Alfred Hitchcock has often been cited as a film-maker who used the Freudian and Lacanian theories of psychoanalysis and applied them to the narrative of his films. Spellbound is a film which uses psychoanalysis as a plot device; psychoanalytical elements are found both in the characters, like in many of his earlier movies, but also in the plot itself.
The story deals with psychoanalysis, which is a method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the ordinary man. The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind. Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear... and the evils of unreasoned are driven from the human soul. Here, the story focuses on the therapeutic release of one of the characters, John Ballantine. Psychoanalytical elements are explicitly described from the very beginning with an explanation to the audience of what it is and explicitly includes it as an important, if not the central part of the plot.
[...] Freudian psychoanalytical theory has been central to film studies, because cinema is a cultural form of representation. One of the main developed psychoanalytic approach to film is the feminist one, and we know that Hitchcock is seen as a misogynistic director, who often placed his female characters as inferior to the male hero. Laura Mulvey, in her very influential essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, uses psychoanalytic theory as a political weapon. She demonstrates the way the unconscious patriarchal society has structured film form and how cinema is typified by the gender-specific roles males and females must assume; she also states that looking in cinema is never gender free: the active looking is gendered masculine whereas women are passive and objectified. [...]
[...] Burlov's remark when he undertakes a crash analysis of the amnesiac John Ballantine in Spellbound applies to the representation of psychoanalysis in Hitchcok's movies generally: “This is a shortcut, but we haven't much time.” (Lesley Brill, The Hitchcock Romance) It is true that the analysis made by the psychiatrists in the film are quite simple and the answers arrive very fast. A psychoanalysis can take several years, and to pretend to use it in a two-hour film is almost impossible, we have to get some 'action', which prevents Hitchcock from making a film with deep psychoanalytical meaning. [...]
[...] In this context, it is not a struggle for sex and the possession of a woman, but for a status, the possession of Green Manors. Murchison would be the 'bad father', the threat, even if Ballantine is unaware of it until the end. As this man commits suicide, John won't even have to 'kill' in a way or another this harmful father- figure nor to feel guilty for it. As for Edwardes, the victim, it is not a father-figure, but rather the justification why Ballantine felt so guilty about his death; thus, this event reawakened his guilt complex because he accidentally killed his brother in his childhood: the past afflicts the present and it is what Freud calls return of the repressed”. [...]
[...] We cannot pretend to carry out a whole psychoanalysis in a film, and that is why Spellbound sometime seems grotesque in its use of this therapy. The methodological approach of psychoanalysis in cinema is also more generally problematic Indeed, one of the dangers of using psychoanalytical interpretation in films is to 'over-analyse' them, that is to find meaning in things which don't offer a specific interest, and to give excessive qualities to a film which does not deserve them. Indeed, apart from stories which, like Spellbound, focus on this subject, the problem of a psychoanalytic film theory is that it often only concentrates on one of the aspects of human nature: gender and sexual desires. [...]
[...] She is also distrustful of intuition, considered as a female characteristic, and appears as a rational scientist. The way the characters are filmed often gives priority to the male gaze; for example, when the couple goes for a walk, we see the scene from a male point of view: John is looking at Constance admiringly, we see her and not the wonderful landscape she is herself looking at; indeed, Hitchcock looks at Constance through the camera, John looks at her too and the female character is created by the gazes of the men who surround her in the film as well as by the men who view her on the screen. [...]
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