Quintessentially Hitchcock and More Than a Sex Mystery

by Tommie Cruz

“Is Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie … a sex story … ? … a mystery … ? … a detective story … ? … a romance … ? … a story of a thief … ? a love story … ? … Yes and more !” These words are taken directly from the peculiar trailer presented by Hitchcock himself, a trailer that likely contributed to the film’s less than enthusiastic reception at the box office. “Marnie is a very difficult picture to classify. It is not Psycho nor do we have a hoard of birds flapping about pecking at people willy-nilly … One might call Marnie a sex mystery, that is if one used such words, but it is more than that”. Through his odd commentary of film clips and some misplaced jokes, Hitchcock seems to belittle the film. He also seems to emphasize the sexual nature of the film. Don’t let the trailer lead you astray. Following an amazing body of work that spanned a decade, including Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble with Harry (1955), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), deeper and darker than its predecessors, is sadly underrated, yet it is quintessentially Hitchcock and is definitely more than a sex mystery.

Extreme close up of a large yellow purse tucked under the arm of an unknown woman. Pan out and discover her silhouette walking away on an empty train platform. She strides along the orange line meant to keep people back from the edge. These visual elements focus on the feminine form. Abrupt cut to “Robbed!”. In its simplicity, the opening scenes convey classic Hitchcock themes of sex and theft.

However, in Marnie, these themes transcend their typical associations due to the complex psychological personas and haunting revelations that are unveiled throughout the film linking past to present.

A successful, compulsive thief and quick-thinking liar, Margaret Edgar (Marnie) presents as cool, collected, and calculating, a professional with multiple identities, but underneath lies torment. Marnie jumps from place to place, job to job. Hired based on her looks, Marnie exploits and steals from the men who hire her, a trait inherited from her mother. Her pattern is derailed though when she interviews for a job with Rutland Publishing. She catches the eye of wealthy widower Mark Rutland, a business associate of her last victim, tugs at her skirt to cover her knees, and is hired. So begins the hunt.

Mark’s pursuit of Marnie however is more complex than mere physical attraction and sexual desire. As the relationship transitions from professional to personal, Marnie begins to unravel and deep psychological triggers rise to the surface. Triggers like the color red, or a lightning storm thrust her back in time to a terrified childlike state.

During her vulnerable states, Mark continues to advance, and comfort becomes kissing. Although Marnie doesn’t reject these advances, she is more a passive recipient than active participant. Their time together under her alias is pleasant enough, but soon her compulsion takes over, Marnie steals from the company and runs. Mark heightens his pursuit and tracks Marnie to her only source of pure love, Garrod’s riding stable where she boards her horse Forio. Confronted with her crimes and lies, Marnie must choose, marry Mark or go to jail. “I can’t let you go Marnie. Somebody’s got to take care of you and help you. I can’t just turn you loose”. Mark’s kind words escalate to words of love, to Marnie’s pleas for release, and Mark’s rejection.  “You don’t love me. I’m just something you’ve caught. You think I’m some kind of animal you’ve trapped! That’s right – you are. And I’ve caught something really wild this time, haven’t I? I’ve tracked you and caught you and by God I’m going to keep you”.  Successful in the hunt, but Mark is totally unaware of the severity of Marnie’s psychological trauma and absolute aversion to physical touch. This troubled dynamic climaxes on their honeymoon with the forced consummation scene, Marnie’s attempted suicide, and Mark’s frantic search and rescue that followed.

 Marnie pool

Just when you think you have Mark figured out, a dichotomy emerges. He is both a catalyst for Marnie’s pain and her only hope for healing. His original pursuit of Marnie is relentless, and his initial motivations are self-serving. Yet, he covers the money Marnie stole at great risk to his own reputation and freedom. More importantly he stops his physical advances. Small acts of kindness like reuniting her with Forio and his mission to free her from criminal responsibility slowly erode his image of jailor and hers as captive animal. He investigates her past not to control her but to stop the colors. His aim now is to address her underlying trauma.

While the ends do not justify the means, Mark has a shot at redemption. Only through her relationship with Mark does Marnie begin to unravel the horrors in her psyche forged by horrific childhood events. He pushes Marnie to work through the nightmares and the triggers and there is some growth. Although still triggered, Marnie cannot bring herself to steal. Mark forces Marnie to confront her mother, the root of her issues, and reenter her past. Her repressed childhood memories are unleashed, and Marnie faces the truth about her mother’s past and childhood trauma. She also learns of her mother’s sacrifice and genuine love for her daughter, ending the film with the hope that Marnie can finally become whole.


Works Cited:

Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Picture. Second ed., First     Anchor Books, 1992.








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1 Comment

  1. Braxton Lawrence

    I can see Tommie why you would think that the film “Marnie” would seem like a love mystery, but I would have to disagree with that statement. First, we need to focus on how the way they met. The only reason Marnie was hanging around with Mark for as long as she was because he was blackmailing her and Mark reminded her of that fact, multiple times. Second, Mark treats Marnie like an object, he does help her through her trauma like you said, but and follow me here, he rape’s her and his boat, I am not going to make opinions for anybody but that does not seem like love to me. I feel like he kept her around to fulfill his sexual desires. Third, we do not even know if they work out in the end. Mark does make Marnie confront her mother so he can finally learn the truth like you said, but nobody gets over their childhood trauma in a day. Marnie is going to need a lot more help down the road, like therapy or something, and in worst cases, some trauma victims even commit suicide, for all we know Marnie killed herself off screen, there is just no way I can believe that there was love in their relationship.


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