Tuesday, May 10, 2011

REBECCA Old Timey Movie Review

Rebecca was Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, and won the Oscar for best picture in 1940. It tells the story of a meek and guileless young woman who meets the dashing Maxim de Winter, of the lots of monies and mysterious past. Their beautiful romance gets a harsh dose of reality when Maxim takes the young woman (who remains nameless throughout the story--I'll just call her Sweetie, shall I?) back to his family estate in Cornwall, Manderley. There Sweetie has to put up with damnable Mrs. Danvers, who is obsessed with the former Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca; not to mention Maxim, who starts acting distant and temperamental almost immediately. Sweetie begins to feel that Rebecca is haunting her and Maxim, and she is--but not for the reasons Sweetie thinks.

rebecca poster

This is absolutely one of the best adaptions of a novel, ever, and one of Hitchcock's best films. One of the things that struck me watching Rebecca this time around was how similar the characters of Sweetie and Maxim are to Bella Swan and Edward Cullen in terms of types: Sweetie is young and innocent, and Maxim is significantly older, handsome, rich, mysterious, and keeps warning her about how dangerous he is. But Sweetie doesn't care, because Sweetie loves him! (And it's not like she has anywhere else to go, let's be honest.) Yet she harbors all these insecurities that she's not good enough for Maxim because he is teh awesome. Have I mentioned the wealthy and handsome part? Yet he's also very intelligent, perceptive, a little snarky, and very interested in her and what her opinion is about things (this isn't as well expressed in the movie as in the book, but I think you still get that impression). It's kind of eerie how the two couples' personalities from this movie and Twilight mirror one another; I can't help but wonder if Stephenie Meyer is a fan of the book.

Danvers intimidating Sweetie
When wallpaper attacks....

Another thing that struck me watching Rebecca this time around is how it deals with femininity. I know I'm always going on and on about masculinity in books and movies, and I may at one point have said that there are no movies that treat femininity in a way comparable to masculinity--I was wrong. This movie totally does do that. Sweetie starts off the film as a little girl scared of the world, and has a definite idea of what the ideal woman is like: "I wish I were a woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls!" she says at one point. Basically, Rebecca is the ideal woman, and Sweetie spends a good portion of the movie trying to be her, despite the fact that Maxim tells Sweetie to promise him never to be 35 and dressed in black satin. In fact, Maxim seems to take a vested interest in keeping Sweetie immature, calling her a child and telling her he never wants her to grow up (creepy!) even though he knows she will. Meanwhile, the "real" women in the film whom Sweetie might look up to and emulate are all evil bitches--well, except for Bea, Maxim's sister, who's not evil. But she's still a bitch. Aside from her, we have Edythe Van Hopper--evil bitch--Mrs. Danvers--scary evil bitch--and Rebecca, the bitch queen of Manderley. With all of these examples, is it any wonder Sweetie has trouble asserting herself? One could almost say that adult womanhood is villainized in this film.

Or maybe the movie is simply characterizing women who grasp for power they don't have as bitches. After all, Sweetie does eventually assert herself, once she knows she has Maxim's love, and seems much more grown-up, yet not bitchy, by the end. Mrs. Van Hopper, Danvers, and Rebecca are all women without character or true love in their lives, and none of them make their exit without conveying the sense of how empty and pathetic their lives really are.

In any case, due to Danvers' craziness, Manderley ends up being destroyed. I think for both Sweetie and Maxim, Manderley represents a loss of innocence, and perhaps that's why they never rebuild it. One can imagine them moving happily on with their lives without the weight of Manderley dragging them down. But in the book I got the impression that without Manderley, they live like exiles, feeling completely cut off from their true home. I prefer the movie's ending, because when you think about it, Manderley was beautiful but really not that great!

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