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Spellbound

The best movies or more emotionally frightening and satisfying films are about co-dependence. Someone cannot live without The Other. The Other is unavailable. The enabler tries to shape his or her image to reflect The Other, and to gain their respect or approval, which is not forthcoming. Generally, the one seeking approval is a woman. She has no “self”–or no self worth knowing–without earning the satisfaction of The Other. Sometimes she earns her beloved’s approval, but this comes about through great odds, not least of which is the woman’s self-respect, which she disposes with in order to be what the Other requires: a mirror, not a self. She loves The Other, which he or she cannot understand. In any case, the self-sacrificing nature of the enabler’s love is often abhorrent to the recipient. Sometimes he’s blocked from loving the co-dependent woman because he’s a sociopath, or suffers from amnesia.

In 1942′s chilling, “Random Harvest,” Greer Garson is moved to various extremes to prove her love for Ronald Coleman, who does not know her–he’s an amnesiac. But Garson–a music hall dancer who leaves the stage to orchestrate the drama of her man’s life–spares no emotional expense in order to help Coleman find his self, which exists, but only in fragments. If one has been in a similar relationship in what is sometimes referred to as real life, “Random Harvest,” feels like a monster flick, and the monster is one’s own dog-like sincerity in loving, and looking after, The Other, and that being the defining impulse. In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1942), Ingrid Bergman plays a version of the Garson character–and herself: a woman who believes in a controversial man (Gregory Peck), who’s hunted and haunted–the American version of her Italian lover, Roberto Rosseillini, whom she would meet seven years later. Playing a shrink, Bergman’s husky, haunted voice narrates her various discoveries as she goes along. Peck is not an amnesiac, but he might as well be: he’s repressed his painful memories–memories that might prove he’s not a murderer, and Bergman makes his problems, his issues, the uncovering of his true self, fifteen minutes into the film. Peck kisses her, and her libidinal doors are opened, immediately. Anything is worth having that feeling again. Is that not true love? Taking him on, Bergman and Peck are pursued by disbelieving fellow shrinks, and the police. (Their love is suspicious to the world, and to Peck. Bergman’s character is “innocent” of such guile.) In their shared danger, Peck lashes out at his accomplice, his only ally, because her selflessness is suffocating. Still, Bergman is a shrink, and can take it, and continually understand her lover/patient’s disgust because it can be relegated to self-disgust. But it’s not. Peck’s rage towards this woman is as real as his dreams. In any case, Bergman’s real role, it seems, is to rebuild Peck’s character over and over again, especially as he crumbles and is rebuilt and crumbles again. In this film, Bergman’s character knows who she is, but there is no value to her self-knowledge because she has no worth apart from her man, who, even after he is made well, might very well fall off his trolley again. But that’s another part of the story, to be seen in the next, unfilmed reel.

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