Oscar Movie Month: "Gone With the Wind" Review

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This early American film classic stars Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, in a time of turbulence in the American south, these two star crossed lovers try to survive the Civil War, their families, and their own affair. Gone with the Wind won Best Picture at the 1939 Academy Awards.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Gone With the Wind" Review

-- Rating: G
Length: 238 minutes
Release Date: January 17, 1940
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Genre: Drama, War, Romance

An American classic and one of the most beloved films of all times, "Gone with the Wind" follows the story of a southern girl's hopeless yearning for a married man and the denial of her true feelings for the man she loves until she finally loses him.

Opening on the palatial Southern cotton plantation of Tara, "Gone with the Wind" introduces the proud O'Hara family of Irish descent right before the Civil War destroys everything they hold dear. At a party being held at Twelve Oaks, Scarlet O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) discovers that her casual beau Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) plans on marrying his placid cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). While the other girls are resting and the men are speaking of the upcoming war, Scarlet pleads for Ashley to choose her to be his bride, only to be met with denial. Unbeknownst to her, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the dashing but disreputable son of a wealthy old Charleston family, listens from the couch, and when Ashley leaves the room Rhett jokes about the war beginning, infuriating Scarlet. Rhett sees through Scarlet's tough exterior and recognizes a kindred spirit, quickly falling in love with her.

The war is announced, and the men rush to enlist and defend their families. Still furious with Ashley for rejecting her, Scarlet flirts with Charles Hamilton (Rand Brooks) who is betrothed to India (Alicia Rhett), Ashley's sister. Intoxicated with Scarlet's elegance and fiery disposition, Charles proposes, and she accepts. They marry before Charles is called away to duty, and within a few months, news arrives that Charles fell ill and died while stationed on the front lines.

Scarlet leaves for Atlanta to be closer to Ashley, only to encounter Rhett at a fundraising ball. When he expresses his feelings for her, Scarlet strongly proclaims she will never love him, but ends up eventually marrying him for his financial support and out of a perceived sense of duty. Underneath Rhett's tough veneer, Scarlet discovers his selfless heart as he risks his life to save Ashley and other men's lives during a Ku Klux Klan raid.

Despite their marriage, Scarlet's obsession for Ashley grows, forcing Rhett to hide behind a veneer of bland indifference and sardonic humor. The only kindness that escapes his hard exterior is directed towards their daughter, Bonnie. That quickly is crushed, however, when Bonnie is killed while riding her horse, further straining Scarlet and Rhett's relationship. Soon after, while Melanie lays on her death bed, Scarlet proclaims her love once more for Ashley only to realize that her true love is Rhett. She searches for him, only to discover it is too late.

As the protagonist in "Gone with the Wind," Scarlet's character combines loyalty and a propensity for manipulation to create the perfect Southern belle mentality. With a fiery spirit and strong determination, Scarlet is a duplicitous character who never tries to solve her problems with a direct approach. Inheriting her mother's math skills and her father's stubbornness, Scarlet is never satisfied with what she has and grows her business to gain more riches.

As for her love life, Scarlet views artificial manners and play-acting with disdain, although she does use them when it benefits her. Instead, Scarlet views life practically and is not bothered by gossip towards her unladylike actions. Scarlet loves Ashley because she sees a strong character within him and admires it. Ashley is her dream, and when her dream is destroyed by his love for Melanie, her love for him is also destroyed. Among Scarlet's vices is that of procrastination: She believes she does not have to act like a lady until she is rich, but does not realize that a lady is a lady whether or not she has money. However, she handles the worst situations by putting them off until tomorrow, allowing her to set the problem aside until she can come up with a solution.

Independent and bold, Rhett is disowned by his family for dishonorable behavior. Rhett cares little about what others think and instead delights in puncturing pomposity. When the war breaks out, Rhett focuses on his opportunistic conviction that money can be made with the destruction of civilization, and by the end of the war he is one of the wealthiest men in the South.

Despite his reputation, Rhett's character is noble and decent, allowing him to see below the surface. Melanie is the first person to see the innate goodness in Rhett, and her recognition helps restore Rhett's lost faith in human nature. Constantly present for Scarlet to lean on, Rhett's love for Scarlet is undeniable early in the story, but he chooses to wait for her to mature and fall in love with him. However, his sardonic attitude gets in the way, and when Scarlet does claim her love for him, he pushes her away and points out her flaws.

Truly a one-of-a-kind person, Melanie never says anything cruel about anyone and defends those she loves with ferocity. At first, she appears to be a flat character that is too much a part of the old Southern world to be believable. However, as the story unfolds, Melanie shows great depth and emotion when she stands up for those she loves, is tender to children, is gracious to everyone, and thinks quickly in times of danger. While she detests the people who reduced Atlanta to ruin, she suspends her judgment with regard to individuals.

A symbol of the dying Southern culture, Ashley is the pivotal character that Scarlet revolves her life around. Although unchanging, he inspires Scarlet to make changes in her character while being dishonest with himself and his feelings towards her. On three separate occasions, Ashley admits he loves Scarlet only to back away, hiding under the guise of dignity and honor. Ashley does not love Scarlet, but loves the way she makes him feel, and once he admits his adoration for Melanie, Scarlet realizes Rhett is her true love. Honest about his own fear and weakness, Ashley understands he is ill equipped to handle life's struggles and continually remembers the graceful culture that once was, but is no longer. He lacks courage to face the unknown and is thus trapped in the past.

Rated 4 of 5 stars