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The Eerie Appeals of Gothic Classic “Rebecca” Still Hold on Today

Roar writer Scarlett Yu reviews Netflix’s latest adaption of classic novel Rebecca.

The modern adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca has quickly taken over Netflix in recent weeks, and contestable discussions over this mind-boggling remake have arose among the vast public. While some conservative critics judged the film with a taste of radical disapproval for how much it departs from the original essence of Rebecca‘s iconic tale, some, whose inclination aligned with representations of modern society, found themselves socially and culturally attached to the perceptive framework constructed in the newest remake of Rebecca. The amount of significance of Rebecca is rather inexplicable primarily because the fictional world that Maurier intends to build stemmed from a mysterious, complex whirlpool of moral questioning and scheme-based relationships. This sense of ambiguity and vagueness that flows throughout the novel is, in fact, the quintessence of Maurier’s gothic tale.

We get to see this ambivalent nature of the book being captured obliquely in a modern perspective through Ben Wheatley’s eye-catching filming techniques. Thus, the modern adaptation of Rebecca serves as a huge, innovative leap from both Alfred Hitchcock’s renowned version and Maurier’s original novel, in a way that it offers new conceptions surrounding Rebecca’s myth as well as an insightful reflection of modern values in the 21st century.

The tale of Rebecca follows the rash marriage between two radically different people, both of whom, though are romantically attracted to each other upon the first glance, are rigidly born in disparate social classes and family backgrounds. The leading male character, known, as Maxim de Winter, is a noble widower whose outer aura, filled immensely with elegance and chivalry, instantly draws the attention of the unnamed female, perceived as the radical representation of innocence and naivety. Though as plain and inconspicuous as she is, like every other girl whose trivial, tiny mind bears huge dreams and aspirations, there’s also a silent place within her mind, crackling with longings and desires for a better, perhaps extravagant future. Thus, when she sees Mr. de Winter, despite being a little bit unassured and frightened at his lofty presence, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to this lonely, striking man. And so, their seemingly fated encounter at Cornwall marks the advent of a twisted romance that will bloom at the depths of a haunted mystery as their ties strengthen and deteriorate along the thrilling events at Mr. de Winter’s imposing mansion of Manderley.

Everything seemed normal at first; the film displays consecutive scenes of the wondrous times that the couple spent together at beautiful sites of Cornwall: enjoying the sunshine at the beach, savouring the historic beauty of the garden, and hopping on exhilarating rides along the ever-stretching coastline. Wheatley creates an image of ordinary warmth and happiness through the depiction of a romantic encounter set at a picturesque landscape. For those who haven’t heard of the story, they think the film would end happily. However, Wheatley makes a dramatic twist: the new Mrs. de Winter arrived at her husband’s towering estate and was suddenly dragged into this secret community of unpleasant reckoning and social constraint. As a normal girl who has lived a life of simplicity and frugality, these material temptations and external stimuli are too much to take in. The sense of being ostracised and despised by the community while struggling to cope with this unfamiliar environment is most obviously reflected in Mrs. de Winter’s position with the people at Menderley, particularly emphasised in the hostile relationship between her and Mrs. Danvers.

A primary factor of Mrs. de Winter’s fall from innocence lies in Mrs. Danvers mischievous antics. As a fetishised worshipper of Rebecca, previous mistress of Manderley, Mrs. Danvers constantly exudes contempt and disapproval for the presence of the new Mrs. de Winter. Her rigorous and imposing status served as a threatening opposition to Mrs. de Winter. While she brings the haunting ghost of Rebecca, who appeared in the film in snapshots, clothed in an elegant red dress, darting along the dark corridors of Manderley, Mrs. Danvers’ deceiving and capricious figure has, in many times, pushed Mrs. de Winter into embarrassing and doomed situations. One of the most notable scenes in the film is when Mrs. de Winter was cruelly instigated to wear a lavishly knitted red dress at the Manderley ball and received a direct insult from her husband. Mrs. Danvers compelled Mrs. de Winter into a harsh reality that no matter how hard she tried to change her attitude or impress Maxim, she will never live up to the social standards and merit of Rebecca.

Throughout the course of these mystic events, Mrs. de Winter is strained and tormented viciously, drained off of any positive form of energy or strength, that essentially leads her to walk on a path of pure malice. As an audience who witnessed the entire story, Mrs. de Winter’s deteriorating transformation was a provoking one because our impression of her may still stick to the guileless, pure nature of her identity. Seeing her fall partially due to Mrs. de Winter’s evoked inferior complexity shows how people could be easily provoked and change due to external disturbances.

As the film hits its climax, the story reveals a shocking truth of Rebecca’s mysterious death. At first, it was preconceived that Rebecca committed suicide by scuttling a boat and letting it flow into the ocean. However, the film uncovers the truth of the event with a startling confession by Maxim who shot the heart of Rebecca, allegedly pregnant with another man’s child. Torn between the risk of damaging his reputation by divorcing and the inability to allow someone, who has no biological relation to him inherit his estate, Maxim unleashed against Rebecca with a serious criminal act. Faced with the astonishing truth, Mrs. de Winter, to many audience’s surprise, chose to stand by his side. What is the reason behind this decision considered immoral by modern society? The film doesn’t disclose this but rather leaves the story with an ambiguous ending of the wronged couple’s departure from this somber, burdened town. Although in the newest version of Mrs. de Winter, we see her bold, confident character outshine all the oppositions against her at Manderley, which creates an intimate resonance with modern representations of women empowerment, her stained morality is certainly in question.

As the film ends ambiguously, the audience is left guessing who the real villain is. Is it Mrs. de Winter, Mrs. Danvers, or Rebecca? All of them have carried out wrongful actions, but with the belief that their decisions and actions are performed for the sake of complying to their central principles. For Mrs. de Winter, is Wheatley suggesting that what she did may be forgivable because she is in part searching for her version of happiness, which is to unconditionally protect her love? No one is certain about it. It still remains and will persistently be an unsolved mystery of Rebecca in the later years to come.

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