Family Dynamics in Shadow of a Doubt

Hitchcock proved time and time again throughout his film career his fascination with family dynamics. Possibly espoused from his familial relations when he was a young boy, Hitchcock loved to portray twisted family relationships on the screen. His fascination with unhealthy family relationships especially becomes apparent while one watches his 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. In this film, Hitchcock uses shots, dialogue, and other film-making devices to exacerbate the unsettling relationship between Uncle Charlie and the niece named after him. He also shows a certain fascination with Freud’s theories, far before the release of Spellbound in 1945 fully realized his fascination with the psychoanalyst. The first shot of Charlie in the film shows her relaxing in her bedroom, much like the position the viewer saw Uncle Charlie in not too long ago. The position she is resting in proves to be the very one that “Freud [describes] as being conducive to the relaxation of the ego’s vigilance over the unconscious,” and sets up the uncertainty and immoral themes of the rest of the film. Charlie allows herself to entertain an unhealthy, borderline incestuous relationship with her uncle, abandoning all common sense and not seeing the harm he intended to inflict upon her and the family until much later in the film. Even when she does realize his intentions and his murderous past, she does not truly take action until immediate events on the train force her to kill Uncle Charlie in an act of self-preservation.

Charlie does not like her family, and spends the early portion of the film complaining about her family’s shortcomings, yet at the end of the film decides not to turn Uncle Charlie in to protect that very family she felt such antagonism for at the beginning. Through one particularly harmful familial relationship, Charlie briefly attains all she had dreamed of with the arrival of her uncle, but that one relationship that brought her bliss, brought her nothing but stress and tears in the end. Hitchcock does not like the happy family portrayed in so many other Hollywood films – he highly enjoys portraying unhappy and unhealthy family relationships, and is unashamed in doing so. His characters may suffer in the process, much like Charlie did in this film as her ego struggled to regain control of her unconscious, but the story certainly does not.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 145–55. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

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