GASLIGHT (1944) by George Cukor – Review
Dir. George Cukor
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer
This film deals mainly with three themes: madness (or its prelude), toxic relationships (or, precisely, toxic partner), and an obsession that leads to crime. The movie opens with a crime report taken from a local newspaper: a famous English opera singer, Alice Alquist, is brutally murdered at her home. The police declares the case insoluble, but hides from the public the probable reason: the stealing of ancient french jewels, that were too famous to be resold.
Paula Alquist (played by a magnificent Ingrid Bergman), nephew of the famous singer, and true protagonist of the film, finds the body, and puts the killer to flight.
Years pass, and Paula, who also became an opera singer, moves to Italy, where she meets pianist Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), whom she falls madly in love with.
After only two weeks, Gregory convinces Paula to marry him and move to the old London apartment, where the famous aunt had died years before. Paula, after some delay, accepts, convinced of being able to forget the child trauma thanks to the help of her beloved. Once arrived at the London apartment, Gregory suggests transferring all the furniture and objects that belonged to the famous aunt to the attic and blocking the door, in order to make Paula forgive her traumatic memories.
From this moment on, Gregory begins a slow and subtle psychological maneuver to make Paula, little by little, believes she’s completely crazy, using this as an excuse toisolate her from other people and keep her locked up in the house.
After these events, the domestic walls begin to mark the rhythm of Paula’s madness; she notices that, every evening, shortly after her husband’s departure from home, the light of her own room (fueled by gas – “Gaslight”) suddenly diminishes, and that, from the top floor (the attic), are coming loud noises of footsteps.
The woman is completely subjugated by her husband, trapped in a toxic relationship. She’s blinded by love, and she would never be able to intuit Gregory’s diabolical plan. Gregory has an absolute control over his wife’s life; he decides that it’s forbidden to receive people at home. He also doesn’t allow Paula even to go out for a walk. Gregory, as an absolute god, determines what’s true and what is not, blaming his wife for every missing object in their house.
Paula, in order not to doubt the man she married, starts to doubt herself.
“Gaslight”, describes perfectly the slow rise to madness, and meticulously analyzes the dynamics within a toxic relationship, bringing the viewer to an anxious and oppressive emotional climax, as well as a surprising identification with the protagonist.
Accomplice of this identification, is the incredible Bergman’s performance, who prepares her acting studying for a long time one of the patients of a mental health institution, focusing on patient’s facial expressions and hidden emotions.
It’s easy to understand how Gregory is implicated in Paula’s aunt’s murder. He’s obsessed with precious French jewels, an unhealthy and absolute obsession, which dominates his life and doesn’t allow him to have remorse; Charles Boyer masterfully interpreted the coldness in the eyes of a husband, and the greed in the look of a thief.
The anxiety that the film communicates, is accompanied by a slow, but exciting, direction; the scenography (recreated in sets both inside and outside) is baroque and suffocating, functional in reminding the viewer of the grids of a golden cage in which the protagonist is imprisoned.
written by Elizabeth Vogler