“Women make the best psychoanalysts – until they fall in love.” So says Dr. Alexander Brulov in Spellbound (1945), when Constance Petersen and John Ballantyne stay in his house for the night. The statement hovers over the entire succeeding scene, which uses staging to illustrate the paradigm between Constance’s sense of reason and love for John, or her masculine/feminine dichotomy. As a psychoanalyst among male colleagues, Constance is portrayed as cold and calculating from the film’s outset; not only does she reject her colleagues’ come-ons, but she is seen wearing glasses, a trope in Hitchock’s films for women with a threatening level of knowledge and power (see Miriam Haynes in Strangers on a Train (1951), whose murder culminates in the shattering of her spectacles). Constance’s proclivity toward rational analysis slowly unravels as her relationship with John develops. The scene at Brulov’s house illustrates the shifting power dynamic between John and Constance as the patient and analyst with the corrupting force of attraction. When they first enter the bedroom, Constance sits in a chair while John stands up, rendering her submissive, or in the patient status. She then stands as she psychoanalyzes Brulov, saying he is in a “complete dream stage, socially,” illustrating her analytic tendencies. She is then seen brushing her hair in the mirror, however, revealing her awareness of her appearance and sense of self as seen by the other. The shot could allude to Constance’s mirror stage as described by Lacan, in which she becomes fully aware of herself as an object to be seen by others – or in Laura Mulvey’s terms, her “to-be-looked-at-ness.” In a sense, she is projecting herself within the male gaze, as Mulvey describes in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” She feminizes her appearance not only for John, but for the presumably male heterosexual viewer, offering herself as the object of desire to appease the spectator’s implicit fetishistic scopophilia. Female hair is a common fetish as described by Freud and reiterated by Mulvey – a reminder of the pubic hair that covers and substitutes for the absence of the penis. Desire is projected onto the hair, rendering it overvalued as the site of the phallic power itself. In this moment, Constance’s persona is stripped down to the star power of Ingrid Bergman, whose look captured the public imagination and the collective cinematic male gaze.
John steps behind her into the mirror, a reminder that her role exists in relation to him; she is not the film’s protagonist, but his analyst and his lover simultaneously. The following shot underscores this notion by placing Constance in the foreground below John, her back toward the camera, and John in deep focus looming over her. It is as if the roles have been reversed and John now possesses the role of the analyst as their love renders her increasingly hysterical. When he comes to her level and kisses her, the music crescendos to signal pure romance as John says, “I can’t remember ever having kissed another woman before.” Yet she blocks his next kiss, saying, “It isn’t ethical. I’m here as your doctor.” Now, Constance moves to deep focus and John’s back is to the camera – a near reversal of the shot before their kiss. By denying his kiss, Constance reasserts her power as the unfeminine analyst, denying the force of their attraction. In this position, John says, “Don’t worry, doctor, I’m gonna sleep on the couch.” Constance insists that the patient occupies the bed while the doctor sits on the couch, “fully dressed.” While she asserts the patient/analyst dynamic here, there is also a hint of instability in her words, as the bed is both the site of the patient and the lover. Constance requires restraint to maintain her persona, yet the professional power dynamic easily teeters into a psychosexual one. The music immediately shifts and John goes into an episode of paranoia with the site of the blanket, when Constance aggressively questions him in an effort to psychoanalyze him. John is bothered, saying “I’m sick of your double talk,” which itself has the double meaning of referring to both her professional strategy and her role as both his analyst and lover. With his prominent use of shadows and the thematics of his films, Hitchcock, like Freud, is obsessed with doubling. Ultimately, Spellbound tackles the Freudian notion of the divided self, as he discusses in “The Dissection of the Psychical Personality.” For Freud, no individual is immune to the fracturing effect of society on the human psyche; the divide between ourselves and the constraints imposed by society inevitably create divisions – the id, the ego, and the superego – and contradictions that manifest as neurotic symptoms. Constance’s divided psyche stems majorly from societal gender roles and the pressure to suppress desire. When Constance pushes him to remember he merely passes out, overwhelmed by her dominance. The music quickly changes back to the romantic tune and she cradles his head, saying “Oh, darling.” She assumes the feminine role of the mother, catering to John’s Oedipus Complex as described by Freud in “Femininity.” Just as all lovers must, she nurtures John in a replacement for the mother. Her tendency to push John analytically threatens him, as her knowledge renders her phallic power. This creates gender confusion and neuroses for both John and the viewer, and her phallic power must be suppressed with the madness induced by her love. This scene perfectly encapsulates the psychosexual dynamic that permeates the film, making it fit Mulvey’s definition of a patriarchial Oedipal narrative.