RTF 317 FINAL PAPER
"REBECCA AND MANDERLAY - OCEANFRONT PROPERTY"
APRIL 30, 1999
In March of 1940, United Artists released one of Hitchcocks most memorable movies. Staring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, Rebecca won the academy award for best picture of the year. By this time Hitchcock had released over twenty other films, none of which measured up to the intensity of Rebecca. Why? Perhaps because of the incredibly developed plot which Hitchcock managed to capture in perfection. Rebecca has a series of plot twists within it. Through these plot twists, the viewers feeling towards the characters changes steadily throughout the movie. The resolution also remains uncertain up until the very last minute.
As the movie opens, we learn that Mr. de Winter (Laurence Olivier) is an extremely wealthy and unhappy man. Hitchcock holds out on the audience as to why Mr. de Winter is so unhappy, but we are given some hints. He soon falls in love with a young lady (Joan Fontaine) who is being a paid companion of one of Mr. de Winters female friends. They know each other for an extremely short time period and are married. Although this happens early within the story line, there is certainly a feeling that Maxim is rushing things along from a viewing standpoint. It appears that he is a lonely man searching for love and that he could not have found it with such a lady. When we view Joan Fontaines character at this point in the story, we see her as a young and naïve girl that would do anything not to work as a servant. It is hard for us to view her as a bold and independent woman ready to face the challenges of marriage and a new life. The new Mrs. De Winter is soon taken to the infamous castle of Manderlay, the home of Maxim. As the plot continues, Mrs. De Winter comes into many conflicts with a castle servant, Mrs. Danvers. The servants look down upon her because they all compare her to the first Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca. Around this point in the story, Maxim gets very upset with Mrs. De Winter on several occasions. On one particular occasion Mrs. Danvers dresses Mrs. De Winters up in a beautiful ball gown for a party that Maxim is throwing. It seems at this point that Mrs. Danvers is being exceptionally nice to her and that she is a very dynamic character. As Mrs. De Winter makes her way down the grand staircase in the house, Maxim is immediately upset with her. He asks her where she got the nerve to wear such a costume and makes her take it off. It is at this point that we realize that Mrs. Danvers has tricked Mrs. De Winter and is not changing after all. Through sequences like this, our emotions change for the characters. From the first minute that we are introduced to Mrs. Danvers we see that she is a bitter woman and almost get a sense of hatred towards her. It appears that she will not change throughout the entire movie despite Mrs. De Winters constant kindness towards her. As a viewer we had a sense of relief when it appeared that Mrs. De Winters efforts had finally paid off. Especially after Mrs. Danvers kindly created the dress for her. Hitchcock had an incredible way of playing with our emotions in this way. He would never reveal the behind the scenes look at Mrs. Danvers, but instead led us to believe that she was finally changing. It is nothing more then a kick in the teeth when we find out how Mrs. Danvers has wronged her once again. Hitchcock could easily have shown us, just for a second, a mischievous look on Mrs. Danvers face or anything to lead us to believe that she was up to no good, but he did not. This is one of the ways that he was able to create such incredible mysteries.
When it appears that she can take no more, Mrs. De Winter finally learns that Rebecca drowned while sailing in a storm, or so it would seem. We eventually learn from Maxim that his first marriage was nothing but a fraud, and that Rebecca never did love him. It was all for an image that he wanted to have. Our emotions are once again toyed with at this point in the story. Maxim goes into great detail about Rebecca at one point in the story and it almost seems as if the new Mrs. De Winter is playing the same role to him that Rebecca did. He tells her how he loves her and would not hurt her, but can we really believe him at this point? It seems that Maxim has been all but a good husband to his new wife since very early in the story. There is no reason for the viewer to believe that he is all of a sudden going to change and be kind to her as he should. We must also question the idea of what really happened to Rebecca. Maxim has so much anger and aggression towards his ex-wife that makes it seem as if he has killed her. Obviously this is exactly what Hitchcock wanted us to believe or he would have told us otherwise through the use of flashbacks or narration. Maxims character has fluctuated throughout the film, but around this point he is certainly at the peak of throwing us off. He fell in love with Joan Fonatines character in the first few minutes of the movie. After marrying her, he mistreats her and neglects to give her the love that she feels for him. After it finally seems that he may be ready to tell the truth to Mrs. De Winter, it is impossible to decipher what the truth really is. As an audience, we feel that the only protagonist in the movie is Mrs. De Winter. Both Mrs. Danvers and now Maxim seem to have turned for the worst. He claims to be innocent of killing Rebecca but there is suspicion from her ex-lover that foul play was involved. For several scenes Hitchcock has us jumping back and forth in our heads trying to figure out what really did happen. To view this movie for a second time with a person that has never seen it can be very humorous during these scenes. The frustration level that Hitchcock manages to build up in our minds is incredible. When we can finally take no more confusion abuse, a doctor proves Maxim could not have killed Rebecca, therefore changing our opinion of him once more. To those who hated him for believing that he killed Rebecca and lied about it, a sense of relief. He is once more a likeable character, but we now need to find out what really did happen to Rebecca. However to those who loved the idea of Maxim being a killer and not really loving Mrs. De Winter, the frustration sets back in. Someone obviously killed Rebecca and if we can prove that it was not Maxim, who was it?
We have learned that Maxim did not in fact kill his wife. However, about three fourths of the way into the movie we learn that she wanted to die. She committed suicide. Even though Rebecca is never actually in the film, this brings up several questions as to the kind of person that she was. She had gotten almost everything out of life that one could possibly ask for. She was given an incredible home in which to live, more money then she could possibly spend, a husband, and even servants. She did lack one thing however, love. As a viewer, it is hard for us to feel sorry for Rebecca. She is the second hand cause of the pain and suffering that the new Mrs. De Winter has gone through. But still, she was willing to take her own life? As we learn more and more from Maxim, we not only begin to understand how their marriage was a fraud, but also Maxim would be ruined if he left her. Rebecca claimed that she would tell people how their marriage was a fraud which would make him look terrible in a to others. As we hear more and more from Maxim, we begin to feel less sorry for Rebecca and more sorrowful towards Maxim. Although after time there was not necessarily love in their marriage, he still gave her everything that a person could give to another. He was also not abusive to her like we might expect. To make things even worse, Rebecca happened to take her life in the presence of Maxim. It is hard to speculate whether or not she did this on purpose, which leaves more confusion inside of us. She may have purposely killed herself in front of Maxim for the sake of making him remember such a site, or she may have just thought it was a way to make things right. Rebeccas last intentions alive are never really unveiled in the story line, but we know she is dead and that Maxim witnessed it. Whether you have loved and prospered, or loved and lost, it would be a horrible site to see a loved one take their own life. To complete this confusing sequence, we learn that Maxim put a body on another boat and sent it off in the storm. He was afraid of what people might say to find his wife had killed herself, or worse to be accused of murder. When the authorities found the boat, they assumed that it was Rebecca but could not tell because of the damage that the body had gone through. Maxim could not face the reality of his own life and was forced to make these decisions in haste. Many people could say that Maxim was not a very smart man because of such a decision, but I feel that in such a case, others would do the same. He placed Rebecca on a sailboat and caused it to sink, which leads to the previous explanation of her body being found.
As the story nears an end, the new Mr. and Mrs. De Winter are almost able to go about their lives but not before one more fateful scene. As they return home to Manderlay, they discover that the beautiful mansion has been set ablaze. We feel almost sorry for the turn of events in Maxims life, and now it has gotten even worse. One of the final shots reveals Mrs. Danvers in the window of the burning building with an expression of pure evil on her face. We as viewers are racing with mixed feelings about the plot while watching this scene. It finally becomes evident that Mrs. Danvers can be considered the antagonist in the movie not only to Maxim, but also to his wife. When we look back at all of the wrongfulness that Mrs. Danvers has brought upon Mrs. De Winter, we feel a sense of justice being done. As in most classical Hollywood narratives, the antagonist is taken care of. In this particular case it is safe to assume that she has killed herself. At the same time, however, it brings a feeling of sadness to us to see Maxims estate burned to a ground by a servant that he has housed and fed for so many years. Also, by this time all of our feelings that Maxim could have been a bad man have been altered. He did not kill Rebecca, he married Mrs. De Winter because he loved her, and yet, everything that he owned has been destroyed. It is terribly upsetting, or is it? One of Hitchcocks views towards movie making was never to leave the audience with the antagonist getting his or her way. He would create that realm of suspense and make you think that everything had gone wrong, but then fix it. The protagonist will win. So leave it to him to once again twist things around for the better. If we read into what Manderlay really was, we find that it was nothing more then a graveyard of memories of Rebecca. Everything from the carpet to the ceiling was designed and picked out by Rebecca. Maxim is finally given a chance through fate to start a new life, to rid himself of the horrible memories that Rebecca has left him with. Of course, who better to do it then Rebeccas personal servant, Mrs. Danvers. Although it is somewhat harder to find then in many of Hitchcocks movies, all is well for the protagonists. We feel a sense of relief for Maxim and are happy that he and Mrs. De Winter can move on. I can only imagine if the story had continued that Mr. and Mrs. De Winter would be seen building their own house, together.
As we look back at this immeasurable plot line, we can understand why Rebecca was such a successful movie. With the exception of Mrs. De Winter, every character goes through drastic changes throughout the film, or so Hitchcock got us to believe. Mr. and Mrs. De Winter are clearly the protagonists of the movie. Maxim and Mrs. Danvers appear to be very dynamic characters but I disagree. Mrs. Danvers has nothing but bitterness running throughout her from the beginning of the film until her death. At times it seems that she is changing, but it never does once stick with her. Maxim is just the opposite. He is so full of love for his new wife but it seems at times that he is not treating her as he should. He is, however, merely trying to protect her from the past that he himself can not deal with. As things wind down, it is quite clear that he is still full of love and that his second marriage has a strong foundation. It has been said that a fool builds his house on sand and a wise man on solid ground. If this is true, Manderlay was a beach. Fortunately for Maxim, solid ground was just around the corner.