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Analysis Of The Final Scenes Of Alfred

Hitchcock’s Notorious Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of the Final Scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious

After viewing Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious for the first time, the film

did not strike me as particularly complex. Nothing specific about the film

lodged itself in my brain screaming for an answer?or, at least, an attempted

answer. Yet, upon subsequent viewings, subtle things became more noticeable.

(Perhaps Hitchcock’s subtlety is what makes him so enormously popular!)

Hitchcock uses motifs and objects, shot styles and shifting points of view, and

light and dark to help explain the relationships between Alicia, Devlin,

Sebastian and Mrs. Sebastian, and an overall theme of being trapped. An

analysis of the film from the first poisoning scene to the final scene in the

film shows how the above tools lead to a better understanding of the

character’s motivations.

The most obvious recurring object in the final scenes is the poisoned

coffee cup. In the first scene of the portion being analyzed, Sebastian

suggests to Alicia that she drink her coffee, and Hitchcock zooms onto the

object as she slowly takes a sip. In a later scene, Mrs. Sebastian pours the

coffee into the cup for Alicia, and sets it on a small table in front of her.

Here, Hitchcock not only zooms in on the small teacup, but heightens the sound

it makes connecting to the table, includes it in every shot possible, and shows

us not only the full coffee cup, but the empty cup as well after Alicia has

drank it. Again, the cup is zoomed in on after Alicia realizes she’s being

poisoned. Because the coffee is poisoned, the coffee itself becomes a metaphor

for life and death, supported by the fact that the poisoner herself ours it,

and the shots of the full and empty teacup. In this way, it also suggests

Alicia’s inability to escape her situation?whenever she drinks the coffee, she

becomes trapped due to the poison in her cup?and the poison in her sham of a


A repeated object not so noticeable is Mrs. Sebastian’s needlework.

Mrs. Sebastian is constantly working on her needlepoint while Alicia is being

poisoned. Hitchcock, in fact, goes out of his way to make sure that a shot of

her `toiling at her work’ is included several times. One cannot help but be

reminded of Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities?with Madame Defarge knitting

everyone’s fate into her work. At the beginning of the film, Devlin hands

Alicia a handkerchief, and a scarf, which she keeps, but returns to him in this

segment. These pieces of cloth throughout the film help tie Alicia to the

different characters, and in essence, help control her fate in different


Hitchcock’s use of shot type is another hint into his character’s

personalities. Hitchcock is very fond of medium and close-up shots, and rarely

uses a longer shot in the film. This may suggest to the audience to keep a

closer eye on the character’s facial expressions, as Hitchcock lets the actors

express their thoughts and feelings in this manner. An excellent example of

this would be when Alicia realizes that she is being poisoned Hitchcock zooms

in on her wide-eyed expression as she first looks at the teacup, then at Mrs.

Sebastian and her husband. Mrs. Sebastian’s cold hearted stare back at Alicia

tells us exactly just how much hatred she has for her.

Hitchcock also uses devices in his scenes such as fades from shot to

shot. By doing this, Hitchcock illustrates his character’s different

viewpoints. The fades themselves are used to connect Alicia’s two different

worlds?her ?fake’ world (her marriage to Sebastian), and her `real’ world (her

relationship with Devlin). For example, when Alicia is unable to make contact

with Devlin due to her illness, there are several shots of her in her sick bed,

then fading to Devlin waiting impatiently at a bench. The fading between shots

usually comes at a point when Alicia is feeling trapped, and this suggests that

the fades represent her desire to escape back to her `real’ world.

Since, obviously, it is difficult to use colour as a nuance in a black

and white film, Hitchcock makes use of light and dark images. When Alicia and

Sebastian are alone together, it is usually in darkness.? implying safety in

hiding, and also implying a different world. Alicia is safe and free to do

what she wants in the darkness, as she is with Devlin, and can easily hide

within it. For Sebastian, it is the opposite, for to him, Alicia’s darkness is

a world that he cannot enter, although he tries. An example of this is seen

when Alicia meets her commander, and asks him to shut the blinds in the room

because the light bothers her. Also, when Devlin rescues Alicia, he walks into

her dark bedroom and makes her walk out into the lighted hallway. Sebastian

walks up the staircase to meet them, and goes out into the night, where he is

rejected from the dark car as Alicia and Devlin pull away. Ironically, this is

reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo rescues Juliet from an unwanted

marriage to Paris, and where things seem to go wrong for the two star crossed

lovers only in the daylight. The final scene, when Sebastian slowly walks up

the stairs to his death, he walks into the light of the house (like walking

into the light of heaven), then all becomes dark as the door (St. Peter’s

gates?) closes behind him. Again, ironically, it is only then that Sebastian

can reach Alicia’s ?dark world’?through death.

The costumes that the characters wear is also a clue. Both Mrs.

Sebastian and Alicia are trapped in their worlds, and when they are both

feeling trapped, they wear dark colours. For instance, when Alicia realizes

she is being poisoned, she attempts an escape, and fails?while wearing a black

dress. When Mrs. Sebastian walks down the staircase behind Alicia and Devlin

in the final few scenes, she knows she is trapped, and is wearing a dark dress.

However, whenever the two characters feel free or released from their trappings,

they wear light colours?as when Alicia is poisoned, Mrs. Sebastian is wearing

white, and when Alicia makes her escape, she is wearing a white nightslip.

Since the two characters are enemies, and in opposite worlds, usually when one

is wearing light colours, the other is in dark colours.

Hitchcock’s use of shadows also help us understand character

motivations. The most obvious example is when Alicia realizes she’s been

poisoned, and begins blacking out. She looks at Sebastian and his mother, and

the lighting in the room becomes opposite to what it previously was, lighting

up the window behind them, and throwing Sebastian and his mother into shadow.

The two characters become shadows themselves. Again, when Alicia staggers to

the door of the room, the two shadows of Sebastian and his mother on the door

merge to her blurry vision. In this shot, the audience gets a sense that

Sebastian and Mrs. Sebastian have become the same person?essentially, they are,

as they are united in their common goal of keeping her political preference a


Through nuances such as repeated objects, shot types and light and dark,

Hitchcock is able to help the audience better understand Alicia, Sebastian, Mrs.

Sebastian and Devlin’s personalities and motivations towards one another. What

I found extremely compelling is the fact that, unlike Scorsese’s After Hours,

the motifs throughout this film weren’t immediately apparent, at least to me,

unless Hitchcock wanted them to be. Although Hitchcock is probably known

better for weird and wonderful films like Vertigo and Psycho, his subtlty is

what makes him a master.

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