“Spellbound” a Cinematic Representation of Psychoanalysis
The movie “Spellbound”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, encompasses several Freudian concepts manifested in the characters; including amnesia, guilt complex, repression, and psychopathology. Psychoanalysis is a major element of the film and is used in the pursuit of “truth”; the “truth” being what happened to the real Dr. Edwards.
Also, dream work is a major tool used in the film to uncover the “truth”. Though “Spellbound” has several characters that embody Freudian concepts, I believe the four main characters are most important. John Ballantyne exemplifies amnesia, guilt complex, and repression; Dr.
Constance Peterson represents the process of psychoanalysis; Dr. Burlov is a depiction of Freud; and Dr. Murchison conveys Psychopathology. The film, “Spellbound”, begins in the setting of green manors, a mental asylum. The head of the facility, Dr. Murchison, is retiring and a famous psychiatrist, Dr. Edwards, is to take his place. Shortly after “Dr. Edwards” arrives another psychiatrist, Dr. Constance Peterson, discovers that the man claiming to be “Dr. Edwards” is an imposter. This imposter is suffering from a guilt complex which causes him to be an amnesiac.
Thus begins the pursuit of “truth”, using psychoanalysis, to uncover who the imposter is and what happened to the real Dr. Edwards. We find out that the imposter is John Ballantyne, a patient of Dr. Edwards, and an amnesiac; which is why he believes he is Dr. Edwards in the beginning of the movie. John Ballantyne’s amnesia is related to the guilt complex from which he is suffering. We know that Ballantyne experienced a traumatic event, this triggered repression of memory, bringing conscious truth to the unconscious to protect the mind from the trauma; this caused his amnesia.
Dr. Constance Peterson believes that by using psychoanalysis she can tap into Ballantyne’s mnemic trace, or unconscious memory, and uncover the Primal scene. The primal scene being the trauma that Ballantyne suffered. Dr. Peterson and Ballantyne embark on a journey, evading the authorities, to answer the question of what happened to the real Dr. Edwards. Dr. Constance Peterson, portraying the process of psychoanalysis, is of course mentored by Dr. Burlov who is a representation of Freud; both aesthetically and conceptually. Dr. Peterson brings Ballantyne to Dr.
Burlov to help uncover the aforementioned primal scene. This portion of the film encompasses all aspects of Psychoanalysis. Ballantyne, suffering from amnesia due to his guilt complex and repression, is analyzed by Burlov in a few ways. First Burlov uses transference, saying, “I’m going to be your father image”, then he uses free association, asking Ballantyne, “Whatever comes into your head just say what it is”. When Ballantyne has no response Burlov turns to dream work saying, “maybe you dreamt something? ” This analysis of Ballantyne’s dream, or dream work, is an integral scene of the film.
The dream sequence, designed by Salvador Dali, contains several symbols; these symbols allude to the truth which is buried in Ballantyne’s unconscious. Freud believed that dreams were the connection to the unconscious, and tapping into it could relieve someone of their psychological sufferings. The most important symbols are the bearded man, the proprietor, the sloping roof, the wings, and the wheel. The bearded man is Dr. Edwards. The sloping roof symbolizes a mountain. Dr. Peterson and Burlov deduce that the trauma occurred at a ski resort. The symbolism of the wings and sloping roof gives them the name of the resort, Gabriel Valley.
Constance, Ballantyne, and Burlov go to Gabriel Valley to trigger memory. Ballantyne suddenly remembers that at the bottom of the hill there is a cliff, over which Dr. Edwards fell. It is also revealed that Ballantyne’s true primal scene is not the trauma of Dr. Edwards’ death. His true primal scene is the recollected memory of sliding down a rail and accidentally killing his brother, this is the initial trauma that causes his guilt complex, which is why he was a patient of Dr. Edwards. When Dr. Edwards’ body is uncovered it is discovered that he did not die from the fall, but from a gunshot. Ballantyne is sentenced and incarcerated.
This does not sit well with Constance. She looks over her notes on Ballantyne’s dream and realizes that the proprietor is Dr. Murchison, the chimney he hid behind was a tree, and the wheel is a revolver which he used to kill Dr. Edwards. Dr. Murchison is clearly an example of psychopathology. In conclusion, Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” is a cinematic representation of many Freudian concepts such as psychoanalysis, dream work, and guilt complex. The characters embody these concepts. The pursuit of “truth” is a major element of the film; this is also the case in psychoanalysis, which is used to uncover repressed memories; or the “truth”.