Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Rape" in Marnie

A very strange and interesting poster. The "rape scene" alluded to in the picture is available on youtube too.

I saw Marnie last month after a gap of many years. In fact, along with Vertigo, it was probably my introduction to Hitchcock. It is one of my favourites, at least among his colour films. I like the way it is so very self-conscious and ironical about psychoanalysis. I also like the stylized way in which Hitchcock used back projection and matte paintings to create an artificial background resulting in the introspective mood of the film and also giving us a window into the lead character's subjectivity.

It was actually how I remembered the aforementioned "rape scene" that really surprised me on this recent viewing. In a documentary collected on the film's DVD, one of the early screenwriters of the film says that he was fired and replaced by Hitchcock after he expressed his doubts about the scene. He thought that it would be impossible to recover the lead character after such a scene and it wouldn't make any sense dramatically if that happens. The female screenwriter who replaced him eventually, and who got the final credit, says that she never realized or saw it as a rape. Instead, something that can "happen in troubled marriages." When I first saw the film, I certainly didn't see it as rape. I was thinking that may be she will be "cured" after a bit of careful and sensitive "manhandling" (ah, those good old patriarchal times) Even Robin Wood in his book on Hitchcock says that in this act of aggression, rather than violence, Mark (that's Sean Connery) sees solicitude and responsibility. It might be a desolating experience to Marnie (in fact she is so traumatised that she tries to commit suicide afterwards) but to Mark it is potentially therapeutic. It is a pretty grim view of gender relations, one that will certainly anger feminists. I, of course, must have seen the whole thing from Mark's perspective too. The suicide attempt scene had completely slipped off my mind. The only thing I remembered was the way he undresses her with a flick of his fingers and the phrase "boning up on" which actually made me look up the dictionary last time and also made me chuckle thinking it might be a Freudian slip and he actually wanted to say something about a boner :)

Anyway, this time I saw the film from a much more gender sensitive perspective or may be it was just the Andrea Dworkin effect. In fact there is a long discussion in her book on Pornography about the steoreotype of a frigid woman, perpetuated by psycho-analysts and sex researchers. In pathologization of frigidity Dworkin sees a denial of agency, subjectivity and autonomous sexual desire. She doesn't mention this film but it will fit in very well in her discussion. In fact in the film itself there is an interesting scene in which Marnie proposes to play doctor-patient seeing that he is reading books with titles like "Sexual aberrations of the Criminal female" implying that she obviously thinks such kind of psychoanalysis to be a racket. The eventual conclusion does seem to weaken this reading, even more so when you see it with other Hitchcock films, specially Vertigo, Psycho and Rear Window which have strong sexual elements which have all given ample intellectual fodder to feminist critics.

12 comments:

Puccinio said...

Well it's like the same case with ''Tess'' as well isn't it. Was she raped or was she seduced by that guy.

My personal opinion is that it was not a rape but that doesn't mean it was entirely consensual either. It's one of those real grey areas. I think that Marnie's character who is so repressed and misanthropic wanted to have sex with Mark, I think she was attracted to him but at the same time didn't want to be undone so it's murky.

''Marnie'' is Hitchcock's most challenging film really...and is a huge favourite among actresses. Catherine Deneuve once said asked which Hitchcock role she'd liked to have played, she said readily, "Marnie". It's a big favourite of Scorsese, Fassbinder, Bertolucci as well.

Hitchcock's films get a lot of attention from feminist perspectives because his films were very popular, commercial and yet his portrayal of women while regarded by many(mostly male writers) as misogynistic(when Hitchcock was surrounded by women all his wife and his closest collaborator being Mrs. Hitchcock) was actually quite modern and ahead of it's time.

Like his women characters are neither madonna or whore or in Hollywood terms, girl-next-door or vamp. He never idealizes his women characters nor does he castigate them. And Hitchcock was able to do this and still be a great successful director.

"Marnie" was also his final masterpiece. All his other films while good and interesting(like ''Frenzy'' and ''Topaz'') are really second-rank efforts.

Which are your favourite Hitchcock films by-the-way?

Kubla Khan said...

Rape is generally regarded as an act of aggression and violence. the sexual act in itself is deemed not intrinsic to it. from that perspective, this is actually an act of rape.
all of Marnie's own desires or repressions notwithstanding, the act of violence is quite evident.there can be various reasons for her lack of a violent defense, but her cataleptic stare is also a reaction.
perhaps that is what is being shown. a helplessness, a psychological resistance, a giving in which is not really so.

Alok said...

It is definitely an act of rape.. at least from the perspective of Marnie there is no doubt. The film is very clear on that. But what is more interesting and problematic is the way the film rationalises this act from Mark's perspective. She can't refuse to have sex with him, and if she does, there must be something clinically wrong with her! The film eventually confirms this idea. When finally she is able to face up to her traumatic past and repressed memory, she becomes "normal" and cured... in other words available to him.

Feminists like Andrea Dworkin will have issues with the way sexual repression and frigidity in women are defined and diagnosed as clinical illnesses which is according to them a way of denying agency and sexual choice to women. To someone sexual act in itself may not be meaningful or a pleasurable activity, at least not with everybody and one need not be diagnosed as being frigid if that happens and one makes a choice accordingly...

The way male sexual desire colludes in the denial of identity and agency to women is a consistent theme of Hitchcock... it is quite obvious for example in Vertigo.

puccinio: favourite Hitchcock films? I love Vertigo and Marnie of course but two of my very personal favourites are Notorious and Shadow of a Doubt both of which I find very disturbing and unsettling, specially the later which I find really dark, even violating.

Puccinio said...

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I love Vertigo and Marnie of course but two of my very personal favourites are Notorious and Shadow of a Doubt both of which I find very disturbing and unsettling, specially the later which I find really dark, even violating.
-----------------------------------

''Shadow of a Doubt'' is Hitchcock's own favourite of his films and in many ways it's the precursor to ''The Night of the Hunter''(I don't know if Laughton saw it or not) it covers the same ground. The film is violating because it's really about a child trying to face that harsh reality and learning about evil especially about how evil runs in "the family".

And to me Joseph Cotten on that dinner table suddenly facing Little Charlie with his kindly face utterly transformed into a demonic contortion is more chilling than all of ''Psycho''.

Szerelem said...

Hmmm I haven't seen "Marnie" so I cant comment on how the scene fits in with the rest of the movie. It seems a bit ambigous, though I would say it probably was rape.

Most amused at your comments atbout the good old patriarchal times and the boner :D

I haven't seen "Shadow of a Doubt", but I was watching "To Catch a Thief" last week and in one of the documentary extras that was mentioned as Hitchcocks own favourite - gah, I see now Puccinio has already mentioned that.

I love Vertigo and Rear Window - though I haven't seen that latter in eons and I wonder if viewing it now would make me look at things differently.

Alok said...

szerelem: Good, other people find it "ambiguous" too. Watching the movie will actually make it even more complex... he actually blackmails her into marriage but he is a very nice sort of guy, but then her loves her but in a paternalist sort of way, wants to help her etc... its better if you see the movie yourself.

To Catch a thief is more a fashion parade than a film but the rare fashion parade I wouldn't mind sitting through... I actually love her dress in Rear Window more.

puccinio: I agree, there are few films which turn evil into something very personal... something that strikes at the very root of how you see the world. That monologue Catten gives about "stupid little dreams in your stupid little town" is far more violent than the most sensationalist murders. I also love The Wrong Man which I find very harrowing as well but is also a very humanistic film, unlike Shadow of a Doubt and most other Hitchcock films. Shadow of a Doubt is also a good example of very American subgenre - Small Town life with a dark secret heart. Coen bros. David Lynch... they owe quite a bit to it too.

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Dee said...

I just saw this movie, again (and again--have watched repeatedly this time), and the rape scene is just really odd. You have Mark's seeming recognition of Marnie's fragiility after Marnie screams like a kid, he then violently disrobes her, and she lapses into the catatonic state. But then you have the swelling romantic music as he starts to caress and kiss her and then realizes that she's still not responding (she's still effectively in a child-state). Then you see his face in half darkness/light and, on the bed, Marnie's is the same (they're colluding?). And the music turns more disturbing. It was only after watching the extra, Trouble with Marnie--and even after that it seemed vague--that I understood all this to mean he did, in the end, rape her. Mark's motivations seem pretty opaque/twisted--he goes from anger, to understanding, to comforting, to letting his id (half shadowed face) get the best of him? Odd trajectory.

Dee said...

To tack on my last comment, the scene in the pool after the rape is also odd, when you get that shot of Mark thrusting into Marnie--to get rid of the water, of course, but it seems gratuitous unless it's supposed to hark back to the sex/rape stuff--not sure of the meaning, though, if so. That Mark and Marnie are each a wierd tangle of sex, violence, and emotions?