"Concerning: Hitchcock's Rebecca" (also known as "Five Reasons to Like Rebecca by Hitchcock" and "What's So Great About Rebecca?") was a paper written for FILM 222 (Introduction to Film History Analysis class with Sue Morris) at Ferris State University in the fall of 2009.
Unlike other film reviews written in other classes, this film review was required to be positive. Also, it had to list five reasons to like the film in question. Also unlike most other film reviews written for class, students had no say in the matter for this one. Morris put in Hitchcock's Rebecca for class, and everyone was to give five reasons to like it. Answers had to be detailed, and she'd keep track.
This was hardly the only thing that students didn't like about her teaching style. Often, a male and female student would get the same answer, only for the female student to be scored significantly higher.
While most of the class found it mildly amusing that this paper was able to find so many parallels between Hitchcock's original work and Gore Verbinski's attempts to imitate him, Sue Morris was less-than-impressed. As her class became increasingly unfair / near-impossible, and students grew tired of her antics, the Dozerfleet founder got fed up and began skipping class in protest. This became the only surviving paper from that class as a result.
Time freed up by not going to that class and being treated as second class meant more time to assist Team White on the production of Blood Over Water, which developed a much-more-demanding production schedule as time went on anyway.
5 reasons to like Rebecca by Hitchcock
What’s So Great About: Rebecca?
Trying to describe Hitchcock is no easy task, for the cultural references of his work are now antiquated. Yet, somehow, the works of Hitchcock themselves remain relevant even in spite pop culture having radically different trends.
Such is the case with the film we watched in class: Rebecca. A few of its tropes are lasting, and much of its thematic beauty is recycled in modern cinema, if only through the so-called “Weird Al Effect.”
Not to digress too greatly off topic, but “The Weird Al Effect” is when a derivative work is created that borrows things heavily from another work, and then the original work is (at least) somewhat forgotten, but its thematic essence is vicariously remembered through the derivatives it inspired. An example would be “The Saga Begins,” which is now quoted from a lot more than the original song “American Pie.” Or, for that matter, the implicitly pornographic American Pie films, which are the first thing the phrase brings to mind today rather than the original song.
I would argue, from numerous viewings of his films, that Gore Verbinski is the modern Hitchcock. Not great; not even original. And certainly a sell-out. But…his admiration of Hitchcock is undeniable.
When watching Rebecca, there were numerous elements of scenery used to demonstrate theme, message, plot, and mood. I couldn’t help but reflect back to 2002, when The Ring came out.
Yes, I realize this sounds incredibly self-serving; but my first reason for being intrigued by Rebecca was its vast levels of easy comparison to The Ring, one of my all-time favorite films. I vaguely remember Verbinski stating in an interview that he was a huge Hitchcock fan. But that, I must say, was an understatement. Ehren Kruger, who also wrote the script for The Ring, was well on to this same Hitchcock fascination.
At this point, one might ask? Just how similar are these two movies? That…is an easy one to answer.
1. Mood Dissonance
How Rebecca does it:
We begin Rebecca with an eerie mist setting, and some effective use of monochromatic imagery. (Hitchcock had no choice but to use monochrome.) Very carefully, Hitchcock introduces us to the Mandolin mansion with a very heavy emphasis of Tim Burton-esque neo-Gothic. This indicates the inherent darkness and evil which is bound to haunt such a place. And yet, the music that plays is upbeat, along with the second Mrs. DeWinter’s narration. I’ll call her “Tabby” for convenience, since she’s never given a real name, not even on IMDB.) We immediately feel a potent dissonance of mood, as we have a happy-sounding (if not masochistic) voiceover from Tabby, and must reconcile that with such a dark atmosphere.
How The Ring does it:
Calm, soothing, only occasionally truly dark music is contrasted with chimes and child-nursery music. This is combined with the neo-Gothic shots of coastal Oregon and the images of rot and desecration of landscape combine to illustrate a similar dissonance: The innocence of childhood versus the defilement of that innocence by an unseen force of pure evil, and the need to reconcile both sides to truly understand the film’s antagonist.
2. How the films handle themes of suicide
Another recurring theme in both The Ring and Rebecca is the fact that the haunting spirits of both Rebecca and Samara go to great lengths to motivate those in their lives to commit suicide. While Rebecca often attempts to persuade the living to join her in death and Hell, Samara actually succeeds.
We begin Rebecca with Maxim spreading his arms, about to jump off a cliff. However, a chance encounter with Tabby (?) stops him. He grows angry at first, but later grows gentlemanly. This makes for the perfect setup for a plot, without having to fill our heads too greatly with images of death too soon. Bonus points to Hitchcock. By contrast, Verbinski, in his film, has a teenager die in the first five minutes. Utterly cliché.
When we encounter Anna Morgan in that film, she nears a cliff’s edge to commit suicide—exactly the same way Maxim contemplated suicide in Rebecca! The Ring Two makes it even worse—Rachel’s apparent suicide attempt the exact same way is encouraged, AND it proves to be her salvation from the Loopworld! So apparently, matricide and child abuse are condoned by the sequel, with the studio WONDERING why viewers hated it! But I digress.
3. Everything has a common problem: It goes in cycles
Another theme in common between Rebecca and The Ring is their recurring emphasis on the cyclic nature of things. The New becomes like the Old. Tabby is initially confused by Danvers’ obsession with how Rebecca did things. Instead of immediately understanding that Danvers’ real motivation was to see to it that nobody ever dared replace Rebecca in Maxim’s life (or Danvers’,) Tabby initially was under the mistaken premise that all she had to do to please Danvers (and Maxim by extension) was to become as much like Rebecca as possible. She began losing herself in the process, and failing to understand why it is that Maxim appeared to hate her so much for it.
In The Ring, Rachel’s fascination with why Samara kills, and why someone would want to kill her so badly, leads to her becoming part of Samara’s conspiracy rather unwittingly. In the sequel, Samara even goes to the extent of possessing Aidan. Samara is under the false premise that if she can take over Aidan, then a piece of Evelyn will take over Rachel, leading to (some sense of) a family reunion. (Naturally, being a modern horror movie antagonist, she has to kill anyone else that stands in her way.)
4. Effective use of paranoid monster mode
One final note on Ring comparisons: while coastlines, the threat of the Sea, and more common ground exists, for the sake of brevity, I will keep this limited. Maxim may not have killed Rebecca, but he was tormented by her so much that he hated her; and hated himself. This led him to want to kill himself on one occasion, and have violent outbursts towards Tabby at others. Likewise, Richard Morgan is very helpful to Rachel when they first meet. But when Rachel’s morbid curiosity about Richard’s relationship with Samara goes too far; he quickly snaps into Paranoid Monster Mode.
5. Hitchcock plays off hypocrisy well
Yep. Hitchcock had a very pessimistic view of humanity. He could instantly see the flaws in anyone, and exploited them on screen with excellent results. Tabby’s original master was a genteel old woman who pretended to be courteous, civil, and noble—to Maxim. Yet, it is quite obvious that it is her covert sexual attraction to him that motivates this false face. She is immediately rude and obnoxious to Tabby.
Favell is equally brilliant as a hypocrite. He manages to single-handedly charm everyone along the way at first, only to show himself in the end to be two-faced when he tries to frame Maxim for murder and blackmail Maxim on other grounds. His original attempts to be affable towards Tabby reveal themselves to be a creepy way in which he tries to tear away at her soul out of revenge for her being so foolish as to marry Favell’s worst enemy. On top of that, Rebecca was Favell’s cousin. This means that the “gentleman” Favell is really an incestuous monster (as was understood in Hitchcock’s time.) He is every bit as two-faced as Tabby’s old maid, but far more dangerous.
I’d love to divulge more, but I’m running out of time. Until next time, realize: It’s hard to go wrong with Hitchcock.
- Blood Over Water, whose production schedule conflicted with the class the above-embedded report was made in.