Living with a narcissist
“Hitchcock” is the story of a marriage. Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville had a rocky year in 1960 when the legendary director was producing “Psycho.” It was a time when their enduring teamwork was threatened not only by the pressures of making that film, but also by the fact that living with a narcissist was taking a big toll on Reville.
Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is fighting the studio powers who think “Psycho” will be a laughing stock, a box office bust. He has hired Janet Leigh to die screaming in the forever famous shower scene just 30 minutes into the film. On the set, we experience genuine horror ourselves when the director, unsatisfied with Leigh’s death throes, enacts the scene in his own demonic rage. He seizes the knife and, stabbing repeatedly at the air, cries, “More, more ungovernable rage!” The set plunges into silence, Leigh is terrified, and the shower scene, with her newly authentic terror, is preserved on film for all time.
Francois Truffaut once said that Hitchcock’s love scenes were about murder and his murder scenes were about love. By the end of this movie, we understand that all too well.
Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) was a successful scriptwriter and editor who used both skills to help her husband on his films for thirty years. But this marriage was all about Hitch – his movies, his reputation, his success. We learn about his creepy side: his fixation on blondes, the peepholes into the dressing rooms of his stars, his fierce temper. How can Reville stand living with him? The answer is quite simple: their work. Both are story visionaries; each reinforces and enriches the judgments of the other.
At home Reville must deal with an utterly clumsy and hugely obese man who turns mean as he drinks. When she finds temporary reprieve helping to edit the manuscript of a male friend, Hitchcock flies into a violent, jealous rage. She responds in anger, “I put up with those fantasy romances with your leading ladies!” After the big fight clears the air, each recognizes that their success lies in their teamwork.
Hitchcock, in despair, “I couldn’t pull off the picture this time; it just sits there, refusing to come to life. It’s stillborn.” Reville’s response, “Now I suggest we whip “Psycho” into shape.” She does just that, restoring order to set and nursing it toward theatrical release and legend.
There is no way to like Alfred Hitchcock, but perhaps that’s a tribute to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of him. It’s easy to admire Helen Mirren who brings Alma Reville to full life in her intelligence and quiet strength as silent partner to a strange but talented man. If you are tempted to dismiss either this movie or the Hitchcocks, I will mention just a few of their collaborations: The 39 Steps, Spellbound, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Shall I go on?
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