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Marnie – Alfred Hitchcock

Submitted by on November 8, 2010 – 10:52 pmNo Comment

Marnie continues Alfred Hitchcock’s fascination with obsessive love and aberrant psychology begun in films such as The Paradine Case (1947) and Vertigo (1958). In both earlier films Hitchcock concentrates on the hero’s obsession with a “phantom woman,” a phantom in The Paradine Case because the hero has surrounded the real woman with an aura of mystery which he chooses not to penetrate, and in Vertigo because the woman the hero loves is the clever creation of two conspirators in murder. Very little attention is paid to the psyche of the woman„for in a figurative sense she does not exist. She is but an object on which he and/or others project a personality. The film’s subjectification is all from the hero’s point of view.

Marnie, however, as the title suggests, breaks from this pattern. The “ob­ject” becomes a “subject,” a subject equal in standing to the hero. Here, for the first time, Hitchcock delves behind the mask of the cool, detached “ice-princesses” he so favored. His heroine (played so exquisitely by Hitchcock’s discovery, Tippi Hedren) throws off her cloak of mystery, and is exposed as ruthlessly as her male counterparts.

Marnie is a kleptomaniacal young woman who moves from job to job, changing identities and embezzling money as she goes. With her ill-gotten gains she supports her two overriding obsessions, her horses and her mother. Her confusion of identity is visually underlined in the very first scenes of the film in which she coolly and methodically dyes her hair, exchanges ID’s, switches clothes, and emerges with a different mask, one of many. The first real clue to the origin of this woman’s strange behavior is given during her visit to her mother Bernice Edgar (Louise Latham).

Marnie’s mother is a bitter, critical woman who shows no appreciation and little affection for her doting daughter. Marnie tries to act out the role of little girl for her mother, laying her head on her lap, reverting to childish babble, only to be rejected and replaced in her mother’s affections by a neighbor’s child. The fact that her mother’s house is the key to Marnie’s psyche, the locus where reality and illusion first became confused, is emphasized by the establishing exterior shot of the house obviously on a studio street before a painted backdrop of a port with a liner moored there. The traditional sexual symbolism associated with ships, ports, and the sea are noteworthy, especially as the understanding of Marnie’s problems is rendered more and more in strict Freudian terms as the film progresses.

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