Sunday, 9 November 2008

Suspicion, perplexion and indeterminacy

Still from Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941).

In this scene, police inspector Benson examines a reproduction of Picasso's Still life with Pitcher and Fruit (1931), and is clearly perplexed. The sequence in which his bemusement, indeed shock, is make clear can be seen as an abrupt switch in subjective positions in the 'narrative space', as Stephen Heath calls it ("Narrative Space", in Questions of Cinema, 1980).

"Benson's painting too – 'his' insofar as it catches him out in his gaze – has its effect as a missing spectacle: problem of point of view, different framing, disturbance of the law and its inspectoring eye, interruption of the homogeneity of the narrative economy, it is somewhere else again, another scene, another story, another space." (Heath, p. 24).

By this point in the film we have come to appreciate the unfolding doubts in the mind of Lina about the motives and behaviour of her husband Johnnie. These doubts we experience from her (subjective) point of view. But since they are doubts – rather than confirmations – they retain a strong degree of ambiguity, which is maintained throughout the film until the final (and for many, quite unsatisfactory) scene. This ambiguity, as Heath suggests, is mirrored in the disconcerting painting examined by Benson, presented both as a continuation of the ambiguous theme and as a reversal of the subjective positions we have to adopt within the narrative space (presumably unlike Benson, Lina is quite 'at home' with the Picasso).

The film and the painting within the film both demonstrate the alarming effects of conceptual and perceptual indeterminacy, which can be seen in the gradual deterioration of Lina's mental state as her suspicions grow about Johnnie and Benson's utter perplexion about the Picasso.