Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Gone With The Wind (1939)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

In one of the film's best scenes, in the golden-filtered, late-afternoon light of Aunt Pittypat's parlor following the funeral of Scarlett's second husband Frank, Rhett arrives to speak to a slightly-drunk and depressed widow. Scarlett gargles with eau de cologne to unsuccessfully mask her brandy-breath. Mammy announces the arrival of Rhett to Scarlett: "I told him you was prostrate with grief." Rhett admonishes: "Don't drink alone, Scarlett. People always find out, and it ruins the reputation." With a hint of humanity, Scarlett is truly afraid for once in her life: "I'm afraid now. I'm afraid of dying and going to hell." She reflects sadly, feeling genuinely sorry for the disaster that she created and her responsibility for Frank's death. Rhetts suggests she dry her eyes but doubts her sincerity: "Dry your eyes. If you had it to do all over again, you'd do no differently. You're like the thief who isn't the least bit sorry he stole, but he's terribly terribly sorry he's going to jail."

Scarlett is relieved that her mother is dead and can't see what she has become in order to survive - she bawls real tears and reveals an introspective vulnerability - a key aspect of her character's personality: "I always wanted to be like her [her own mother], calm and kind. I certainly have turned out disappointing."

With romantic bravado in the style of a prestigious Southern gentleman, Rhett proposes to twice-widowed Scarlett with mock sincerity. He goes down on his hands and knees in front of the desirable woman, but conceals the real depth of his feelings for her:

Forgive me for startling you with the impetuosity of my sentiments, my dear Scarlett - I mean, my dear Mrs. Kennedy. But it cannot have escaped your notice that for some time past, the friendship I have felt for you has ripened into a deeper feeling. A feeling more beautiful, more pure, more sacred - Dare I name it? Can it be - love?... This is an honorable proposal of marriage, made at what I consider a most opportune moment. I can't go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.

Antagonistically, but with a hint of sexual seductiveness, a virile Rhett suggests marrying him for fun: "You've been married to a boy and an old man. Why not try a husband of the right age, with a way with women?" She taunts him: "You're a fool, Rhett Butler, when you know I shall always love another man." Scarlett is bullied into kissing him and then agrees to marry him without any real love for him - she marries him mostly for his money: "Money does help and of course I am fond of you...If I said I was madly in love with you, you'd know I was lying." Rhett honestly reveals the real nature of their complex relationship over many years, secretly harboring a hope that she will love him in time:

I'm not in love with you any more than you are with me. Heaven help the man who ever really loves you.

Rhett promises to pamper Scarlett with a "vulgar" diamond ring, an expensive New Orleans honeymoon, and new clothes.

On their honeymoon after their marriage, after all Scarlett's years of skimping and conniving, she is finally able to luxuriate in nouveau riche grandeur. A picture postcard scene reflects their world of pleasure: in the moonlight, a Mississippi riverboat takes Rhett and Scarlett to their honeymoon in New Orleans. Lying back in her riverboat cabin, the thrice-married bride smiles and asks: "I'm thinking about how rich we are. Rhett - I can keep the lumber business too, can't I?" Cancan dancers entertain them in a New Orleans restaurant, but that night, she experiences troubling dreams of insecurity and being lost in the mist.

Rhett returns with her to Tara, understanding that Scarlett finds her strength there: "You get your strength from this red earth of Tara, Scarlett. You're a part of it. It's a part of you." To satisfy her, Rhett promises to rebuild the plantation to all its pre-war splendor, and also purchases a magnificent, ostentatious mansion for them in Atlanta. When her older sister marries Rhett, Suellen grumbles about her "hateful" sister. Melanie offers a conciliatory reminder: "She's made it possible for us to keep Tara, always." Suellen gripes: "She's had three husbands, and I'll be an old maid."

House servants Prissy, Pork, and Mammy are over-awed by Scarlett's and Rhett's post-war Atlanta house. Mammy sneers unimpressed: "Humph. T'ain't quality." After the birth of their daughter named Bonnie Blue Butler (Cammie King), Mammy assumes the blame for the baby being a girl: "I'd like to apologize, Mr. Rhett, for it's not bein' a boy." Rhett pours the usually abstemious Mammy a glass of Scotch - a drink to toast the birth - he offers to have her share in the joy. Rhett assures her that he is not displeased with a baby girl: "Boys aren't any use to anybody. Don't you think I'm proof of that?" Melanie rejoices with Mammy about the birth of their baby girl: "The happiest days are when babies come." At Melanie Wilkes' suggestion, the child was named for the Confederate flag.

But in the measurement scene (Scarlett holds on to the bedpost, recalling one of the film's earliest scenes), Scarlett discovers that motherhood and childbirth have robbed her of her trim waistline. Mammy shakes her head when Scarlett (with a 20 inch waistline) can't get into an old gown: "You ain't never gonna be no eighteen-and-a-half inches again!" Scarlett fears that she has sold herself out to the more powerful Rhett who provides security - she also fears that childbearing will destroy her beauty. Striking back and feeling unromantic and sexually cold, she informs Rhett of her vow of abstinence. Realizing that she still holds a lasting, romantic flame for Ashley, Rhett accepts her sanctity and hints at visiting more regularly with Belle: "The world is full of many things and many people. And I shan't be lonely. I will find comfort elsewhere." Scarlett intends to lock her bedroom door to bar Rhett - refusing to sleep and have sexual relations with him and to avoid another pregnancy. Rhett breaks down her locked bedroom door from the inside: "Why bother? If I wanted to come in, no lock could keep me out." Angered, he throws his whiskey glass at a full-size portrait of Scarlett.

Their daughter is the only link keeping Rhett and Scarlett together. Rhett is a doting, adoring father, not unnoticed by the two gossipy ladies, Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Meade, who discuss Rhett's love for his daughter: "There must be a great deal of good in a man who would love a child so much." Rhett finds in the young girl the love that he cannot get from his wife. Proud Rhett has young Bonnie sit astride her own little pony as he preens her to be "the greatest horsewoman in the South." He also declares that he is going to spoil Bonnie by buying her a blue velvet riding habit. Mammy disapproves of the doting father: "it just ain't fittin'."

In a surprise visit to the lumber sawmill, Scarlett looks back with Ashley on how their lives have altered since the war. Ashley reflects back on the past, showing both nostalgia for gentility and despondency over his lost past: "Yes, we've traveled a long road since the old days, haven't we, Scarlett?...the golden warmth and security of those days." She tries to bring him back to the present, simultaneously giving advice to herself: "Don't look back Ashley, don't look back. It'll drag at your heart until you can't do anything but look back." He embraces her compassionately. Their embrace is witnessed by India Wilkes and reported back to Rhett, who quickly misinterprets Scarlett's gesture. Their insecure marriage begins to disintegrate after the scandalizing embrace.

The night of the celebration of Ashley's birthday party, Rhett confronts Scarlett - who is feigning sickness to avoid attending the party and seeing Melanie, the hostess: "What a white, livid little coward you are!" He pulls her out of bed and forces her to make an appearance and face the guests alone. He selects a burgundy red, low-cut, figure-hugging non-matronly dress for her to wear, and suggests she put on a lot of rouge: "to look your part tonight." Rhett drops Scarlett off at Melanie's door in her flashy, brazen outfit: "You go into the arena alone. The lions are hungry for you." Always forgiving and loving toward her sister-in-law, Melanie generously invites Scarlett to help greet guests as if nothing had happened with Ashley.

In one of the most famous, pivotal scenes of the film, Scarlett comes downstairs in their home in the middle of the night after the party. She discovers Rhett in the candle-lit dining room - viewing him through the half-open double doors. Angered by her contact with Ashley, Rhett has been drinking by himself - slumped at the long table on a chair. Rhett compels her to sit down and listen to him. Suspecting that she drinks brandy on the sly, he forces her to join him - aware that they have like natures. Rhett knows Melanie "stood by" Scarlett in public at the party and asks: "How does it feel to have the woman you wronged cloak your sins for you?" He defends Melanie's character: "Miss Melly's a fool, but not the kind you think. It's just that there's too much honor in her to ever conceive of dishonor in anyone she loves. And she loves you - though just why she does, I'm sure I don't know."

Rhett rages to her about his romantic rival, Ashley: "Of course, the comic figure in all this is the long-suffering Mr. Wilkes! - Mr. Wilkes who can't be mentally faithful to his wife - and won't be unfaithful to her technically. Why doesn't he make up his mind?" Aggressive and confrontational, Rhett menaces Scarlett by putting his powerful hands on both sides of her head as if between a vise in order to squeeze Ashley's image out of her head:

Observe my hands, my dear. I could tear you to pieces with them, and I'd do it if it'd take Ashley out of your mind forever. But it wouldn't. So I'll remove him from your mind forever this way. I'll put my hands so - one on each side of your head - and I'll smash your skull between them like a walnut, and that'll block him out.

In a drunken fit of jealousy, Rhett thinks he has her cornered, but she challenges him, stands up, and rejects his physical dominance:

Scarlett: I'm not cornered. You'll never corner me Rhett Butler or frighten me. You've lived in dirt so long you can't understand anything else and you're jealous of something you can't understand.
Rhett: Jealous, am I? Yes, I suppose I am - even though I know you've been faithful to me all along. How do I know? Because I know Ashley Wilkes and his honorable breed. They're gentlemen! That's more than I can say for you or for me. We're not gentlemen, and we have no honor, have we?

Frustrated, lonely and angry, appealing to her and threatening her, he suddenly and fiercely kisses her, and then carries her protestingly up a long flight of stairs to the bedroom, two steps at a time. In this, the film's infamous conjugal rape scene - a night of forced passion, Rhett frankly asserts:

It's not that easy, Scarlett. You've turned me out while you chased Ashley Wilkes, while you dreamed of Ashley Wilkes. This is one night you're not turning me out.

At the time she is furious, although she has clearly enjoyed their previous night's sexual experience. Her smiling, purring, happy face when she awakens the morning after betrays her pleasure. Bonnie has left a breakfast tray on Scarlett's bed and as she leaves the room (edited out of the finished version of the film), the faithful Mammy enters to complain of her aches and pains to an oblivious Scarlett. Scarlett is ready to be reconciled with Rhett when he enters her bedroom, but he is still bitter and announces that he is considering a divorce: "There's no point in our holding on, is there." Their own bad timing, a marriage built on power struggles, communication difficulties and personality clashes between two fiercely independent and frustrated individuals foreshadow the inevitable break-up. Each of them reaches out for the other at the wrong time. Rhett also informs her that he is leaving the next day on an extended trip to London - and he intends on taking Bonnie with him. He insists that Scarlett get their daughter's things packed for their trip: "I've always thought a good lashing with a buggy whip would benefit you immensely."

A number of strains, calamities and tragedies befall them in the remaining scenes. In England, Bonnie suffers nightmares and begs to return home. After their homecoming return, Rhett finds Scarlett's face pale and inquires about it. Scarlett is pregnant again (from the night of the conjugal rape) and Rhett cynically asks: "Indeed. And who is the happy father?" She insults his fatherhood: "You know it's yours. I don't want it any more than you do. No woman would want a child of a cad like you...I wish for anybody's child but yours." Rhett consoles her, also cynically: "Cheer up, maybe you'll have an accident." [Originally the word in the script was 'miscarriage,' but it was not allowed by the Hays Office censors.] Reaching out to strike him, Scarlett misses and accidentally falls down the long flight of stairs, indeed aborting the child she is carrying.

Against a blue-tinged, rain-washed window at night, a sympathetic Melanie comforts Rhett who cries remorsefully in front of her: "She doesn't (want children). Not my children. She told me she didn't want any more children. I wanted to hurt her because she hurt me. I wanted to and I did...If she'd only forgive me. Forget this ever happened." Melanie proposes that they have another child, and then minimizes the hazards of having children for even herself: "Children are life renewing itself, Captain Butler. And when life does that, danger seems very unimportant." Rhett thanks Melanie from the bottom of his heart for all she has done for them.

After Scarlett recovers, Rhett proposes a reconciliation and asks for forgiveness in their garden: "I've always loved you. But you've never given me a chance to show it." Thinking that the mill takes her away from him, he proposes that it be sold (or given to Ashley), allowing them to go away together. Just then, Bonnie Blue defies her father and stubbornly insists on an impossible horse jump: "I will so jump. I can jump better than ever because I've grown. And I moved the bar higher." Scarlett has a foreboding thought: "Just like Pa," and then is shocked when Bonnie's neck is broken and she is killed in a tragic horse-riding accident. The death is devastating to everyone - it almost destroys Rhett.

In a memorable tracking shot as they climb the staircase, a bereaved Mammy tells Melanie of Rhett's overwhelming grief and the deep depression in the Butler household since the death of Bonnie Blue and the couple's strained exchanges and relationship: "I never seen no man, black or white, set such store in any child...It's like to turn my blood cold - the things they say to one another." Rhett takes Bonnie's body into the nursery - sitting by the deathbed and refusing to relinquish it for a funeral and burial until Melanie, not Scarlett, gently persuades him to.

Weakened and ailing, Melanie collapses in labor outside the nursery due to complications that have developed from her own pregnancy. The adults try to take her young son Beau (Mickey Kuhn) away from the deathbed scene, but he objects, not understanding that she is dying: "Where is my mother going away to, and why can't I go along, please?... Why do I have to go back to bed? It's morning..." Melanie's sister-in-law India Wilkes begs Dr. Meade to see Melanie on her deathbed to apologize for the vicious rumors she spread earlier: "I've been waiting here two whole days. And I've got to tell her that I was wrong about something."

Before passing away, Melanie bids Scarlett goodbye. With kind and gentle words, Melanie advises that Scarlett take care of her son, Ashley, and Rhett:

Look after him for me, just as you looked after me for him. Look after him, but never let him know...Promise?...Captain Butler, be kind to him...He loves you so.

Scarlett finally sees that Melanie has always been her best friend - and the kind of great lady that Scarlett had always wanted to be. Ashley distractedly clutches one of his dying wife's gloves: "I don't know where the mate for this is - she must have put it away." Scarlett witnesses the broken, helpless, and pitiable real grief that Ashley suffers with the loss of Melanie. Revealing his indifference toward Scarlett, Ashley clings to her skirts and sobs - admitting that without Melanie he is nothing. He speaks lovingly of Melanie: "I can't live without her. I can't. Everything I ever had is going with her...She's the only dream I ever had that didn't die in the face of reality." Scarlett finally realizes that her infatuation with Ashley was childish, that she has wasted her life on a fantasy, that her romantic idol had always loved Melanie and not her, and that her advances had been in vain. She finally understands that she never really loved Ashley either and is freed from her life-long obsession and girlish dream:

Ashley, you should have told me years ago that you loved her and not me, and not left me dangling with your talk of honor. But you had to wait till now, now when Melly's dying. To show me that I could never be any more to you than, than this Watling woman does to Rhett ..And I've loved something that doesn't really exist. Somehow, I don't care. Somehow, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter one bit.

Scarlett encourages Ashley to put on a brave front before his deathbed talk with Melanie: "Don't cry. She mustn't see you've been crying." She rushes out of the house, hurrying back in the fog to search for Rhett, her real love, calling out: "Wait for me." But it is already too late for Scarlett and Rhett.

In their chillingly empty house, she calls out for him, but there is no answer. She finds him upstairs, sitting morosely in a chair in his bedroom. He is truly sorry to see Melanie, "a very great lady," die. A long-suffering, exhausted Rhett, tired and worn out from Scarlett's constant rejections, manipulations, and selfishness, can no longer tolerate being with her. He tells Scarlett that all he wants to do is escape from the pain of their many years of struggle, especially now that Ashley is available. In this final scene with his bags packed, he tells 28 year-old Scarlett what he will do: "I'm leaving you my dear. All you need now is a divorce and your dreams of Ashley can come true."

With a tear-stained, bewildered face, Scarlett pleads with Rhett to listen to her claims that she truly loves him:

Scarlett: I must have loved you for years, only I'm such a stupid fool I didn't know it. Please believe me. You must care. Melly said you did.
Rhett: I believe you. And what about Ashley Wilkes?
Scarlett: I never really loved Ashley.
Rhett: You certainly gave a good imitation of it up to this morning. No, Scarlett. I've tried everything. If you'd only met me halfway, even when I came back from London.
Scarlett: I was so glad to see you. I was Rhett. But you were so nasty.
Rhett: And then when you were sick and it was all my fault. I hoped against hope that you'd call for me, but you didn't.
Scarlett: I wanted you. I wanted you desperately, but I didn't think you wanted me.
Rhett: It seems we've been at cross purposes, doesn't it? But it's no use now. As long as there was Bonnie, there was a chance we might be happy. I liked to think that Bonnie was you, a little girl again, before the war and poverty had done things to you. She was so like you, and I could pet her and spoil her - as I wanted to spoil you. But when she went, she took everything.
Scarlett: Oh, Rhett, Rhett. Please don't say that. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for everything.
Rhett: My darling. You're such a child. You think that by saying: 'I'm sorry,' all the past can be corrected.

He reacts insensitively to another one of her fits of crying, handing a weeping Scarlett a parting gift: "Here, take my handkerchief. Never at any crisis of your life have I known you to have a handkerchief." Before he walks down the stairs, she begs: "Rhett, Rhett. Where are you going?" He tells her about his plans for the future in the Old South where he will pursue a lost dream:

Rhett: I'm going to Charleston, back where I belong.
Scarlett: Please, please take me with you.
Rhett: No, I'm through with everything here. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Scarlett: No. I only know that I love you.
Rhett: That's your misfortune.

He parts from her at the front door. Scarlett asks: "Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?" Without sentimentality, he cooly responds for the last time:

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!

[The daring line with a blasphemous taboo word at the time was a line of dialogue lifted directly from Margaret Mitchell's novel ("My dear, I don't give a damn"). It was also forbidden by the infamous Hays Office code, under Section V (1). Producer Selznick was technically fined $5,000 for the infraction of the code.]

As he closes the front door behind him and exits into the foggy mist, she is stunned and crushed, realizing she really loved Rhett all along, and has now lost a second, unrealizable passion. Resolutely, she still believes she can get him back, but it is really too late. In a big closeup shot, Scarlett addresses a soliloquy to the camera:

I can't let him go. I can't. There must be some way to bring him back. Oh I can't think about this now! I'll go crazy if I do! I'll think about it tomorrow. (She closes the door.) But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? (She falls forward onto the ascending stairs.) What is there that matters?

Crestfallen, she stops and then resourcefully and determinedly finds her true direction in the final lines of the film. She was never the type to admit defeat - so she refuses to acknowledge defeat in Rhett's rejection of her. Ghost-like voices of important men from her past remind her of the source of her strength in the soil of Tara. She hears her father Gerald: "Land's the only thing that matters, it's the only thing that lasts." Ashley: "Something you love better than me, though you may not know it. Tara." And Rhett: "It's from this you get your strength, the red earth of Tara." Each speech is repeated with increasing tempo and volume. Scarlett realizes that even if she doesn't get Rhett back, she can always return to the land - to Tara, to soak up its strength.

...Tara!...Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!

The camera close-up of her tear-stained face slowly dissolves into an earlier shot, a long view of Scarlett standing alone under the gnarled tree with Tara in the background - a heroic silhouette not admitting defeat.

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