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‘Spellbound’ a curious depiction of psychoanalysis

‘Spellbound’ a curious depiction of psychoanalysis


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, and Michael Chekhov

USA, 111 min – 1945.

Famous (among other things) for being one of the first Hollywood films to deal with psychoanalysis, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound is the perfect blend of classic Hollywood romantic-murder-drama and Freud’s theories. The film is not so utterly in love with its psychology that most audiences would be drawn away from its messages. On the other hand, Spellbound is also not so fixated on plot that it forgets the characters’ psychiatric professions.

The film begins at Green Manors, a mental institution, where Dr. Constance Petersen (Bergman) is at the start, of what she hopes will be, a long career as a psychoanalyst. Dr. Petersen has no time for love and believes that science explains all of nature’s mysteries. This changes, when a new doctor (Gregory Peck) arrives at Green Manors and catches her eye. Unfortunately for Dr. Petersen, this newest addition is not what he seems. She soon finds herself hiding a murder suspect, who’s memory she attempts to recover.

Spellbound is a classic Hollywood styled manhunt; it is a search for the likely suspect in a murder case. Yet for Dr. Petersen, saving the psyche of a man takes precedence over solving the crime he has admitted to. As a result of this, the film becomes something more than a murder drama. It becomes a film about the limits of psychoanalysis.

Through psychoanalysis (analyzing the patient’s dreams, sparking memories through free association), Dr. Petersen is able to uncover certain things from her patient, but it is only her continued faith and her emotional attachment to saving the patient that end up helping her the most. Spellbound makes a case for the argument that science is not everything, because there is always a human factor.

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This kind of argument is a lot for a classic Hollywood era film and not always apparent on the surface. Hitchcock and Selznick’s intellect lies in their blend of entertainment and art. Certainly, their hiring of Salvador Dalí to create a dream sequence in the style of his 1929, Un Chien Andalou, speaks highly of Spellbound, as surpassing the typical Hollywood mode. It can act both as a star studded ‘Selznick International Pictures’ film and a curious depiction of psychoanalysis.

– Karen Bacellar