This paper was presented at the Alfred Hitchcock conference For the Love of Fear convened by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, held from 31 March to 2 April 2000.
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Hermia: Methinks I see these things with parted eye,
When everything seems double…
Demetrius: Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV, ii, 192-197.
Just about everything about Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) seems double, not least the film’s critical reputation. On the one hand, Andrew Britton, not a man to equivocate, declares that “one can make no claim for Spellbound as an achieved work of art,” citing, among its shortcomings, “the discrepancy between surface and implication, the grotesque uncertainty of tone (especially noticeable in the wildly clashing conventions of the acting) and the frequent banality of the script” (83). Many, even among Hitchcock’s admirers, would agree. Spellbound is, in fact, not spellbinding, not one of Hitchcock’s masterworks, not a Rear Window (1954) nor a Vertigo (1958). On the other hand, though, it is, as Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague point out, the first of Hitchcock’s films in which “questions of visualization and displacement, of guilt conjured up and denied – questions which will eventually inform such films as Rear Window and Vertigo – become overt subject matter” (138).
Ironically, this very overtness of the film’s concern with such questions is often held to be the source of its problems. Spellbound was not only, as Thomas Leitch says, Hitchcock’s “most determined attempt to employ the jargon and images of psychoanalysis”(130), it was probably Hollywood’s most ambitious attempt up to that time to introduce the talking cure to a mass audience. The solemn opening title, more suggestive of docudrama than melodrama, immediately announces this ambition in the most explicit way:
Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane. 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 confusiondisappear … and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.
Not a very sophisticated account of psychoanalysis, admittedly (nor even, as it turns out, a very accurate foreshadowing of the film’s plot), but earnest to a fault. Hitchcock himself seems later to have regarded this earnestness as something of an embarrassment, assuring Truffaut that the film was really “just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis” (165). Most of Hitchcock’s critics, however, seem to think that Spellbound takes its psychoanalysis, “pseudo” or otherwise, very seriously indeed. Thomas Leitch, for one, believes that that is precisely the problem with the film, that “Hitchcock is so determined to penetrate the mysteries of his hero’s troubled mind that for the only time in his career he takes the MacGuffin as seriously as his characters do” (130).
Andrew Britton claims that the problem with the film’s treatment of psychoanalysis is not simply that it is too serious, but rather that it is so deeply and fundamentally confused. He argues that this confusion, however, is the film’s redeeming virtue, that its “interest lies in the nature of its ‘badness’: in the tension between the affirmation and justification of fundamental ideological assumptions, and a repressed meaning which is everywhere at odds with them” (80). Most of Spellbound‘s critics see the film as informed by some such tension, if not always, or not exclusively, in terms of its handling of psychoanalysis. Robin Wood notes, comprehensively, a “split in the thematic material,” a switch from murder mystery to love story as apparent generic model, and a shift from John Ballantine (Gregory Peck) to Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) as apparent protagonist” (44). Everything, indeed, seems double.
This divided film obligingly provides us with a vivid and appropriate, albeit probably unintended, emblem of its own divided nature early in its central dream sequence: the image of an oversized pair of scissors cutting through an eye painted on a curtain. No doubt the image was intended by its designer, Salvador Dali, at least partially as an allusion to the infamous opening shot of his and Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1928), an extreme close-up of a razor slicing through an eyeball, but its suggestiveness extends far beyond its probable origin. Psychoanalytically inclined commentators differ, not only about the appropriate terms for analysis of this image, but also, more fundamentally, about the identity of the psyche to be analyzed. Reading the image in orthodox Freudian terms, for instance, Andrew Britton sees it as revealing what is going on in Ballantine’s mind, suggesting, predictably, “the sexual wish on which the dream is based” (80). Reading it in more contentious but equally predictable Lacanian terms, Robert Samuels sees it as revealing what was going on, not in the protagonist’s mind, but rather in the filmmaker’s, as “representing Hitchcock’s indication of the way that the subject of vision is cut or barred by the system of Symbolic representation” (37).
I wish to appropriate this same serviceable image to emblematise, not what supposedly goes on in the mind of a character during the action of Spellbound, nor what hypothetically went on in the mind of the filmmaker during its creation, but rather what goes on in spectators’ minds while viewing the film. The real interest of Spellbound from a psychoanalytic point of view, I wish to suggest, resides less in its barely concealed fantasy material (at best familiar, at worst downright banal) than in its viewers’ shifting relationship to that material. This parted eye serves nicely to suggest precisely the sort of divided apprehension demanded by the film, the way in which its overt doubling of character and event signals a more fundamental underlying doubleness, one which eventually leaves us, in effect, wondering like Shakespeare’s young lovers, awakening aftere their midsummer night’s dream, whether we sleep or dream. This doubleness in the film, furthermore, points the way, ultimately, toward an informing tension in psychoanalysis itself.
Although the parted eye I wish to discuss is that of the viewer of the film, then, rather than that of any one of its characters, the psychological travails of its neurotic onscreen protagonist are, nevertheless, by no means irrelevant to this doubleness. The overt depiction of psychological process in film narrative has tended to receive less in the way of detailed attention from psychoanalytic film theory in recent years than the larger matter of viewer response. As Dudley Andrew puts the orthodox view:
Film narrative, indeed narrative in general, is fuelled by and satisfies to varying degrees the unconscious drives of its audience. This fact is prior to the incidental one that certain plots and characters represent or replicate basic psychoanalytic situations. To put it formulaically, desire represented in the text is but a specialised subset of a more pervasive thrust, the desire of the text. (143)
No doubt it is. Nevertheless, the narrative representation of “basic psychoanalytic situations” can obviously play a role in determining just how particular texts go about satisfying the unconscious drives of their audiences which is something more than “incidental”.
When psychoanalytic criticism broaches the question of the relationship between “desire represented in the text” and “the desire of the text,” it generally does so in terms of the vexing issue of “identification.” Many earlier accounts of the psychology of identification often seem to offer little more, ultimately, than a theorized (and, often, politicized) reformulation of the venerable notion of vicarious experience. Most influentially, Laura Mulvey, in one of the defining texts of feminist film theory, characterizes classical narrative cinema (indeed, virtually defines it) as irresistibly imposing on viewers an ideologically loaded identification with the “male gaze” of characters on screen. At most, these earlier accounts will sometimes endow viewers with the capacity to recognise, albeit belatedly, their identification with characters and to appreciate its thematic implications. Hitchcock’s films, in particular, are often interpreted in this fashion as allegories of their own reception. In a characteristic reading of Rear Window, for instance, Robert Stam and Roberta Pearson argue that the metamorphosis of the protagonist of that film “from distant observer into excited vicarious participant `allegorizes’ the transformation engendered in us by the narrative procedures and identificatory mechanisms of Hitchcock’s cinema” (205).
More recent accounts of spectatorship, both in reference to Hitchcock and more generally, have generally insisted on what Michael Renov terms “the multivalence of spectatorship” (37). Tania Modelski, for instance, argues persuasively in The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Film Theory that “the same scene can elicit very different responses depending on its viewers’ experiences and values” (17). More specifically, she contends that Hitchcock’s films, despite the director’s conscious intentions, characteristically reveal a deep ambivalence towards femininity, and that this ambivalence opens up a space in which female spectators can respond in specifically female (indeed, in feminist) terms. The female spectator of Blackmail (1929), for instance, “need not occupy either of the two viewing places typically assigned her in feminist film theory: the place of the female masochist, identifying with the passive female character, or the place of the ‘transvestite,’ identifying with the active male hero.” Instead, because of the way in which the film unwittingly “undermines patriarchal law,” she is enabled to experience “sympathy for and an identification with the female outlaw” (19). This extension of the repertoire of viewing positions available to the female viewer from two to three may seem modest enough, but Modleski’s account of the dynamics of female spectatorship nevertheless represents a major advance over Mulvey’s position.
In providing a new character-position which Hitchcock’s female viewers may adopt, however, Modleski leaves unchallenged the underlying assumption that the experiences of viewers, male or female, must necessarily be defined by, and limited to, those of one or another of the characters on screen, if not the “active male hero” nor the “passive female character,” then the “female outlaw.” This assumption about the relationship of spectatorship and identification is, however, open to question. The work of Meredith Anne Skura in The Literary Uses of the Psychoanalytic Process, although specifically concerned with literary rather than cinematic narrative, provides a useful starting point. Skura insists that there are situations in which the experiences of character and viewer (or reader), far from being identical, are in fact mutually exclusive – and necessarily so. Whenever we can recognise the behaviour of a given character as evidence of an underlying fantasy, she argues, we are effectively prevented from sharing in that fantasy. Conversely, she offers Hamlet as the classic instance of a text which enacts an oedipal fantasy and whose protagonist, for that very reason, should not be regarded as suffering from such fantasies:
Precisely because Hamlet’s world justifies his responses, it also makes real the fantasies of a typical oedipal-age child. An adolescent may have all of Hamlet’s feelings, but he has no justification for them, except in his own fantasies. Such fantasies, of course, never include the subject’s own inappropriate desires and certainly do not include oedipal complexes. They always create, instead, an external scene which makes sense of the adolescent hero’s feelings, just as Freud’s patients invented seduction scenes to rationalise their own desires: “My father made me do it.” The fantasy, by its very nature, cannot be symptomatic unless the character at its center is free from symptoms (46-47).
Hamlet, she concludes, “recreates the fantasy, not the fantasizer.” If we were to regard Hamlet as a “fantasizer,” his desires as “inappropriate,” his feelings as “unjustified,” we would, for that very reason, be unable to share in those feelings and desires. In the case of recognizable and identifiable fantasy, the viewer is effectively precluded from sharing in the psychological experience of the character. The “desire represented in the text” and “the desire of the text,” rather than being aligned, are directly opposed.
This view effectively challenges some common assumptions about the nature of our participation in fictional texts, whether literary or cinematic. But it rests on some questionable assumptions of its own, notably about the consistency and stability of characters, of their situations, and of our understanding of those situations: characters in Skura’s account are apparently either symptomatically neurotic or entirely free from symptoms, their behaviour either justified or wholly unjustified by the external scene. But what about a story which focuses precisely on the therapeutic release of a character from his or her fantasies? What about a story in which changes in the external scene retrospectively make sense of the apparently inappropriate feelings of a character? In other words, what about a story like Spellbound? Does it recreate a fantasy or a fantasizer?
In either case, the fantasy itself – it seems almost embarrassingly obvious – is Oedipal in nature. Raymond Bellour has argued (with that caution characteristic of French film theorists) that all Hollywood films are ultimately versions of the Oedipus story (93). Maybe so, but Spellbound‘s retelling of the tale is surely more literal than most, offering not only Freudian depths of incestuous desire and patricidal guilt, but also a Sophoclean surface of riddles and returns. John Ballantine (Gregory Peck) arrives at the Green Manors insane asylum at the beginning of the film unaware of his own past. Suffering from amnesia, he initially believes himself to be a Dr. Edwardes, arriving to replace Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) as director of the asylum. After his false identity is exposed, Ballantine searches for the truth about his past with the aid of a psychiatrist with whom he is falling in love, Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), and her mentor, Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov). After solving the riddle of his obsessive dream, he eventually returns to the site of his apparent murder of the real Dr. Edwardes. At this point the Oedipal trajectory abruptly veers towards the redemptive resolution of a Hollywood melodrama: after Ballantine is charged and jailed, Constance confronts Murchison with evidence that he is the real murderer, Murchison shoots himself, and Ballantine is finally released (both from prison and from the guilt which has haunted him throughout the film) and reunited with Constance.
The Freudian sub-text of this murder mystery surfaces explicitly throughout the film, perhaps most insistently in the references to Constance as a mother-figure, first by Fleurot, another of the doctors at Green Manors, who claims to “detect the outcroppings of a mother instinct toward Dr. Edwardes,” and later by Brulov, who sternly warns her, “You are not his mama.” (As often happens in Hitchcock’s films, the central situation is comically echoed among the minor characters: in this case, a middle-aged detective is heard complaining at one point that his superior has called him a “mama’s boy”.) While Constance protests her labelling as a mother-figure, Brulov deliberately casts himself in a paternal role, telling Ballantine as he begins his analysis, “I am going to be your father-figure.” Brulov’s identification as father-figure can be made so very explicit, even joked about (“You don’t like me, Papa,” the patient replies), because it is essentially unthreatening and free of either hostility or guilt. Despite Thomas Hyde’s description of the scene in which Ballantine descends the stairs towards Brulov with a razor in his hand as “symbolic of the primal scene, with John competing with a father-figure for the possession of Constance” (160), Robert Eberwein is surely right in insisting that there is actually “no suggestion of an Oedipal struggle between the two men” (112). Brulov is as caring a “father” as Constance is a “mother,” and the scene immediately following the confrontation with the razor presents them, as Eberwein says, “as attentive `parents’ watching over their troubled, sleeping `child.'”
Ballantine’s Oedipal struggle is not with Brulov, but rather with Murchison. The object of this struggle, at least in Murchison’s view, may be professional rather than sexual, possession of Green Manors rather than of Constance, but its dynamics are nevertheless unmistakably Oedipal. “The main importance of the age/youth antithesis in Spellbound lies in its Oedipal connotations,” as Andrew Britton notes (76), and Murchison himself repeatedly draws attention to the element of generational conflict, telling `Edwardes’ when they meet, “You’re younger than I thought you’d be,” and declaring “the basic law of science” to be that “the old must make way for the new.” Murchison resists this `law’ by effecting a reversal of the actual Oedipal situation, in which the child projects his own hostility onto the father, successfully attributing his own guilt to Ballantine and convincing the police that he is a “paranoid imposter” and Edwardes’ murderer.
Since Ballantine himself remains ignorant of Murchison’s hostility, however, he has no more reason to feel any Oedipal guilt toward him than toward Brulov. Andrew Britton believes that “the father-figure is split into two in the film” (77), Murchison and Brulov, but the division is actually tripartite, and it is the third father figure which serves as the object of Ballantine’s immediate guilt: Edwardes, whom he mistakenly believes himself to have killed. Ballantine’s analysis by Constance and Brulov reveals, however, that Edwardes’ death was so traumatic for Ballantine because it reawakened a long-standing guilt complex stemming from a childhood tragedy in which he accidentally caused the death of his brother. The significance of this dead brother in the Oedipal scenario of the film is revealed through an apparently minor character named Garmes, a patient at Green Manors with whom Ballantine feels an immediate affinity and who is subsequently established as his surrogate (when Ballantine and Constance are having their first love scene, Garmes attacks Fleurot, whose earlier advances toward Constance have established him as Ballantine’s would-be rival). Like Ballantine, Garmes is suffering from a guilt complex (he believes that he has killed his father, but that his brother has punished him by having him committed), and his overtly Oedipal guilt points toward the hidden nature of Ballantine’s. The dead brother and the dead Edwardes function jointly as a third father-figure, in effect, the most elaborately disguised precisely because it plays the most potentially disturbing part in the Oedipal drama.
That drama normally proceeds through a predictable sequence of feelings toward the father: guilt for the `dead father,’ slain in the imagination; fear of the `bad father,’ who has the power to punish; and eventually, resolving the complex, identification with the `good father.’ Spellbound distributes these feelings among its three father-figures, with Edwardes and the brother serving as objects of the guilt, Murchison of the fear, and Brulov (the good physician in whose footsteps Ballantine, a medical student, will presumably follow) of the identification. But just whose feelings are being distributed among these various father-figures in Spellbound? Just whose Oedipal fantasy, in other words, have we been talking about here? Does it belong to a character, Ballantine, or to ourselves, as viewers? Is it the representation of a fantasy within the text, and therefore of interest simply as an additional motivational element? Or is it a fantasy with which we are ourselves invited to identify and therefore co-extensive with the text, what Meredith Anne Skura calls a “symptomatic fantasy”?
Skura claims that “a fantasy, by its very nature, cannot be symptomatic unless the character at its center is free from symptoms,” and certainly John Ballantine – amnesiac, obsessive, and guilt-ridden – is scarcely that. And Ballantine’s progress through the film does indeed clearly (perhaps rather too clearly) follow an Oedipal scenario: guilt for the death of a father-figure, desire for a woman initially presented in the role of a maternal carer, and eventual identification with a new father-figure. There are other elements in the film, however, which just as obligingly lend themselves to an Oedipal interpretation but which obstinately refuse to be referred back to Ballantine’s inferred consciousness for their significance. Murchison’s homicidal resistance to replacement by a younger man may identify him as the “bad father” of the film in our eyes, for instance, but Ballantine remains unaware of this hostility, as we noted earlier, virtually until the end. Similarly, Constance is identified as a woman in need of rescue from the unwanted sexual attentions of other men by having her ward off the crude advances of Fleurot early in the film and those of a hotel-lobby masher later; again, however, we are present to witness these scenes, but her Oedipal rescuer is not.
Skura rightly emphasises that the presence of fantasy material in a given text is signalled by far more than “the mere substitution of a hidden story for an open one.” Fantasy, she says, “is present in the proliferation of scenes arising from different elements of the text, sometimes more, sometimes less directly and obviously; it is sometimes literally part of the text and sometimes only a distant echo.” In the case of Hamlet, for instance, the presence of underlying Oedipal material is signalled “not only in the single analogy between the play’s plot and an oedipal fantasy, but rather in the sheer multitude of oedipally suggestive scenes, images, and configurations which emerge wholly or in pieces from the ongoing action” (9). In Spellbound, similarly, the underlying fantasy evinces itself not only in the relationship between the film’s oedipal protagonist, his mother figure, and his three father figures, but in a multitude of images (like that of Constance and Brulov watching over the sleeping Ballantine) and bits of dialogue (like the detective’s half-heard complaint about being called a “mama’s boy”).
Granting this protean slipperiness of fantasy, however, the fantasy material in Spellbound is nevertheless distributed in a particular, highly structured, and characteristically Hitchcockian manner. As the film proceeds, events increasingly conspire to justify Ballantine’s feelings, in effect, retrospectively rationalising responses (guilt, anxiety, sexual desire) that might previously have seemed inappropriate, even irrational: a man who cared for him as a father (Edwardes, his doctor) really has been killed, apparently by his hand; another man in the position of professional father (Murchison, his predecessor at Green Manors) really is conspiring against him; and a woman whose initial relationship to him is that of a maternal carer (Constance) really does come to reciprocate his desire and side with him against the `bad’ father. A film which initially seems to lead us to expect the case-history of a neurotic fantasizer, then, ends up offering us instead the fantasy itself. Skura’s insistence that the case-history and the fantasy represent mutually exclusive forms of literary (and, by extension, cinematic) representation of psychoanalytic material may seem sensible enough, but the metamorphosis of Spellbound perversely resists this apparently fundamental distinction: the case-history transforms itself into fantasy. The exploration of a dream becomes itself the stuff that dreams are made of.
An understanding of this metamorphosis helps to illuminate some of the more peculiar features of both the content and the narrative form of the film. It explains, for instance, how it can first present itself so earnestly as a serious account of psychoanalysis (“the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane”) and then have Constance cavalierly violate a basic tenet of psychoanalytic practice, ignore the orthodox warnings of Brulov about the perils of counter-transference, fall in love with her patient, and do so without ill effect. Constance’s behaviour is ultimately controlled by the imperatives of an Oedipal fantasy, not those of a professional code of conduct. It is not merely the accuracy of its representation of psychoanalytic practice that the film abandons, but rather the representation itself.
This inaccuracy of Spellbound has troubled most critics less than its alleged lack of internal coherence, in particular the apparent shift from Ballantine to Constance as protagonist and as identification figure. The typical response to this problem has been to deny that such a shift takes place at all. Thomas Hyde, for instance, claims that “it is not really even John Ballantine’s film, for while the sensational psychoanalytic murder-mystery plot holds our immediate surface attention, Hitchcock’s sustained, essential focus here is on the emotional and moral development of Constance Petersen in her relationship with Ballantine” (160).
If there is no “split in the thematic material” of the film, however, it is less because Constance is its focus from the beginning than because it is, not Ballantine, but rather the fantasy initially identified as his, which remains the film’s focus throughout and which provides the basis of its continuity. The behaviour which Hyde sees as evidence of Constance’s “emotional and moral development,” a board of inquiry might view less charitably as an abrogation of professional responsibility; insofar as she is an autonomous character, either characterisation of her behaviour might be defensible. But she is also, and increasingly as the film proceeds, a participant in an Oedipal drama, and her transformation from carer to lover is a familiar and predetermined feature of that drama.
A decisive shift does, in fact, occur in Spellbound, but it is more fundamental than a shift in `thematic material,’ or in narrative genre, or in protagonist. It is a shift, rather, in our own basic apprehension of the film, and one which involves more than simply a transfer of identification from one character to another (like the transfer of our loyalties, for instance, from Marion Crane to Norman Bates in Psycho ). It is a change in the relationship between the “desire represented in the text” and “the desire of the text” and, as a direct result, a shift in our own relationship as viewers to the film.
This shift culminates in Ballantine’s unexpected departure from the film with his arrest for Edwardes’ murder and absence until its closing shot. However curious as a piece of dramatic construction, this disappearance makes perfectly good sense psychologically. Ballantine’s withdrawal from the film marks the culmination of his passivity from the beginniing. Rather than himself enacting the Oedipal drama, the final acts of that drama are instead enacted around him. In exposing Murchison as Edwardes’s murderer, Constance not only clears Ballantine of supicion for the death of the ‘good father,’ but also relieves him of the need to confront the ‘bad father,’ who further relieves him of any potential patricidal guilt by obligingly committing suicide. More than that, though, Ballantine’s withdrawal from the action also marks the culmination of our changing relationship as viewers to its fantasy material. When Ballantine disappears, he leaves his fantasy behind him, in effect, but so actualised by the events of the film that it is no longer recognisable as fantasy. And it is precisely because it is now presented as reality, paradoxically, that it can exercise its force upon us as fantasy. Ballantine’s psychological progression licenses, in effect, our psychological regression as viewers. We move in and occupy the space in the psychological terrain of the film that its protagonist has vacated; his fantasy becomes our own. Very much the same thing takes place, though admittedly in far more complex ways, in viewing Rear Window and Vertigo, films which similarly implicate us as viewers in the psychological experience of characters explicitly identified as pathological from the very beginning. In those films, as in Spellbound, the progressive justification or literalisation of the fantasy results in our transference of identification from the fantasizing character to the entire scene of fantasy.
There is something more to the handling of the fantasy material in Spellbound, furthermore, than this process. At one point in the film, Constance offers a conveniently explicit statement of what may be taken as the `official’ line on the role of fantasy in the creation of Oedipal guilt:
People often feel guilty over something they never did. It usually goes back to their childhood. The child often wishes something terrible would happen to someone, and if something does happen to that person, the child believes he has caused it. And he grows up with a guilt complex over a sin that was only a child’s bad dream.
The main problem with this account is not so much its primer-level simplification, nor its bowdlerisation (Constance discreetly refrains from suggesting just what sort of terrible thing the child might hope to happen, and to whom, and why), but rather the fact that it is plainly inapplicable to the case at hand. Ballantine’s accidental responsibility for his brother’s death is certainly not a “sin,” but the death itself and his involvement in it are nevertheless something more than a “bad dream.” And it is therefore misleading to claim, as Donald Spoto does, that “the sin was fantasised, was in the mind” and that it is ultimately “cleared up, resolved, forgiven, by being declared imaginary” (288).
Rather than being “cleared up, resolved, forgiven,” the primal sin in Spellbound is instead displaced and forgotten. Ballantine’s actual (albeit unintentional) responsibility for the death of his brother is narratively displaced by his fantasised responsibility for the death of Edwardes, which is in turn displaced by the revelation of the actual responsibility of Murchison for Edwardes’ death. (A similar process of double-displacement occurs in Vertigo: Scottie Ferguson’s actual if ambiguous responsibility for the death of the uniformed policeman at the beginning of the film is displaced by his fantasised responsibility for the death of Madeleine Elster, which is in turn displaced by the revelation of the actual responsibility of Gavin Elster for Madeleine’s death.) It is only Ballantine’s involvement in the second death which is eventually “declared imaginary,” while the question of his responsibility for the first remains unresolved.
This transformation of case history into symptomatic fantasy might remind us of the complex and still disputed nature of the relationship between the two, not only in this particular film, nor even in fictional narratives generally, but in psychoanalysis itself. Meredith Anne Skura characterises the case-history and the fantasy as fundamentally different and distinct models of psychoanalytic understanding, models which emerged at different stages of a “gradual movement away from the search for what ‘really happened’ in a patient’s life … Freud’s movement away from the referential to other aspects of a patient’s discourse” (9). But this view of a consistent movement on Freud’s part away from “what really happened,” although still widely accepted, was powerfully challenged more than thirty years ago by Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis in their paper on “Sexuality and the Origins of Sexuality.” What Laplanche and Pontalis discern in Freud’s writings is less a steady movement away from the referential than an ongoing and ultimately unresolved tension between “material reality” (or “what really happened”) and “psychical reality” (or fantasy).
Wittingly or unwittingly, Spellbound taps into this same uncertainty. The images of Ballantine’s dream, for instance, on the one hand “coincide point-for-point to ‘real’ events,” as Andrew Britton says, “as if they were empirical clues” (clues, that is, to a “material reality”), and, on the other, unmistakably point toward the oedipal fantasy (or “psychical reality”) underlying the film (80). It is, in fact, this uncertainty about just how much of the fault for our lives lies in our stars (or at least in our circumstances) and how much in ourselves, rather than Ballantine’s guilt or innocence (surely the merest of MacGuffins), which provides Spellbound with the real focus of its narrative mystery. Consequently, if the fantasy material of the film, with its familiar parental figures and Oedipal guilt, sometimes verges on the banal, Hitchcock’s narrative manipulation of that material can nevertheless be seen, not merely, as Andrew Britton contends, as the product of ideological confusion, but rather as reenacting a central and tenaciously unresolved conflict in Freud’s own thought. And for that reason Spellbound has to be seen, like so many of Hitchcock’s films, and indeed like psychoanalysis itself, with parted eye.
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