Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1940, Tamasa Distribution
The De Winters, newly married, arrive at their marital home for the first time as a servant solemnly opens the gate to them. The situation is unique in that the husband, a widower, is at home here, and a whole body of his past predates this new marriage, in this very space. In the car, the new Mrs de Winter shivers suddenly as the gate closes, it is as if the air has frozen, offering a bad omen, a harbinger of bad things to come. As the car advances through the forest the character’s anxiety rises, played with increasing force by Joan Fontaine as the journey progresses. A forest is a classic narrative trope - a zone of mystery and darkness, a space to be crossed through before a character can reach their promised or desired destination. The rain, falling ever harder, makes the journey difficult and stressful, and limits what little the driver can see. The appearance of Manderlay is made all the more astonishing, despite the rain, sitting in a halo in the windshield, while the music swells and gets louder, underlining Mrs de Winter’s emotions. The elf-like servants hurry out and shepherd the couple to the entrance, where an army of staff stands ready for them, awaiting a sort of rite of passage ritual. The camera then pulls back to reveal the couple making their way towards the witnesses. The scene then turns into a game of faces as Mrs Danvers and Mrs de Winters face off against each in shot and reverse, their faces occupying the centre of the frame, giving the scene a very frontal look, as Mrs de Winters is presented for approval, or not. She then loses her gloves, which Hitchcock shows us with a very specific shot. The picking up of the gloves becomes a game for dominant status between the two characters. This is the first time the new, young wife, comes to understand the significance of her place in the house, and the importance of asserting it, on pain of disappearance. The camera focuses in on Mrs Danvers’ face, the housekeeper, across which drops of rain fade as we see a clock as if to say that what could be a new beginning will actually be an inexorable continuation of the past, staying forever with the characters.