Monday, September 19, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Yes, another Alfred Hitchcock film. And, it won’t be the last. The director just offers so much to talk about. Although many of his movies deal in some form with sex, this 1964 piece is probably his most overt on the subject, and its lack of subtlety may lessen its accomplishment. But, it still lends itself to meaningful discussion.
Hitchcock recycles elements from previous projects here. The first shot in the film is at a train station. Not unfamiliar territory for the director. He used a train and a tunnel in North by Northwest to imply sexual intercourse, and it’s possible the opening scene harkens back to that suggestion. The title character’s trauma induced amnesia is reminiscent of Gregory Peck’s condition in Spellbound, and both characters have an adverse reaction to a color related to the traumatic event: for Peck’s character it is black lines against a white background, and in this film, it is red (Marnie becomes upset when she sees clothing, flowers, or ink which is colored red, and the film turns red, mirroring what is going on inside of Marnie’s mind). The opening has the camera focus on a purse. We then cut to a scene where Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel) tells the police that an employee by the name of Marion Holland stole $10,000 from his business. In the film Psycho the similarly named Marion Crane steals money, and we also see it stashed in her purse. Psycho dealt with the love-hate relationship between a son and his mother. Here, it is between a daughter and a mother. When we hear the line, “I always thought a girl’s best friend was her mother,” it echoes the one used by Norman Bates, who says, “son” instead. Like Psycho, we have a dysfunctional relationship with a mother, and the psychological fallout resulting from that family dynamic.
One may find that Hitchcock is presenting a misogynistic view here of female sexual deviance and criminality. Even the book Sean Connery’s Mark Rutland reads is entitled Sexual Aberrations of the Female Criminal. However, I think it’s more objective to approach this motion picture as a case study primarily of one traumatized female. To counter the anti-female argument, Hitchcock immediately shows us the male preoccupation with sex by how detailed Strutt describes the thief, saying she was “five-five, 110 pounds, size 8 dress, blue eyes, black wavy hair, even features, good teeth.” He lingers over his words, suggesting he is enjoying the picture he conjures. He hired her even though she had no references, which shows his interest in her was purely physical. He gripes by implying she held a high opinion of her looks because she would tug down on her skirt, as if she were hiding a “treasure.” Of course, this comes off like he was angry because he couldn’t get a decent look at the goods. Mark happens to be in the office because he does business with Strutt, and the former’s sexist aspect comes out because he urged Strutt to pretty his place up with attractive women. While talking with Strutt he realizes that he has seen the criminal before, describing her as the “good looking one with the legs.”
We see Marnie (Tippi Hedrin), her real name, washing out the dark coloring to reveal her true blonde hair. She has taken on numerous identities as we see her sorting through several Social Security cards with different names. We, thus, realize that she has committed a number of these thefts. But, it also implies that she may not know who she really is, what is the true nature of her personality. She escapes to a stable in Virginia where the workers know her by the name of Edgar, her true last name. She enjoys riding her beloved horse, Forio. In mythical literature, the horse can symbolize sexual power. Or, in this case, it could be that Marnie, who we later learn is sexually “frigid,” is displacing her sexual desire by riding a horse because in her mind she could never “ride” a man. In fact, there are many references to animals in the movie. Marnie applies for a payroll job at Mark’s office. He appears to recognize her, is intrigued as she again tugs down at her skirt as he observes her, and allows her to get the job. He later says he wanted to be a zoologist and once trained a wild jungle cat, getting the creature to trust him. This story implies an analogy to his developing relationship to Marnie. He solidifies this connection when he says he studied the instinctual behavior or predators, and females in the animal world are mostly predatory, as Marnie has been in her preying on employers. He seems almost cold at times, like a detached scientist studying a specimen. They go to the horse races in Atlantic City, and, in addition, Mark’s father loves horses. Mr. Rutand (Alan Napier) says that “the best thing for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.” This line sounds like he is just talking about riding, but the act of wrapping legs around a horse, and the idea that it’s best for the “inside” of a person, sounds sexual, and later Mark says his father understands “basic animal lust,” and judges people by their “smell,” which associates men with primal physical sensation. On the other hand, Marnie, despite her affection for Forio and the subconscious need for intimacy it indicates, says that the whole idea of intimacy in marriage is “degrading, it’s animal.” Later in the story, Marnie says that Mark acts like, when it comes to her, he has caught an animal. He says that is true, a wild one. It is probably her wildness that brings out both his interest in animal behavior and his more intellectual interest in solving her psychological mystery. It is no big surprise that the movie presents men as accepting the basic instinctual sexual drive that is associated with animals since humans belong to that family. For Marnie, however, her experiences have alienated her from her instincts.
Let’s get back to Marnie’s visit with her mother after her trip to the stables. She goes to Baltimore to see Bernice Edgar (Louise Latham). We learn that the money Marnie has been stealing is not for herself but instead for her mother. She has not been at home much, probably because she does not feel accepted there. She appears to be trying to buy her mother’s love which she has found elusive for many years. Bernice lavishes more attention on the bratty neighbor’s child, a substitute Marnie who also has blonde hair, than she does on her own daughter. Marnie notes how her mother avoids contact with her. Marnie says she feels there must be something wrong with her that her mother doesn’t love her own daughter. This parental modeling has not helped with Marnie’s inability to deal with intimacy. In addition, mom’s disgust of men has shaped the child’s attitudes toward the male gender. Bernice does not like the highlights in Marnie’s hair, thinking it is meant to draw the attention of males. She says, “Men and a good name don’t go together,” and “Decent women don’t get mixed up with men.” For Bernice, a “good name” and being “decent” mean a woman does not appear sexually easy. Marnie does not drink, smoke, or dress suggestively. She reassures her mother by saying that they don’t need men and that they can do okay for themselves. Today this attitude might indicate an attempt at declaring female empowerment. However, in the context of this story, Marnie and her mother are not examples of independence but of damaged aversion toward males.
The scene at Mark’s place of business when Marnie is working there on a Saturday is a psychologically symbolic one. A violent storm erupts while Marnie is inside his office. He keeps reassuring her, but her fear of the storm seems to have triggered a re-experiencing of a trauma as she presses herself against the door, as if trying to escape, saying she wants the “colors” to stop. The wind causes a large tree branch to break through the huge picture window, shattering the glass. One could interpret the storm as an expressionistic projection of the turbulence inside Marnie since she is attracted to Mark at the same time she loathes him as a man. The thick tree wood appears phallic as it thrusts through the protective interior of the supposedly safe housing. Mark then calms Marnie, comforting her with gentle forehead kisses and an embrace. Is this scene a foreshadowing of the sexual act later between Mark and Marnie? Is this just an incident that draws Mark into wanting to understand the mystery behind this woman? Is it symbolic of a breakthrough toward which Marnie is heading in trying to gain self-understanding? It may be a “breakthrough” for Mark, also, to move forward because the storm destroys the Pre-Columbian art pieces that belonged to his deceased wife. After Marnie says she is sorry that the storm destroyed them, he says everything “has to go sometime.”
Marnie and Mark spend a lot of time together, and she even has a room when she wants to stay at the Rutland family home. Mr. Rutland says his son is sneaky, illustrated by the way he hides booze in tea, and later Mark steals a hidden kiss from Marnie in the stables, an appropriate place where Marnie temporarily associates him with the area where horses reside. But, she robs his office, too. He catches her in the act, tells her she he knows about her lies, even about the fact that she is really from the south by the way she pronounces words. She tells him some truth about growing up poor in Virginia, and reveals her real name. He says it’s his lot in life to have fallen in love with a liar and a thief. He covers up her theft, and eventually anonymously pays back Strutt for the money she stole.
On the one hand Mark is not romantic in the least. He says Marnie will marry him and that way she doesn’t have to steal since she will be part owner of his wealth. He says the marriage will make her his legal possession, because it would either be him or the police. After the ceremony, he sarcastically tells the preacher thanks for being there because without him, it wouldn’t have been legal. On their honeymoon cruise he learns that Marnie can’t bear the thought of physical intimacy. The thought of him touching her makes her feel like she’s going to die. He says she needs a psychiatrist. Her response is “Oh men! You say ‘no thanks’ to one of them and Bingo! You’re a candidate for the funny farm.” Again, her words do hit accurately at the male ego in a general sense, but in Marnie’s case, she actually does have a mental condition, which today would probably fall under a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He promises to be kind to her. They sleep in separate beds. But her adversity finally gets the better of him and one night he bursts into her room and pulls off her robe. He then is sorry for his action, and covers her back up. Some may say what follows is a rape, but Marnie voluntarily lies back on the bed and allows Mark to have sex with her. However, she looks like she goes into a type of catatonic state to remove herself mentally from what is to her an intolerable act. The next day she tries to drown herself in the ship’s swimming pool. Mark wants desperately to find out about Marnie’s past. She says to him, “You’re dying to play doctor,” which also carries the sexual connotation of the game sexually curious children play. Her response of “church, purify, cleanse” to the word “water” implies her desire to be her mother’s version of “decent.” When he says “sex” she first says Jack and Jill, innocent gender roles, but then progresses to “masculine/feminine” which makes her think of physical intimacy that leads to her aversion when she says, “I’ll slap your face if you come near me again.” She says “me” in response to “death” which shows her distraught state, and she counters the word “red” with “white” wanting to blot out her fearful past. She then begs for help. They cut the honeymoon short and return home. They begin to make some progress together.
However, Lil (Diane Baker), the sister of his deceased first wife wants Mark for herself. She overhears about Marnie’s past as the newly married couple talk and invites Strutt to a family dinner party hoping that the businessman will recognize the woman who stole from him. He does, but Mark uses his influence to keep the theft a secret. Lil is another negative female character in the film, presented as a gold-digger. But, Hitchcock balances her marriage-for-money schemes with Mark’s admitting that the Rutland family would get out of economic woes by marrying the occasional heiress. It appears both sexes can use the marital arrangement for financial gain.
Mark eventually brings Marnie’s horse Forio to the Rutland home, smoothing the way psychologically for her to transfer her feelings from the animal to him. When she must kill her horse after the accident of jumping over a wall permanently injures the animal, it can be seen as symbolic of her painfully freeing herself of the sexual surrogate. However, her first impulse is to steal from the safe in the house and pack so she can run away. Mark stops her and she breaks down in his arms, feeling emotionally broken by her mental state. Lil actually helps Mark by overhearing Marnie talk to her mother living in Baltimore. He has a private investigator find out about Bernice Edgar’s past, including the fact that she killed a man when Marnie was six years old. Mark brings Marnie to her mother’s house to bring everything into the open. Bernice was a prostitute once, and on a stormy night one of her men (Bruce Dern) in white suits (sailors) went into Marnie’s room and caressed the girl. Bernice came in to stop him, but the sailor fell on the mother, hurting her leg. Marnie was the one who actually killed the sailor, hitting him with a fireplace poker. The blood flowing down the man’s head is the reason for her reaction to the color red, and the weather of that night caused her fear of storms. Bernice said she was the one who killed the sailor out of self-defense, fearing that the authorities might take Marnie away from her. She admits to becoming pregnant with Marnie at the age of fifteen, when she was lured into having sex with a boy whose sweater she wanted. She finally tells her daughter that she was the one thing in the world she truly loved. Marnie’s revulsion concerning sex came from her mother’s sexual promiscuity leading to the violence, and Bernice’s subsequent preaching of negativity toward intimacy with men.
Marnie says that she grew up “decent” by her mother’s sexual definition of the word, but she was also a liar, a cheat, and a thief. Sexual repression has a tendency to surface in distorted, sometimes, anti-social ways. Marnie and Mark leave the house. They hear girls singing a song that was heard earlier in the film when Marnie first visited her mother. The lyrics include the word “purse,” which is a slang term used by prostitutes to refer to a vagina, and which reminds us of the yellow purse, the creased end of which resembles female genitalia, carried by Marnie in the first scene. Does the ending suggest an alternate version of the Adam and Eve story, that the innocence of girls is always in jeopardy of being corrupted by men?
The next film is Altered States.