The Sound and the Fury & Marnie

April 25, 2010

Without a doubt, Marnie (1964) is one of Hitchcock’s hardest films to handle — not because it’s overly suspenseful, but rather because of its intense, startling problems with gender roles within marital relationships.

Released just one year after The Birds, one of the director’s most well-known films, Marnie finds Hitchcock working with Tippi Hedren a second time, the actress once again playing the role of a woman who knows how to manipulate men with effortless poise — Hedren is certainly pretty easy on the eyes, and yet in both films one may remain hesitant to trust her.

However, this film’s treatment of her effect on men is decidedly different than The Birds. Here, Marnie is not necessarily trusted by her male counterpart. In fact, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery’s all-too-Sean-Connery-like-character) mistrusts her from the first time he recognizes her in his firm, taking an interest in her from a more-or-less purely psychological or even zoological perspective.

That zoological relation to women that Rutland  prescribes to is a little disturbing, especially considering the actor’s real-life outlook on gender relations.

“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong in hitting a woman,” Connery once told Playboy Magazine, “Though I don’t recommend you do it the same way that you hit a man.”

Faulkner's novel, much like "Marnie," presents some problems with the ways it explores issues of gender roles, considering that the novel was written by a man, and the first three chapters are narrated by men.

In Marnie, there is an interesting relation between passive-aggression, male sexual (as well as nonsexual physical) aggression, and the effect those two types of aggression have on memory, especially intrusive memory. Additionally, I have been reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and find that the novel deals with these same issues, although in a less directly confrontational way than Marnie.

The hinging point of Marnie is Marnie’s intrusive memory of one of her mother’s (who worked as a prostitute in her daugher’s youth) client’s aggression towards both the young protagonist and her mother, which resulted in mother and daughter (but mostly daughter) killing the man with a blunt fire poker. But the driving force behind the narrative is the way that Marnie has spent her entire life trying to run away from this memory, using various aliases to move around the country, stealing money and funneling at least some of it back to her mother as some kind of subconscious way to pay restitution for their sins (and also as an unsuccessful attempt to win her mother’s love).

However, despite Marnie’s repeated attempts to escape a memory that the viewers don’t learn the full extent of until the end of the film, she simply cannot. Seeing anything red — not to mention men who seem sexually attracted to her — triggers a panic attack and an intense fear within her. In this narrative, it is only when Sean Connery, paragon of masculinity, slaps her around and yanks the memory out of her subconscious that she is cured.

The Honeymoon Scene: Mark and Marnie argue about her intimacy issues, but Mark soon enough circumvents them entirely, ripping off her robe and forcing her to have sex with him.

This interests me because in viewing these Hitchcock films, I have found that the director is not what one might call “fair” to the female sex. They always seem to be the troublemakers, and if not, they’re pretty helpless, needing a man’s guidance to set them right and save the day. The problem with Marnie is that it takes this motif (as I see it) a little too far — not only does Mark Rutland slap Marnie around and manhandle her on more than one occasion, but he actually date-rapes her on their honeymoon, in the name of “curing” her of whatever makes her afraid of sexual attention from men.

This motif of control on the part of men over women is fascinating in relation to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as well, in that the novel also seems (on one level) to be about the male-female dynamic, in this case, within a family and across generations. Like Marnie, the characters of Caddy and her daughter Quentin represent this rogue-woman, someone that  the male characters they interact with feel are calling out for their control, to turn them into healthy ladies.

Smug as a Bug: The character of Mark Rutland struggles with agency in actually much the same way that Marnie does — both characters try to maintain a sense of control in their lives through the domination of other people.

In fact, the resemblance is palatable at times, with Mark saying to Marnie upon the drive back to the Rutland mansion, “Someone’s got to take on the responsibility for you, Marnie. And it narrows down to a choice of me or the police, old girl.” This conversation mirrors many conversations about the young, voluptuous Quentin between Faulkner’s characters of Jason Compson and his self-pitying, mopey mother, Caroline Compson in The Sound and the Fury.

“She ought to be home,” Caroline Compson says of her granddaughter, Quentin. “I can’t do anything with her. I’ve tried and I’ve tried.”

“And you won’t let me for some reason,” Jason retorts. “So you ought to be satisfied.”

This reveals an interesting parallel in the realm of discipline and control within both texts — the unruly, wild woman needs a man’s hand to steady her, and that hand may and will use force to accomplish the goal of taming the woman.

There's always the interesting parallel of the importance of the color red, but I'm not sure I could extrapolate a lot of meaning in relation to control and male-female relations within each of the texts. However, they do bring up the question of intrusive memory within both texts.

All of these things are well and good, and certainly interesting, but the thing that I still can’t quite pin down is the relation between these “triggers,” such as the color red or the presence of masculine men, and the intrusive memories that the conjure within our tortured protagonists. For instance, why is the color red so important in both? And why does it seem to incite a kind of intense desire for control, or to run away from (or after) something?

I think that there’s an important reason that Faulkner became a screenwriter as well as a novelist — his work is incredibly cinematic, especially in The Sound and the Fury. Like Marnie, the intrusive memories within his novel come without warning, and make little sense to the viewer until they have reached the end of the story and know “what happened.”

However, I am not trying to say that these two works are on equal footing: I believe that Faulkner does an immensely better job of keeping the power of the vague within his text, keeping the reader guessing if something that’s happened is a) dialogue, b) inner thoughts, c) action that’s happening in real time, or d) a mixture of all three that’s happening within the narrator’s memory.

Through this skillful blending of ways of interacting with the world and processing it and understanding it, I believe Faulkner really opens up his readers’ eyes to the possibility of thinking about the nature of experience, memory, and inner thought. After all, if one is experiencing the emotions of a memory afresh, such as Benjy does in the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury, how could one say that the memory isn’t happening in the realm of the real? What way do we have to classify what is real or not besides our most visceral experience of it, within our minds and emotions?

I fully recognize that this subject requires much, much more study — but alas, this is but a blog. There’s always a private reading. Or a senior project. Or a book later on, right?

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