Geeks logo

Gaslight (1944)

The Uneasy Seduction

By Rachel RobbinsPublished about a month ago 4 min read
7
Gaslight (1944)

“I couldn’t have dreamed it. No, I couldn’t. I couldn’t have dreamed it. No, I couldn’t have dreamed it. I couldn’t have dreamed it. Did I dream? Did I really, really, dream? Dream, dream.” (Paula Alquist-Anton)

Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist-Anton

Lights dim and fade, steps overhead, a woman who cannot trust her own sense in a world of shadowy, crowded interiors.

In the 21st Century we know about ‘gaslighting’. In 2022, it was the word of the year. It is a tactic of deep fakes, of trolls, of governments, of shady organisations, of powerful people, of the man across the road whose wife has never been the same. We are living through the soup of misunderstanding. We feel the shove to comply to a narrative, despite the tingling in our fingers, the misplacing of sensations, the tilted reality.

Gaslighting means to over-write someone’s reality so that their world becomes unstable, and constructed in a way that opposes the facts. This form of psychological abuse derives its name from the film and play.

Charles Boyer (as Gregory Anton) and Ingrid Bergman

Gaslight (1944) is the Hollywood version of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play. Directed by George Cukor, it is a film which gives us the glamour of a leading lady (Ingrid Bergman) at the height of her attraction, but juxtaposed with a gloomy tension and descent into madness. It is an uneasy seduction.

An opera singer is the victim of an unsolved and apparently motiveless murder at her London address. Her niece (Paula) is sent to Italy to follow in her operatic footsteps. As an adult she is whisked away in a whirlwind romance with her pianist (Gregory Anton) and returns with him to the London home. Once there, she sees occasional glimpses of anger in her new husband, and she frets about her apparent fragile grip of her world: forgetful, hearing things, the lights dim. She begins to acquiesce to her husband’s belief that she is neurotic and in need of help. But the audience see the other side of Gregory, the flirting with the maid, the tempers, the disappearing at night, the moving in the shadows, the rumours that he spreads.

It takes a courage just out of Paula’s reach to say that this is not my reality. Because gaslighting is about power. The power to de-rail a victim’s sense of self.

Gaslighting isn’t just about proving that the victim is wrong about a ‘fact’, but that they cannot be trusted to understand the facts. It is about denying her any understanding. It is about rendering her socially incompetent – charming and pretty, but so very, very dumb.

The victim is in a no-man’s land.

Paula prepares to socialise, but her husband cancels plans.

Gaslighting works as a strategy because we see things from the perspective of the abuser. What makes Gaslight (the film) important is that we see it all. We see the behaviour of the abuser as well as the abused. And we believe and root for her because of this. But for many women in this situation we don’t see the machinations, we only see the impact – a woman deranged and railing against a ‘truth’.

And for it to work, he has not only to insist upon her instability – he must enlist others to see his truth.

Nancy Oliver: What's the matter with the mistress? She don't look ill to me. Is she?

Elizabeth: I don't know. Not as I can see. But the master keeps telling her she is.

A young maid, Nancy (played to an Oscar award nomination standard by Angela Lansbury) who sees a handsome, rich husband. And a housekeeper who cannot be easily lied to, but whose hearing is fading. These women have a role in reinforcing the husbands assertions.

And Gregory’s ultimate game is to enlist the power of the psychiatric profession. He is going to prove her madness by institutionalism, by naming it a psychiatric disorder.

The darkness settles

And because we can see the torture and not just its outcome, Gaslight works as an antidote to victim-blaming. Paula did not choose the wrong man – he chose her.

And just as Gregory enlists the help of the household in his plans, Paula needs help too.

This is provided by Cameron, an admirer of Paula’s aunt with a desire to understand her murder, who enlists a patrol man to watch Gregory. Cameron provides the answers.

Joseph Cotten as Cameron

The gaslight provides a mood, a dreamlike quality for all of us, not just the protagonist.

But what can we do to break the sleepy, dulling pull of the gaslight?

We have to be one of the voices that insist upon describing their reality as honestly and completely as possible.

And rush to aid those who cannot express their distress.

Are you suggesting that this is a knife I hold in my hand? Have you gone mad, my husband?

Of course, there is a great irony in all of this. Gaslight (1944) is actually a remake. In 1940 there was a British version of the film, just as thrilling, but not as glamorous. But when Metro Goldwyn Mayer bought the remake rights, there was a clause insisting that all existing prints of the original film be destroyed… as if it never existed…

The British version... if it ever really existed.

If you've enjoyed what you have read, please consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by leaving a one-time tip or a regular pledge. Thank you.

vintagemovie
7

About the Creator

Rachel Robbins

Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.

Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  5. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

Add your insights

Comments (7)

Sign in to comment
  • Rick Henry Christopher about a month ago

    One of the great films of all-time!!! Excellent review! Great job, Rachel.

  • Marie Wilsonabout a month ago

    Excellent! A perfect blending of a film review & an analysis of "gaslighting". And a great ending - to the film & your article. Fortunately, Mayer did not succeed in the destruction. I've seen both; each have commendable aspects but I prefer the Cukor. Love Dame May Whitty bringing levity!

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    One of my all-time favourites! Thanks for this...and for information about the original!

  • sleepy draftsabout a month ago

    Wow! This is an awesome, awesome review, explanation, and analysis of "Gaslight." You hit every nail on the head. It's incredible how something from the 1940s can still be so relevant today. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this piece!

  • Manikandan Blog Writerabout a month ago

    NICE

  • Manikandan Blog Writerabout a month ago

    GOOD

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.