Gaslight. You say tomato, I say you’re mental

“You’re gaslighting me!”


“You’re gaslighting me, you bastard!”

“Well I have no idea what ‘gas lighting’ actually is, but if its a bad thing I assure you gentle lady that I am doing no such thing. I am not now, or have ever been, known as one who would ‘gaslight’ another. ”

Whatever that is.

“You’re still gaslighting me!!”

…and so it goes…

Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist

Mad, haunted, conned – all of the above?

According to my earstwhile companion, @wandajmas, the most heinous psychological crime a man can commit against a woman – is that of gaslighting.

It’s taken me 5 years to find out what Gaslighting is and where it came from. Today’s movie review is of the 1944 film ‘Gaslight‘ Directed by George Cukor.

An atmospheric and foreboding film it stands up extremely well and it is riveting to watch. A lesson in writing and dramatic momentum for many of today’s films.

It begins with a young teenage girl (Paula Alquist) being led away from her London apartment. A dreadful crime has just occurred – her Aunt – a glamorous and famous Opera singer has been strangled to death in the night. Paula, hearing the struggle came down from her bed to discover her Aunt’s body.

Whilst the 14 year old Paula is heir to the property (her parents are dead and her Aunt is her only living relative) she cannot stay and grow up where such a nasty event has occurred.

Fast forward about 8 years and Paula (Ingid Bergman) is trying to forget her past and is training to sing in Italy. Her pianist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) is smitten, apparently, and a whirlwind romance begins between the two.

The happy couple

The happy couple

After their honeymoon Gregory tells Paula of his dream to live in a London apartment – so enraptured is he of the city and and its lifestyle. Paula although deeply troubled at the thought of returning to live in London reluctantly agrees to please Gregory.

He’s charming, attentive and only wants the best for her.

So Gregory and Paula move back into her old apartment which has been boarded up since the murder. Gregory takes control, hiring servants – Angela Lansbury as the insolent Nancy and Barbara Everest as the old and deaf Elizabeth. He gets the place in a livable shape again, and takes great interest in poking around Paula’s Aunts belongings whilst discouraging visitors.

Its about this time that things start to go missing, noises are heard and the lights (gas) flicker up and down as if someone else in the house. Paula – often left alone – becomes incredibly stressed and scared and increasingly dependent upon Gregory.

I'm drowning

I’m drowning

He in turn becomes ever more frustrated at Paula’s inability to do simple things and worries how she will embarrass him in front of company. The servants either can’t hear what is going on or decide to side with Gregory as he seems to have his wits about him.

Isolated and depressed, Paula begins what appears to be a slow descent into madness, whilst the noises, light flickering and mysterious disappearances become more intrusive and frightening.

Has Gregory something to do with Paula’s state of mind, is she really fragile and going mad or is there a more supernatural explanation ?

I won’t say.

What I will say is what a great film this is. Winning the Oscars for best Actress (Ingid Bergman) and Art Direction with a slew of nominations including the 18 y.o. Angela Lansbury for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Nancy the ever-so-close to being insolent maid. Her subtle shifts between sexual promise to her master and cold dismissal of her mistress was riveting.

Stunning, Oscar nominated, debut for Angela Lansbury

Stunning, Oscar nominated, debut for Angela Lansbury

Ingrid Bergman‘s performance is mesmerising, authentic and beautifully fluid – between states of sanity, doubt, terror and desperation.

A great turn also by Dame May Whitty as the busybody Miss Thwaits – desperate to get inside the happy couples home.

The direction and screenplay layer the atmosphere and dread in a remorseless fashion. You identify so strongly with Paula and it seems she has nobody to help her and no resources to call on. A real sense of isolation and terror in the middle of the worlds largest city in her own childhood home.

This film is so good it made its everlasting mark on the English language via the term “Gaslighting”. Also watch this and you’ll be grateful for every ounce of advance in women’s liberation in the last 100 years. Even if you are a man.

10 out of 10, and a special thanks to Wanda for introducing me to this film.

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Categories: Films, Thriller

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2 replies

  1. Great review … Now I have dig up the movie!

  2. Hey thanks Dennis – great film – hope you like it. An interesting thing is that this appears to be a remake of a lesser known 1940 film. Make sure you get the 1944 Ingrid Bergman version.

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