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The Role of Mothers in Alfred Hitchcock Films

By Edited Nov 17, 2016 0 0

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the world’s greatest movie directors. His most famous films include Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, and the list goes on and on. What truly made Hitchcock great was his style that is seen throughout all of his films. Voyeurism, small amounts of dialogue, dark and dreary settings, and multiple personalities are all major elements of Hitchcock’s style. However, the most noticeable theme throughout almost all of Hitchcock’s films is an obsession with mothers. Films like Psycho, Notorious, and The Birds all have major characters that have severe issues with their mothers. These issues may seem minor and inconsequential at a first glance. However, the mommy issues in Hitchcock’s films have a major effect on the plot and character growth in the films.

            In the film Notorious, the escaped Nazi Alexander Sebastian is hiding in South America with his mother and other escaped Nazis. When the United States sends Alicia Huberman to fall in love with Sebastian everyone goes along with the scheme except Sebastian’s overbearing and overprotective mother. Sebastian’s mother is constant dominant character throughout the film. Sebastian is constantly either listing to his mother’s every command or going to her for approval and advice. This strange balance of power is even shown in the cinematography. The majority of Sebastian’s mother’s screen time is spent in the mother’s bedroom. It always seems as if Sebastian is going into the matriarchs den to see what he should do next. Other reviewers also noticed the queer behavior. Roger Ebert stated in his review of Notorious, “Sebastian, played by Rains, is smaller, more elegant, more vulnerable, and dominated by his forbidding mother.” Sebastian’s mother’s dominance plays a pivotal role in the plot of the film. Sebastian’s mother constantly nags him about how Alicia isn’t quite right and how he shouldn’t trust her, even though there isn’t any evidence to the contrary. This leads to Sebastian finding out about Alicia’s secret. This all climaxes to when the mother poisons Alicia to keep her stuck in bed.

            The mommy issues continue in Hitchcock’s The Birds. When Melanie Daniels and Mitch Brenner visit the Brenner’s house from out of town, she causes a disturbance in the Brenner household. The Brenner household consists of Lydia Brenner (the mother), Mitch Brenner (the much older brother), and Cathy (the much younger sister). In the film, Mitch and Cathy’s father (Frank Brenner) had recently died four years ago. Lydia was affected deeply by Frank’s death and since then she has been clingy and nervous towards anyone she doesn’t know. This is shown through the way she treats Melanie. Lydia even apologizes for her behavior while talking with Melanie “Oh, forgive me... This business with the birds has upset me. I don't know what I'd do if Mitch weren't here... I wish I was stronger.” One prominent visual effect in the film was the similarity of appearance between Marion and Lydia. The effect is shown because both Lydia and Melanie are searching for different figures in their lives. Lydia is searching for a husband/father figure and Melanie is searching for a maternal figure because her Mother left her when she was very young. Although these issues may not relate to the birds attacking, it is still interesting to observe the characters interact with the mother problems as well as the birds attacking.

            The film Psycho famously exemplifies the issues between a character and his mother. Norman Bates is wildly obsessed with his mother. When Marion visits the Bates Motel, she has a long conversation with Norman about how his mother is treating him and what he should do about it.    What is interesting about this scene is the way Norman reacts to any suggestions or comments Marion makes about his mother. When Norman complains how overbearing she is, it’s ok, but if Marion says that she should back off from Norman’s life, Norman flips out and becomes angry. This is also an important scene of foreshadowing in the film. When Marion politely mentions that Norman’s mother should go in a home, the whole demeanor and aura of Norman changes. His face darkens and the shot switches to a view of him looking dark and angry in front of a multitude of stuffed birds. What this really shows is the extreme bipolar schizophrenia that Norman has as a result of his mother. The final scene of the film is a psychologist explaining Norman’s disease and extreme issues with his mother at the police station. Even though it killed the mood of the film, this scene does a fantastic job clearing up any questions the audience might have about Norman and his (deceased) Mother. When the psychologist explains how Norman is obsessed with his mother because he killed her. The audience is shown the most extreme relationship between a mother and child in all of Hitchcock’s movies. As Roger Ebert says in his review of the film “Our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police, our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of disappointing our mothers.”

            Hitchcock’s interesting style has had a fantastic effect on his movies. His films go so much deeper than this the basic plot. The common themes throughout films such as Psycho, Notorious, and The Birds truly make them magnificent. Instead of just being horror or thriller films, Hitchcock brings in different dynamics in the characters and in the plot.   In Notorious, the escaped Nazi can’t escape the crushing regime of his mother’s will. In The Birds, the issues between Mitch, Lydia, and Melanie transform a horror film into a drama with fascinating character. Finally, in Psycho, the deep and horrid psychological issues within Norman’s mind make the movie thrilling and shocking. The common theme of obsessive or controlling mothers has added so much to Hitchcock’s films, there is no way they would be as critically acclaimed without it.

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