An Alaysis of the Final Scenes of Alfred Hictcock\'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 situations.

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