Spellbound (1945)


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 confusion disappear…and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.” Alfred Hitchcock, from the beginning of the movie

As the opening line of the movie Spellbound implies, it deals heavily with psychoanalysis. The only of Hitchcock’s films to outright deal with such methods, the meanings cannot be ignored. Dealing with a sick psychologist, the movie centers around a romance and a disease, the latter of which can be cured (McGilligan, 2003).

Spellbound, one of Hitchcock’s earlier films, takes place inside a psychiatric hospital. The main characters are psychologists themselves, and their own knowledge plays a significant role in the movie. For a complete synopsis of the movie, click here.  One of Hitchcock’s only psychoanalytical film, it favored the impression that the doctor was the patient which in turn caused the audience to question the reliability of their own mental health professionals. Taking a line from Julius Caesar, Hitchcock references how the problem is not actually the characters, but the problem is ourselves: “The fault is not in our stars… but within ourselves.” (Shakespeare, 1599).

The most easily recognizable psychoanalytic part of the movie is the dream sequence that helps the psychologists figure out the murderer. It was designed by Salvador Dali and is full of psychoanalytic imagery.

Spellbound is considered to be extremely influential to the early views of psychology. While the main characters are running around, suffering from amnesia and questioning their likeliness to murder, the audience is subjected to dream sequences and reoccurring themes of psychotic episodes  (Sterritt, 1993). The portrayal of psychologists in this movie is said to have resulted a negative reaction by the audience towards doctors.

It leads the audience to question the reliability of the doctors they are seeing. It could lead to the question “if we are relying on their sanity to fix our own, but they themselves are not in the right mind, who can we really trust?” This question of the sanity of doctors influenced  the view that some people held of the quality of the mental profession.
There are many psychoanalytic stereotypes portrayed in the movie. While the main characters struggle to figure out a murder and who they really are, they go to visit a respected psychiatrist who spea

ks in a German accent and has a Freudian-type beard. In the waiting room two patients ask each other “so how’s your mother been lately?” This leads the audience to associate the mental incapacitates of the main characters with their childhood. (Spoto, 1983).

While it may have had a negative influence on psychology, specifically the view on doctors and psychoanalysis, it was Hitchcock’s only psychoanalytic film, as he made the distinction between psychological and psychoanalytical films. (For a discussion of this topic, refer to the History and Psychology portion of this website.)





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