Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca is a film that draws you in slowly, so slowly that you might be tempted to give up on it in the first twenty minutes, but if you stick with it you’ll be captivated by this tale of…

..

Suspense.

Okay, that was a lame joke.

In all seriousness, Rebecca is a wonderfully dark, complex film. Following a whirlwind romance, an unnamed woman returns to England with her new husband, the aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter. When the new wife feels some discomfort settling into her role as the wealthy lady of the house, she finds some guidance in the words of the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Unfortunately for her, following Mrs. Danvers’s advice always seems to result in upsetting her new husband, who claims that he fell in love with the woman for who she was and is not always pleased with her attempts to dress up and play a high society woman.

What I’ve described so far could be a simple, even boring, period drama, but that is only the setup. Eventually we learn that Mr. de Winter has a dark secret, one that his new wife must help him keep. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Mrs. Danvers has no interest in helping the new Mrs. de Winter settle into her home. Rather, she is motivated by avenging the death of the original Mrs. de Winter.

By now you’ve noted that I never say the name of the protagonist. That is because her name is never given. Her husband uses only terms of endearment. The servant use only terms of respect. Other characters call her “her” or “the new Mrs. de Winter. This decision to give the film’s main character no name is (apparently) carried over from the original book upon which the film is based. As a literary technique, it successfully alienates “the new Mrs. de Winter” from the audience, much as she is alienated from all of the other characters.

This isn’t a fast paced film, just in case you hadn’t got that impression already. What Rebecca is… is a movie that slowly wraps its shadowy black and white tendrils around you then jumps over the cliff of madness and pulls you along for a screaming descent. It’s not a horror film in the blood and guts sense, but a wonderfully dark thriller that rewards patience.