let them take Bonnie’s body for burial for three days. What is it with this film and dead bodies? Melanie comes over, coaxes him out of his psychotic state, and promptly collapses from her own chronic health condition.
Everyone congregates outside Melanie’s sickbed. She clearly does not have long left. Everyone is very sad, yadda, yadda, yadda. Scarlett finally starts to realise that Melanie was her only friend and she treated her like total crap. She starts to feel guilty and sad, almost like someone developing a conscience for the first time in 30 years.
Melanie gives Scarlett some advice before moving on to the spirit world, far away from everyone’s shit. Something along the lines of: ‘Maybe actually talk to your husband, he loves you. And do me a favour and look after Ashley and my son.’ She is so classically angelic and doesn’t even take her final chance to indulge in some petty comments, like, keep your tongue out of my husband’s mouth, or, why can’t you focus on the man standing in front of you, who is happy to take your shit day in, day out?
That’s because she’s so nice.
So Scarlett returns to the living room. Ashley starts lamenting that he won’t be able to live without Melanie, that she saved him and he loves her so much, etc, etc. It finally dawns on Scarlett that she’s been pining after a fantasy of a life with Ashley which never existed. SCARLETT BABE, I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT THREE HOURS AGO.
Startled, Scarlett looks up to realise Rhett has gone back to their house. She’s having a very theatrical moment because it finally dawns on her that she DOES ACTUALLY LOVE RHETT and she needs to RUSH HOME AND TELL HIM. By this point, I don’t even know if I care whether these two assholes end up together.
Scarlett finds Rhett packing up his stuff. I can’t help feeling sorry for him, because aside from the really terrible thing, he has spent the rest of the film trying to communicate with Scarlett and getting absolutely nothing back. He displayed some semblance of a conscience and at least admitted when he was wrong. And he lost his cute daughter who was only alive for three scenes.
He tells Scarlett that he really is leaving and there’s no way she can dissuade him.
She starts cracking up for real. She chases after him, begging him to stay: “But if you leave, what will I dooo?”
Rhett looks her squarely in the eye, mentally ravaged by the last eight years interacting with this woman, and says it.
“Frankly my dear, I just don’t give a damn.”
The last thing we see is Scarlett tearfully realising her only option is to spiritually recuperate at Tara. She’s monologe-ing again, going on tangents about winning Rhett back, but I’m not holding my breath. The smaltzy music kicks in again and thankfully, mercifully, the parade of torture ends.
THERE YOU HAVE IT FOLKS. Without a doubt the absolute worst ‘best film of all time’. Good grief.
My biggest problem with the Gone With the Wind is its pervasive, overblown sense of self importance, and the fact your enjoyment as an audience member entirely hinges on whether you find Scarlett O’Hara’s terrible behaviour amusing.
If you run through the erratic zig-zagging line of plot points, you can see just how nonsensical it is. Almost four hours, and for what??? What is the payoff?? What is it??? I DON’T THINK THERE IS ONE!
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece: the black characters of Gone With the Wind are poorly drawn caricatures, but they’re also barely in the film. The real sin is the way the film pushes the lives and suffering of millions of slaves to the complete background. Whether individual plantation owners treated their slaves well is besides the point: the Confederate Army were fighting for their ‘right’ to own other people.
The practice of slavery itself is only mentioned a handful of times in the movie and always as a throwaway line of dialogue. Scarlett’s dad talks about the importance of ‘treating the darkies kindly’ and Ashley flippantly claims he would have freed his father’s slaves if the war hadn’t happened first. I suppose these lines were included to make the characters more sympathetic. (It didn’t work.)
The film has been involved in some recent discussions, especially in light of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests. In June of this year, HBO unveiled its revamped streaming service HBO MAX. Gone With The Wind was featured on the platform and was not paired with any kind of accompanying material dissecting the flagrant biases and racism present in the film.
This prompted director and screenwriter John Ridley (Twelve Years A Slave) to write a piece which was published in the LA Times. I have copied some quotes from his excellent piece down below, and linked the full article. HBO did indeed end up removing the film, and will be bringing it back to the service once they have created some accompanying material to more appropriately place it in its troublesome context. (Which I believe is a measured and sensible approach.)
“[Gone With The Wind] doesn’t just ‘fall short’ with regard to representation. It is a film that glorifies the antebellum south. It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.”
“It’s a film that, as part of the narrative of the ‘Lost Cause,’ romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the “right” to own, sell and buy human beings.”
“Let me be real clear. I don’t believe in censorship. I don’t think Gone With the Wind should be relegated to a vault in Burbank. I would just ask, after a respectful amount of time has passed, that the film be re-introduced to the HBO Max platform along with other films that give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were. Or, perhaps it could be paired with conversations about narratives and why it’s important to have many voices sharing stories from different perspectives rather than merely those reinforcing the views of the prevailing culture.”
You can read John Ridely’s full piece in the LA Times here.