Alfred Hitchcock, Etats-Unis, 1964, Universal Pictures
In this extract from Marnie, suspense comes from the fact that Hitchcock shows us something hidden to the character. At the beginning of the extract we are with Marnie who gets in the offices at night, takes the safe key and steals some money. For the moment, we know no more than her on the dangers she faces. Everything changes from the moment when the filmmaker moves all of a sudden to a much wider shot where we can see both the safe small room where she is alone and the rest of the offices space. We see the cleaning lady arriving then and we know that Marnie is in danger, but Marnie doesn’t know it yet. It is the characteristic of suspense: The spectator knows more than the character.
When Marnie sees the cleaner, she takes off her shoes in order not be heard and puts them in her coat pockets. Hitchcock does an extreme closeup on one of her shoe slipping out (look, spectator!) and we know it is going to fall, make noise and alert the cleaner. Marnie can’t be aware of it otherwise she would stop it from falling. Once again the spectator knows more than the character on what is about to happen. But this time it is through moving to a close up instead of a wide shot. We don’t know, until the night guard arrives, that this woman is deaf. Hidding this information is another way of playing with our expectations. We are therefore surprised, just like Marnie, when the noise doesn’t alert this woman. Surprise (we don’t know more than the character) is the opposite of suspense (we know more than the character).