Finding points to compare Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain is not difficult since both movies share many similarities aside from their setting in the south during and shortly after the Civil War period in American history. Films such as Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain depicting the Civil War have been popular since the advent of filmmaking technology and are still being made in this new century.
“In 1961 the Library of Congress published a filmography of nearly nine hundred motion pictures produced since 1897 and set during the Civil War" (Campbell 2004). Although Gone with the Wind (1939) would have been listed since it was released in 1939, other films such as Cold Mountain (2003) will be added. It is interesting that the Civil War and the dynamics between the south and noth has captured the imaginations of so many writers and film directors such as those who created both Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain as well as other major motion pictures such as the film “Glory” and one must wonder how much of this fascination is based on the social and cultural issues surrounding the war such as slavery, the idealization of the “grand old plantation, the nostalgia of times gone by to name a few.
It is even more noteworthy that two films; Gone with the Wind and Cold Mountain take place during the Civil War in the south yet do not feature a long series of battle images but choose instead to focus of the human costs and issues related to the War. Both Gone with the Wind and Cold Mountain have epic storylines to compliment the main characters’ quests to find meaning and fulfillment in the war-torn South. In both cases, the Civil War is not the main story of either Gone With the Wind and Cold Mountain, rather, the lives of these characters, Scarlett played by the actress Vivien Lee and Inman, are emphasized and it seems that the Civil War in the south itself is merely a backdrop for their stories. Although the war in the south is not directly a major part of the character’s lives, its effects drive the plot and through this it becomes possible for the viewer to understand different perspectives of the South during this time.
Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O’Hara and follows her life from Southern belle to troubled widow and beyond. At the beginning, Scarlett is shown to be a flirtatious and typical “belle" and she is also shown to be conniving and motivated to attain whatever she wishes. She attempts to steal Ashley away from the kind-hearted Melanie and snubs the dashing Rhett Butler’s advances until much later in the film. Throughout Gone with the Wind Scarlett defends her family’s land, Tara, and fights to keep it from falling victim to the degradation that the rest of the South faces in the wake of the Civil War. Her father loses her mind and her mother passes away and this fact is almost transposed on Tara itself. The house and its grounds were once the picture of opulent life in the South but, much like the other grand plantations, it also loses itself to the decay of the post-war era.
It is difficult to provide a short summary of such an epic film but in short, Scarlett loses everything and vows to regain it all in the end. Some critics have noted how the life of Scarlett in Gone with the Windclosely parallels the plight of the South in the era before and after the Civil war that the film represents. “Scarlett’s growth from vacuous Southern Belle, to wife, to widower, to murderer, to being widowed twice, to becoming a mother, losing a daughter, and finally, to being cast off by Rhett—just when she realizes how much she’s always loved him—speaks equally to the senseless devastation wreaked on the South by the Civil War and Reconstruction and to the resilience of Southern culture and the tenacity of Southern women like Scarlett, who can rise like the phoenix from their own ashes and begin anew" (Burks 2004). This theory regarding Scarlett being a representation of the South is reassuring since there is hope that the South can be restored but one gets the sense—even without knowledge of post-Civil War history—that Scarlett will never again hold balls and court a number of suitors in a grand estate. The film ends with the line… “Tomorrow is another day" and the sense is that the efforts of the Reconstruction era will bring new challenges as well as new positive opportunities.
“Curiously, the Civil War has only rarely provided the setting for such film spectacles, although Gone with the Wind (1939) is, of course, the granddaddy of all of them Other than that and the 1965 film Shenandoah, no major Hollywood film has dealt as fully with Southerners and their home front plight as does Cold Mountain" (Inscoe 2004). This film centers around three primary characters; Ada, Inman, and Ruby. Throughout most of the film, Inman feels the most direct effects of the Civil War. He is a deserter who was wounded in battle and engages on an epic journey to reunite with his love, Ada so they may be married. On his journey back to the isolated Cold Mountain, he encounters a number of characters, many of them eccentric and all of them impacted in some way by the war. The film ends tragically when Inman is killed by a Federal and although this is not a “happy ending" in some ways, it shouldn’t be fitting if it was simply because there is the sense that nothing is right with the world with the Civil War going on. Unlike in Gone with the Wind, the war is represented as bringing out the worst in many people, therefore his final moments are at the hands of the enemy, an enemy that is ruthless based on the principles of war. One critic suggests that the novelist behind the film, Charles Frazier, wanted to depict the human side of the War rather than engage in long politically charged scenes depicting the horrible warfare that the character of Inman remembered so vividly.
“Frazier’s intention was not to be a latter-day Margaret Mitchell [author of the novel Gone with the Wind] but to disconnect from the conventional war narrative to reorganize the absurdity of war by filtering it through a natural prism" (Koresky 2004). Therefore, according to this theory, it was the intention to show a more localized way in which the War had an effect on the lives of Southerners rather than to portray some grand-scale reiteration of the battles or war itself. In this way, Cold Mountain and Gone with the Wind share quite a bit in common. Instead of engaging in an attempt to portray the wide-scale and almost impossible-to-grasp enormity of the Civil War, there was the choice to present a more localized way of defining Southern reaction to the war and to a lesser degree, an attempt to define Southerners more generally.