Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Gen: Looking at Women
Simply put, Marnie (Hitchcock, 1964) is a film about a woman’s sexual frigidity following a childhood trauma. In sight of its undisguised references to psychoanalysis and fascination with the Oedipus Complex, it serves as somewhat of a ‘Freud for beginners’ manual.
However, in keeping with some of Hitchcock’s most famous films (think Rebecca or Psycho), Marnie is far more than Freud-verbatim; rather, it is a strikingly “woman-centred film” that brings to light the complexities of the social expectations borne by the modern woman (Jacobowitz 2012). Marnie addresses issues of ownership in marriage, male and female gender relations, and, perhaps most importantly, “the daughter’s intense commitment to the mother” (Ibid). Florence Jacobowitz’s article “Hitchcock and Feminist Criticism: From Rebecca to Marnie” helps to unlock these ideas, adding a contemporary edge to Mulvey’s psychoanalytic feminist groundwork.
By decentering the dominant psychological relationship in Marnie from man and woman to mother and daughter, Jacobowitz shows how Hitchcock complicates the trope of man as saviour/voyeur that has dominated prior readings of his work. This displaces Mark Rutland’s male as saviour narrative, shifting the focus of the film towards Marnie’s interior narrative; until she confronts her past, Marnie will be “alienated from both the social world and her own sexuality”, most pressingly her relationship with Mark (Ibid).
Indeed, rather than portraying marriage as a gesture of love and commitment, Hitchcock treats marriage as a form of success on behalf of Mark Rutland, the hunter, who has finally ensnared Marnie, his prey. At surface level, this is evoked by references to Mark’s interest in zoology or Marnie’s likeness to his tamed jaguarundi, but is more gravely evoked by the subtle change of colours on-screen as Marnie and Mark embark on a life together. Having previously dressed in light blues and greens, Marnie’s life is turned notably beige from the point of her marriage.
Furthermore, “as in many woman’s films” (those that address female concerns and interests), Marnie’s separation from her mother and confrontation of her trauma don’t “fix the social problems in which the relationship is embedded” (Ibid). Hitchcock doesn’t provide a solution, but rather a sinister fairytale existence for Marnie, whose new home and relationship are only jokingly “not exactly a house of correction”. Like much woman’s film and writing before it, from Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper, Marnie unearths “the horror of the normal” for the kept woman, the suburban housewife and even the young girl who dreams of marrying her prince charming (Britton 1992, p.35-39).
Marnie ends by offering a contemporaneous critique of marriage as capitalist endeavour, highlighting the narrow existence of a woman who has (quite literally) been br/ought into the patriarchal trappings of the modern home. She was once owned by a man who haunted her memory, she is now owned by a man upon whom her ‘freedom’ depends. The only ‘true freedom’ that Marnie has left is the newfound love that she shares with her mother.
Where to watch
Britton, A. "A New Servitude: Bette Davis, Now, Voyager and the Radicalism of the Woman's Film." CineAction 26/27 (Winter 1992): 35-39.
Jacobowitz, F. “Hitchcock and Feminist Criticism: From Rebecca to Marnie.” CineAction 96 (2012).
Chopin, K. (2018) The Awakening. London, Penguin Classics.
Perkins Gilman, C. (2015) The Yellow Wallpaper. London, Penguin Classics.
The International Institute for Important Items (I.I.I.I), The Wall that Bleeds, 16mm film, 5’, silent, 2012.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathryn is a fourth year student of a joint degree in History of Art and Art Practice at The University of Edinburgh. Her interest in feminist cinema comes from her belief in political, cultural and social equity, a set of values that she says have often felt uncomfortable alongside popular feminist movements such as "fourth wave" or Taylor Swift "girl gang" feminisms. Kathryn has found that by understanding the roots of female "types", consolidated through literature, cinema and art, she has been able to understand how they are constructed and how her own sense of femininity and womanhood differ.
ABOUT NEON EYE
Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.