From Embarrassment and Anxiety to a Kiss

I recently gave a talk to therapists on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 movie, Suspicion. Cary Grant and Oscar winning Joan Fontaine star in this Hitchcock thriller.

The plot is typical of Hitchcock, a brain twister sewing together a series of circumstantial events that leads Fontaine (as Lina) to suspect Grant (as her husband, Johnny) of trying to murder her.

At the beginning of the film we see them meet by chance on a train.

Returning home after their first date (marked with some painfully embarrassing moments for Lina), she overhears her parents talking about her:

FATHER: Lina will never marry, she’s not the marrying sort…

MOTHER:… I’m afraid she is rather spinsterish

FATHER: Well what’s wrong with that? The old maid is a respectable institution. All women are not alike…

Suddenly confronted with her father’s wishes for her, Lina becomes distracted, anxious and, in a desperate attempt to end a scene that has clearly become unbearable, unexpectedly kisses Johnny for the first time.

But what kind of kiss is it? How would you describe it?

The nature of her kiss puzzled my audience of therapists. Johnny did not seem to expect her kiss, nor was he given the chance to respond. This kiss was not romantic. Indeed, some audience members thought it aggressive, almost violent.

One way we can understand Lina’s kiss is as an example of a ‘passage to the act’.

A ‘passage to the act’ is a last resort against an unbearable combination of embarrassment and anxiety.

Within the therapy literature there are two much-discussed examples: Dora’s slap on the face of her father’s friend after he told her that his wife meant nothing to him; and the jump over a bridge onto a railway line by another young woman after her father gave her an angry look.

A ‘passage to the act’ constitutes a desperate, even radical attempt to end an unbearable scene.

Following her kiss, Lina is shown in a variety of situations ‘working through’ what it means for her to have become – against her father’s wishes – the ‘marrying sort’.

This part of the film culminates in Johnny proposing to her in front of a portrait of her father. In a comic touch that anticipates her father’s reaction, Hitchcock has the portrait drop from the wall!

Johnny about to propose to Lina in front of a formal portrait of her father

 

Johnny catches the portrait of Lina’s father as it jumps from the wall

Notes to blog

My talk, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lina, was given on 12 April 2019 here.

The two much-discussed examples in the therapy literature are case histories by Freud: Dora (1905) and The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman (1920).