Psychoanalysis via Hitch: A Look at Spellbound and Marnie

After years of waiting, I finally watched the Alfred Hitchcock film Spellbound (1945) last night. I immediately drew comparisons with Hitchcock’s 1964 film Marnie, which similarly weaves psychoanalysis into an unusual yet still romantic tale.

I found Spellbound utterly enthralling – partly thanks to the incredibly evocative score by Miklós Rózsa – but especially because of its fascinating story and characters. Freudian psychoanalysis functions not only as Ingrid Bergman’s chosen profession but also a handy way to unlock the secrets in Gregory Peck’s past. As in Marnie, Spellbound features scenes where the leading man walks toward the camera (the viewer is seeing the male through the leading lady’s eyes) in an extreme close-up that breaks down the audience’s sense of distance from the action unfolding before them. The tension built up by such a close-up leads to a kiss (or more, as I’ll mention in the next paragraph), which is the kind of audience satisfaction that Hitchcock is a master at achieving.

This is not to say that I dislike Marnie; actually, it’s a fairly good film. The chief problem is that certain aspects are dated, despite the fact that the film was made two decades after Spellbound (and to me that film has aged much more gracefully). Marnie spends too much time and effort on psychoanalysis as a means of explaining Marnie as a character, rather than simply explaining plot points. Sean Connery is so preoccupied with wanting to sleep with Tippi Hedren – a desire which culminates in a scene that can easily be interpreted as rape – that it is not until afterward that he tries to decipher her past.

(Yes, Connery’s character attempts to learn more about Marnie’s mysterious nature by reading a book entitled Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female. Subtle, right?)

The use of color and fake sets in Marnie, however, is intriguing. It is a film of many facets. If you look beyond the obvious artifice, you will find an engrossing drama with a terrific Bernard Herrmann score, equally as beautiful as Rózsa’s music for Spellbound. At the heart of each film, as can be seen throughout Hitchcock’s oeuvre, is a love story.


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