Study Guide

Spellbound Madness

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Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear… and the devils of unreason are driven from the human soul…

This text, which scrolls across the screen at the beginning of Spellbound, is an awfully cheerful view of psychoanalysis. It makes analysis sound like aspirin: take it and poof!, the headache disappears. The film is very optimistic about restoring order and sanity and light and happiness, because Hollywood love restoring order and sanity and light and happiness at the end with no muss and no fuss. In reality, though, even headaches aren't that easy to clear up.

CONSTANCE: It's quite remarkable to discover one isn't what one thought one was.

Constance isn't talking about amnesia. She's talking about how she loses touch with herself, and her own motivations, because she's fallen in love. Both love and madness mean losing touch with yourself or changing yourself. Constance isn't mentally ill, but she needs to discover who she is, too, just like Ballantyne.

CONSTANCE: I keep forgetting you're a patient.

BALLANTYNE: So do I. When I hold you like this, I feel entirely well. Will you love me just as much when I'm normal?

CONSTANCE: I'll be insane about you.

BALLANTYNE: I am normal. At least, there's nothing wrong with me that a nice, long kiss wouldn't cure.

CONSTANCE: I've never treated a guilt complex that way before.

It's really not okay for a doctor to have a giggly romance, or any kind of romance, with a mentally ill patient. The ethics are just a mess—for example, what if Ballantyne turned out to have a wife? This is just one sign that the film doesn't take Ballantyne's illness at all seriously; it's just a convenient plot device. When he needs to be well for the love story, he feels "entirely well." And when he needs to be sick to move the plot along, he's sick. Convenient how that works, huh?

BRULOV: I explained to the policeman that if Edwardes took along with him on a vacation a paranoid patient, he was a bigger fool than I ever knew he was. It is the same as playing with a loaded gun.

Brulov unhesitatingly declares mentally ill people to be dangerous—even mentally ill people he has never met, much less diagnosed. In reality, the vast majority of mentally ill people are not particularly dangerous, while sane people can do lots of bad things. But obviously it's a lot more suspenseful to present Ballantyne as potentially dangerous than it would be to just say, oh, yeah, he's not going to hurt anyone.

BALLANTYNE: That Freud stuff's a bunch of hooey.

BRULOV: Oh, you are a fine one to talk! You have a guilt complex and amnesia and you don't know if you are coming or going from somewhere, but Freud is hooey! This you know! Hmph! Wiseguy.

A lot of Freud really is hooey, at least in terms of treating mental illness. Most doctors today don't use Freud's theories to treat their patients. In fact, Brulov here is committing a classic ad hominem fallacy; he dismisses what Ballantyne says because of who Ballantyne is (an amnesiac) rather than considering the comment on its own merits. We've mentioned that Brulov is kind of a jerk, right? (Though, to be fair, he's pretty funny.)

BALLANTYNE: But there weren't any walls, just a lot of curtains with eyes painted on them. A man was walking around with a large pair of scissors, cutting all the drapes in half.

Ballantyne's loopy Salvador Dali-inspired dream has the weirdest imagery—and the most insane storyline—in the film It's not a hallucination though; it's just a dream. Everybody has dreams—which means everyone goes a little insane in their sleep.

Spellbound for the most part presents madness and sanity as separate and distinct. But Freud believed that everyone had neuroses and mental problems—essentially, for Freud, everyone was mentally ill to some degree. The dream sequence, therefore, is a reminder that it's not quite so easy to shut madness in, when everybody goes a little mad every night.

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