Thursday, May 13, 2010

Obsession (Brian De Palma, 1976)

Obsession is Brian De Palma’s tribute to Vertigo, possessing less of the cosmic delirium of its source but having its own distinct eeriness. The first half hour is a mishmash of many Hitchcockian elements, many of which are from other films, but this tributary pastiche only serves as a launch pad for a story with as many haunting symmetries and parallels as its predecessor. A striking scene: Sandra’s transfixion on the painting of Elizabeth seems to mirror Judy’s transfixion of the museum painting of her ‘past’ self before we learn that she is really gazing at her dead mother. All throughout the film De Palma conflates the assumptions we make about this film as a Hitchcock rip-off with the gradual emergence of its own exclusive themes so that Freudian maternal longing becomes interfused with a more ghostly obsession, and that's but one example. The ending to Vertigo might be the most ambiguous conclusion to any of Hitchcock’s films, ironic because the last shot of Obsession depicts a conventional embrace set to Herrman’s score at its most romantic, implicitly revealing that all of the deceit has bubbled to the surface—Michael now knows all that has transpired and is finally reunited with his daughter—and making it a Hollywood capper if there ever was one, before it spirals into a carousel of psychological terror, the themes of incest, childhood trauma, and obsession now more apparent than ever. The freeze-framed ‘The End’ is gnawingly perverse.

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