A woman is split in complex personas but underneath she is still the same little girl, crying out for help, desperate for a mother’s love. Alfred Hitchcock’s final masterpiece is an amalgam of PSYCHO psychiatry and VERTIGO semantics, a bloody transfusion of traumatic therapy.
Hitchcock begins the film with a close-up of a yellow bag tucked under the arm of a raven haired woman (seen only from behind), walking a thin red line on a train platform. Our attention is drawn to the bag as Hitchcock cuts again to a close-up of a man screaming ‘Thief!”: an economy of visual language that begins the story of a tortured young lady. Marnie alters identities and skips from job to job, stealing from her employers then disappearing like a ghost, haunted by a troubled past the consumes her future tense. When she begins to work for Mark Rutland, he eventually recognizes her as “Marion” who stole from one of his clients. Mark blackmails Marnie into marrying him and thus begins another journey into the dreaded unknown inner world of the convoluted mindscape: but are his intentions well-meaning or selfish? Or both?
Hitchcock conveys emotional trauma in a few direct ways: the use of a red filter that blossoms onto the screen when Marnie suffers a breakdown, enacted by the color red in a specific setting (red ink like blood, red flowers in her mother’s house, a red polka-dotted shirt, or a red riding jacket); the lightening flashes that totally obliterate her image and burn a ghostly figure into the retina, her identity erased and occluded; the nocturnal tapping (like Poe’s raven) which invites Marnie into the land of nightmare; or the blank stare of total dissociation when she finally allows Mark to penetrate her femininity…which leads to her suicide attempt. Even her suicide is reasoned through and details justified when her husband asks her why she didn’t jump from the ship: “I wanted to die, not feed the fish”. Wonderful line!
Unlike Marnie, Mark has let go of his past which is beautifully revealed in his study when a branch crashed through a window and smashes his deceased wife’s remaining icons. In an almost callous way, he picks up a fractured piece and smashes it: “We all have to let go sometime”. A picture on his desk also depicts a ferocious animal which he exclaims pride in training, of making the beast trust him. Mark’s intentions seem both honorable and potentially despicable, and it’s to Sean Connery’s credit that his decidedness is both imperfect and credible. He admits to sexually blackmailing Marnie but his desire is to protect her from those “others” who would not be so kind. His sacrifice is not without payoff, as he beds the beautiful protagonist and holds a patriarchal dominance over her position.
One scene in particular is the crux of the narrative, of the violent need for healing through death, of reliving the victimization of a lost childhood: the runaway chase where Marnie’s only viable emotional attachment, her beloved horse Forio, is injured by her own fault and she demands the incredibly sad task of shooting him, to put her suffering friend out of his misery. It’s very interesting that she never turns the gun on herself, and from this point on she can no longer steal money to buy her mother’s affection. Marnie’s eyes reflect eternal sadness, her pallid visage a mask of anxiety (she almost looks like another person), and she pulls the trigger and whispers her apology. Tippi Hedren’s anxious performance is a tour-de-force and makes the film live, allows the audience to associate with the complex desires of a superficial thief…and her self-destructive impulses.
Marnie’s demons are exorcised in her childhood home still inhabited by her mother, under the giant shadow of a ship that looms like a phallus over their lives, understood when the flashback occurs. Bernard Herrmann’s score evokes all the right psychological chords, plucking audience attention, reverberating with delirious meaning, spiraling strings echo dark rooms and lamentations. Though Marnie may be on the path to recovery, her mother will always suffer her own aching crippled leg.
Final Grade: (A)