It’s hard to write about a film like this without spoiling the fun of it, and yes, maybe a 75-year-old picture isn’t exactly spoil-able in the same way that big twist in Stranger Things (haha just kidding, you think I have time to watch Stranger Things while I’m busy watching all these movies??). I think I can avoid major spoilers simply by being my usual vague self, but it’s worth noting that this is a film you would prefer to enjoy without knowing much about it in advance.
Though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an Alfred Hitchcock film, I knew what to expect: suspense! mystery! atmosphere! Based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca is about a naïve young girl who spontaneously marries a mysterious and wealthy man and returns with him to his estate, Manderley (I love how people used to name their houses), managed by a creepy housekeeper. Looming over them is the memory of his first wife, who died under mysterious circumstances.
I felt bad for the poor girl, who starts out working as a hired companion for an obnoxious old rich lady – according to Agatha Christie, this was a pretty common form of employment back in the day. Despite the apparent improvement in her circumstances when the handsome older aristocrat takes a fancy to her, I couldn’t help wondering whether she’d actually walked into a worse situation. She’s unsettled and nervous in her new mansion, deferential to the servants who view her with varying degrees of suspicion. Mr. de Winter is cold, sometimes insulting, and usually distant, and the new Mrs. de Winter (I didn’t even notice that she isn’t given a first name. He tells her never to wear black satin or pearls, or be 36 years old, which suggests they have a nice long marriage ahead of them. The first half of the movie is a bit dull, stuck in the oddities of its time.
But then it takes an interesting turn. I can’t help thinking of Gone Girl, and the point in that novel where everything turned on its head (and yeah, there was a movie too, but I don’t think it pulled off the twist as easily, or maybe the problem was that I already knew the twist). The idea of a plot twist is pretty common in storytelling, but it’s nice when it’s pulled off successfully, even to the point where it feels like a completely different thing afterward. Where the Second Mrs. de Winter was once shy and unassuming, she now grows more self-assured. And as Mr. de Winter exposes his own vulnerabilities, he becomes more likeable, as well. That’s not to say that characters have to be likeable in order to be interesting, or well-rendered – it’s just that in a story like this, the fact that their likeability increases after the Big Reveal of the movie is in itself significant.
Like the last movie I saw, it’s unlikely I’ll ever get around to reading the novel it was based on, and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that. My bet is that Rebecca the novel is far shorter than Tom Jones, but it would still take me over two hours to read it, and there are so many other things to read. I wonder sometimes whether everything that’s written these days is just a stepping-stone to being converted to the screen. Sure, movies are great and all, but in general, I honestly do prefer sitting down with a good book. Then again, here I am spending the year watching movies instead of reading the best books of the last century.
Theme: Novel into film
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: Marry me, you little fool!