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Throughout the film, suspense is built up until the very end. There are various methods of building suspense, such as the character positioning, background noise and use of shadows. The film centres on George Fortesque Maximillion Dewinter, who is known as Max, and his new wife, whose Christian name is never discovered in the film. Also featuring is the spirit of Maxs’ dead wife Rebecca, whose spirit seems to haunt him at his stately home of Manderley, which is situated in the south of England.
There are two key scenes in the film, one which has Max and his wife watching projector footage of their honeymoon, and a scene where Max’s new wife almost commits suicide. In the projector scene, there are just two people who mainly feature. They are Max and his wife, watching footage of their honeymoon on a projector. The scene begins with the new Mrs. Dewinter closing an issue of “Beauty,” the magazine for smart women, according to the cover. Mrs. Dewinter closes the magazine, which lied open at a design of a dress.
The camera looks up, and the viewer sees Mrs.Dewinter admiring herself, wearing the same dress as featured in the magazine, and with her hair dropped and in a new curled style. Max is stood in a dark room, preparing the projector, when his wife walks in. “You look very nice – for a change,” comments Max in a very patronising way. Its strange why Max then explains to Mrs. Dewinter how there really is no need to be changed into a nice outfit, when he himself is wearing what seems to be a tuxedo or dinner suit. The two of them then sit down in the dark and watch their honeymoon footage which was taken by Max, because it you mainly see his new wife more than him.
They sit there reminiscing about how happy they were after their wedding, but then the projector breaks, as if it were their fragile happiness simply breaking apart as the atmosphere of Manderley gets to them both. As Max is setting about attempting to repair the projector, Cliff, one of the butlers enters the room.
He informs Max of a minor fracas upstairs, where Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, is accusing Robert, a servant, of stealing a china cherub ornament that was in fact broken by Mrs.Dewinter by accident in her morning room. Mrs. Danvers then comes in, explaining the events. Max sits down, and all the characters seem to be on the same level of height. After Mrs. Danvers has left the room, Mrs. Dewinter guiltily explains how it was she that broke the ornament, and that she was terribly sorry for what has happened. She then goes on to say how she doesn’t feel as if she can ever fit in at Manderley, and how people look down on her. In the light that he is in at that moment, Max actually looks quite evil.
She then mentions gossip going round about her and Max, which is the exact point when Max lets his temper fly. “What gossip? ” He demands from his wife, “What have they been saying about me? ” This confuses his wife very much, and she starts to quiver and get all nervous. Max is now towering above her, and through the use of what may be props, Mrs. Dewinter seems to have shrunk. With the light from the projector still flickering, it seems to give more to the angriness about Max, whilst it gives more nervousness and vulnerability to the face of his wife, with tears streaming down her face.
Max calms down after his fit of rage, questioning whether it was good judgement to marry his wife and take her away from all her young friends, but Mrs. Dewinter says that she loves him, and she knows that they can make their marriage work. The way that Max towers over his wife in this scene seems to emphasise how much he also towers over her mentally, as well as physically. This makes her very fragile and vulnerable. It seems that maybe a physical heightening of Max, which seemed to happen in this scene, must also show a heightening in anger.
Max turns back to the projector, putting his wife in the dark, which is exactly what he is doing. In the light, Max has half his face lit up, showing his dark side. A dark side indeed does Max have, and that’s exactly what his wife is in the dark about, because she does not know his deep secret about Rebecca. The two of them then sit back down to watch the projector footage, sadly reminiscing in silence. The scene then ends with stringed music, as the two sit down beside the projector, him on the right, and her on the left.