Obsession (1976)

One day Jenny and I were walking in Walmart, and we heard orchestral music coming from the electronics dept. “Sounds like Alfred Hitchcock”, said my beautiful and smart wife. Around the corner and viola! Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959) on the TV.

Bernard Hermann composed nine of Hitchcock’s films, as well as this movie, Obsession, directed by Brian De Palma. Without his music, we might not be discussing Obsession. It fills your ears and lubricates your mind for the images in front of your eyes (that analogy manages to be both clever and nauseating, doesn’t it?).

Obsession tells the story of Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson), a successful New Orleans businessman, whose wife and child are kidnapped for ransom. He goes to the police for help. The police botch the rescue attempt, and Courtland blames himself for the death of his family.

16 years later while visiting the church in Italy where they were wed, he meets Sandra (Genevieve Bujold), whose physical resemblance to his wife is haunting. So begins his obsession.

Director Brian De Palma, a fan of Hitchcock, copies and also improves on Hitchcock’s style of directing. The camera circles, pans, weaves and intertwines with the musical score perfectly.

Many people focus on how this movie copies Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Hitchcock himself was reportedly furious at this movie being made. To those people, I say “GET A LIFE PEOPLE! THESE ARE MOVIES WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! On the ITL meter (Important Things of Life), movies DON’T EVEN REGISTER!”

As regards Hitchcock himself being furious, you know what I would say if he was in front of me right now? Since he died in 1980, was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean, I would probably say “HOW DID THIS MUDDY SLUDGE GET ON MY DESK?”

But I digress.

In the final 20 minutes, the pieces of the plot collide and fall together, scenes from different time periods interweave, combining to give us the full story. But not until the last few unbearably suspenseful seconds does the last piece fall in place. The slow motion effect of two characters approaching to an unknown outcome has yet to be surpassed. We feel like we’ve been putting a puzzle together in the dark. When we finally do see the finished puzzle, we can’t believe what we see.


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