Study Guide

Spellbound Gender

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DR. FLEUROT: I'm trying to convince you that your lack of human and emotional experience is bad for you as a doctor and fatal for you as a woman.

Dr. Fleurot tries to flirt with Constance by telling her that she's an unwomanly woman who doesn't know how to love. He is a big, fat jerk, and Constance tells him so—but still, the film isn't entirely sure he's wrong. The whole plot, after all, is set up to get Constance to experience love and get married. Dr. Fleurot is a sexist jerk, but the film is sort of on his side (which means that the film is sort of a sexist jerk, too).

BALLANTYNE: I probably deserted. I hated it. I hated killing.

World War II ended half a year before Spellbound was released. Ballantyne was a soldier, though he hated it. His discomfort with being in the army is part of his general failure to be a big old manly man hero. Swaggering Hollywood tough guys are supposed to be okay with violence, not panicked when forced to participate in it. It's significant too that Ballantyne eventually realizes that he didn't desert, but got a medical discharge. When he is restored to sanity, he's also restored to being an honorable fighting man.

BALLANTYNE: If there's anything I hate, it's a smug woman.

Ballantyne often yells at Constance when she analyzes him. Supposedly, this is because patients always resent and attack their analysts, as they fear giving up their symptoms. But Ballantyne also expresses the film's nervousness at its own "wrong-way-round" gender roles. Constance is the boss with the knowledge. She's doing the saving; Ballantyne is the weak patient who depends on her. He feels that she's "smug" and lording it over him—which suggests that the film itself sees it as unusual, or wrong, to have a woman in a position of power.

BALLANTYNE: Now let's not have any confusion about who saved who.

Ballantyne is insisting that Constance is the one who saved him. It's also true, though, that Ballantyne saved Constance from going over a ski cliff. The fact that Constance is the savior in the film is confusing; it goes against how traditional gender roles are supposed to work. But at the end of the film, the roles get switched around again, as Ballantyne saves her. Ballantyne is cured where there is no longer confusion about who saves whom, and he gets back to being the sane, saving guy.

BRULOV: And remember what I say—any husband of Constance is a husband of mine, so to speak.

Brulov says this jokingly at the end of the film. It's a line that hints at the uncomfortable gender switching in the film; Brulov is saying he's a wife, just as for most of the film Ballantyne was in the fainting woman's role. But here at the end, Ballantyne is finally back to being a manly dude—so manly that even Brulov can be his wife. (Remember, this was 1945, so most people didn't think of gay marriage as a realistic possibility. To the screenwriters, it was just a joke.)

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