The Double Motif

A recurrent motif in many of Hitchcock’s films is the idea of “the double.” “The double motif involves a comparison or contrast between two characters or sets of characters within a work to represent opposing forces of human nature” (Origins 2012). One of the double’s main functions is to show the divide of oneself. However, there are other implementations of this motif. For Hitchcock, the double serves to establish a psychological connection between his characters and his audience.

Figure 1

 This motif is representative in many of Hitchcock’s films. In Spellbound, for example, the double is represented by Dr. Edwards and Dr. Murchison in that both are highly esteemed doctors and both are at the top of their field of psychiatry.  Although we do not see Dr. Edwards in the film (only in the dream sequence of another character as seen in Figure 1), we know from the other characters in the film that he is representative of the typical “good guy;” whereas, Dr. Murchison, who turns out to have murdered Dr. Edwards, is representative of the doppelganger. Dr. Murchison killing his good alter ego is typical of the double motif. In Gothic studies, the job of the doppelganger is to eliminate his or her alter ego in the interest of self-preservation. These two characters never interact on screen, so most of their relationship is up to audience interpretation. This is an interesting choice on Hitchcock’s part because it calls for less control and manipulation of the audience. This is in direct opposition to what he does in Psycho, when he chooses to allow the psychologist to explain Norman’s behavior to the audience. By leaving the relationship between Murchison and Edwards open to interpretation, Hitchcock allows the audience to formulate their own opinions as to Murchison’s motives for killing Edwards. This allows the audience to actively place their own thoughts and feelings into Hitchcock’s films.

Figure 2

 But, the double motif is not always a contrast between good and evil. Sometimes it can be used to show different outcomes through the eyes of different characters. This double idea is relevant in Rear Window. In the film, L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) are doubled by Jefferies’ neighbors. The relationship between the Jefferies and Lisa is the reverse of that of Thornwald and his wife, his neighbors who live across from him. Thornwald’s wife is an invalid and needs to be taken care of by Thornwald. In Jefferies and Lisa’s case, it is the opposite—Jefferies is temporarily invalid and needs to be taken care of by Lisa. In addition, they are doubled by the newlywed couple that lives near him. The couple seems to be perfect, just as Jefferies and Lisa seem to be, but there are underlying issues between the two that cause an eventual deterioration of the marriage. A similar tension is created between Lisa and Jefferies because of Jefferies’ inability to commit to marriage. By pairing Jefferies and Lisa with the neighbors, Hitchcock creates an interesting parallel between the main characters and the supporting characters. He allows the audience to visualize possible outcomes of Jefferies and Lisa’s relationship. This rare glimpse into a few “what if” scenarios allows the audience to make judgments about which version of the two to which they want to relate.

In literature, the double is often seen as a symbol of the struggle within oneself. For instance, in Psycho,the double is shown through Norman and “Mrs. Bates.” Although the line between the two becomes quite thin, it is important to recognize the two as separate entities. Bates’ mother represents the darkest parts of his psyche. To Bates, his mother symbolizes the only love he has ever been capable of maintaining, so when she casted him away for her lover, he saw the only source so of love in his life being stripped away. This angered him, and that anger caused him to lash out by killing her. He was so wrapped with guilt, that the only way to cope with this terrible act was to establish a part of her within him, so she could never truly be gone. In the first scene where Marion hears “Mrs. Bates” and Norman arguing, Norman portrays himself as the innocent “do-gooder” and his mother as the “psycho.” Norma says to Norman after he begs to let Marion come to dinner, “Mother, she’s just a stranger”! As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with MY food… or my son! Or do I have tell her because you don’t have the guts! Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?” (IMDB 2012). At this point, the audience believes that the two are separate characters, so Hitchcock manipulates us into siding with Norman. However, later on in the film, it becomes slightly less clear who is the “good” personality and who is the “bad” one. This ambiguity is fitting not only in terms of the film, but also in terms of real life. In life, it is often difficult to discern the good from the bad. This ambiguity could be referenced by the opening title sequence of the film. As seen in Figure 3, the credits piece together through gray bars on a black background and white text. The melding of black and white creates the gray, symbolizes the ambiguous nature of Norman’s fragile psyche.

Figure 3

The idea of “doubles” was not invented by Hitchcock, but the way he utilizes it throughout his films is innovative. Hitchcock’s use of the double allows the audience to picture themselves as the characters within the film, thus creating a psychological experience unparalleled to anything else in cinema at that time. While these three films showcase great suspense as well as masterful storytelling, Hitchcock’s method of using the double motif to demonstrate the ambiguity of real life is a true testament to his power as a filmmaker.

Post by: Alyssa Hockensmith

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