"We are such stuff as dreams are made on." Shakespeare, The Tempest

Monday, April 28, 2014

Marnie

Some movies are remembered for their narrative; other films attract an audience out of sheer star-power. Generally speaking, both story and charisma can be of value to a film. The value of a charismatic actor playing a character of substance can be realized by watching the performance dubbed with the voice of another actor. Watching the film Forgiven once dubbed in French, I popped out the DVD even before the end of the first act because the voices of Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman were gone. In the case of Marnie (1964), as well as the James Bond franchise, the flims would lose out without Sean Connery’s voice. Even so, a film that distorts or stretches a narrative to attract (and rely on) an actor’s charisma is also suboptimal. I contend that this excess compromises Marnie.


In both the book written by Winston Graham and the film’s initial outline written by Joseph Stefano (who had written Psycho), Mark Rutland has his wife Marnie see a psychiatrist. That character did not survive into the final cut. In the documentary, The Trouble with Marnie, Stefano speculates that the doctor was cut so the Mark character would be powerful enough to attract a star. A star obtained, the question is whether Sean Connery’s charisma was sufficient to carry the character’s load. For in dropping the psychiatrist, that role fell on the husband. Although Stefano believes this gave the character more than it could carry, the intensity of Sean Connery in playing the part made up for this drawback or vulnerability in the film. Indeed, Jay Presson Allen, the film’s screenwriter, suggests that Connery’s charisma made up (in the audience’s eyes) for his character raping Marnie on their honeymoon. Even so, Stefano concludes that omitting the psychiatrist robbed the film of something. I am inclined to agree.

The problem lies with characterization. Specifically, Mark Rutland’s co-dependency is understated while his ability to bring his wife to a psychological catharsis is, well, fictional. In term of the character’s psychological need to become invested in solving Marnie’s problem, this is shrugged off at one point with, “I’m not perfect.”  Thanks to Connery’s charisma, the audience is easily convinced that Mark is fine. In fact, the co-dependent husband effectively pulls off what would be a feat even for a psychologist. For her part, Marnie is somehow able to confront her childhood trauma without any need of a professional; the amateur is sufficient.

To be sure, the film is finctional. Even so, the rules of a story would come crashing down in terms of credulity if they breach what they claim to represent. Were Mark Rutland to suddenly float in the air as if gravity were an optional force in the film’s story-world, the narrative would quickly lose credibility by its own reckoning. Witches can fly in The Wizard of Oz because the story-world, being itself a fantasy within a fictional world, permits it. The story-world in Marnie is stitched much more closely to the world in which we live, so the feats have to be believable. Although some slack can be smoothed over by a star’s charisma, even James Bond falls short in effectively turning a co-dependent rapist-husband into a miracle-worker. Although the audience may not see past the charisma, the plot’s contortions may leave a rather hollow aftertaste. Abstractly, good story-telling does not distort narrative hoping that characterization will make up for it.