Things I Like: Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie

The movie Marnie was not considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best. Moreover, it’s highly problematic to a modern eye both from a feminist point of view and a psychological perspective.

That’s just fine with me.

Tippi Hedren is note-perfect as Marnie. She is determined, goal-oriented, brittle, intelligent, and full of a lacerating humor that she uses with equal vigor on herself and on Sean Connery’s character, Mark Rutledge. In the story as it is written, Marnie is a helpless victim of her own pathology. She loathes men and will never marry, her thieving is somehow wrapped up in this, and if she just gets over her fear of men she will both be happy and no longer steal. While Mark apologies for raping Marnie, and the movie portrays this as a mistake he has made, it’s also clear that Marnie bears some fault for her own rape because she is crazy in the first place.

Women who are sexually transgressive, even in the direction of refusing sexual contact, must still be brought into line, the film strongly states. It’s for their own good, and in that context a bit of loving, caring, momentarily angry rape is condoned.

That is one of the scenes that does not hold up well to a modern viewer.

Yet, yet, yet … yet I assert that this is not the only reading of Marnie available. When I watch the film, I see a woman do a very good job for herself given some very bad options. Marnie’s childhood was brutally traumatic, and it was made worse by the way her mother handled things. She has chosen to proceed, as an adult, on a criminal path. She’s doing pretty well for herself, too.

Yes, Mark Rutledge tracks her down and blackmails her. Yes, he’s a patronizing sort who equates caring for a woman with “fixing” her with controlling her with raping her, all for her own good. Still, even in the context of the story that Marnie has been given, she does not relinquish her autonomy. (Not until the carthartic/disastrous/climactic end bits, yes, of course.) She fights Mark the whole way along.

Marnie insists, among other things, that she may be a head case, but she is her own head case, thank you very much. She may be sick, sure, fine, whatever, but it’s a sickness that she uses for her own purposes and ends. I find, in this film, a lot of the surreptitious rebellion that Jeanine Basinger discussed in A Woman’s View. Namely, that within a very normative story that strengthens the heteropatriarchy there is still personal rebellion.

Marnie, to quote my friend Anika, wears her damage with defiance.

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