Yes, Mother, I Am Still A Little Horse: Animal Images in Marnie


Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, a 1964 film starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, was a box-office disappointment for the director. Critics almost universally panned the film; they called it overlong and disparaged its shoddy set design in particular. In recent years, however, it has become the fashion to hail Marnie as a profound psychodrama, brilliant in every respect. It may be going a bit far to celebrate Marnie as a perfect film, but there is much more to see in Marnie than a rather slowly paced analysis of a frigid kleptomaniac. Just one aspect of the film that deserves considerable reflection is the constant use of animal imagery. Hitchcock explored the animal world in many of his movies, especially Psycho and The Birds. Marnie is the culminating film of this experimentation.

Marnie is the story of a lovely young woman who spends her life working under various aliases, staying with her secretarial jobs only long enough for her to work out a plan to rob the place. Marnie is quite successful at this until her newest boss, Mark Rutland, falls in love with her and figures out her secret. Mark blackmails Marnie into marrying him, without realizing that along with her kleptomania Marnie has a deep-rooted fear of sex. He then devotes himself to finding a cure for Marnie’s problems. Mark delves into Marnie’s past, despite her reluctance, and finally discovers the source of her psychoses.

Certainly, Marnie is a flawed film . The psychological aspects of the movie are of questionable veracity, and Mark himself is not the hero that the movie often presents him as. But it is still a compelling, powerful, often disturbing film that rewards careful thought and intelligent consideration.

Hitchcock says in the original movie trailer for Marnie that it is the story of "two very interesting human specimens." That’s not the usual way directors speak of their protagonists, certainly; he sounds more like a scientist than a film director. His attitude toward his characters mimics Mark’s toward Marnie: he looks on her as a sort of case study. The curious thing is that Mark is not a psychologist—he is a businessman, whose hobby is zoology. Marnie is concerned with zoological issues from beginning to end, and Marnie herself is inexplicably involved with animals, especially horses.

Marnie’s first scene with her horse, Forio, takes on special meaning because it is so unexpected. The last thing we expect to see Marnie do after stealing $9,967 is visit her horse, but the scene leading up to it has the smoothness that is associated with long custom. This has been her routine for a long time. Marnie’s words to her horse ("Oh, Forio, if you want to bite somebody, bite me!") show that she has a deep affection for the animal, and that she enjoys her exclusive possession of him. She leaps onto the horse and gallops off, looking very much younger with her free-flowing hairstyle. She rides through a landscape that is very obviously the product of a studio back-projection machine. This is surely not just sloppiness from such a celebrated director. The effect of the unreal backdrop is to emphasize that this is Marnie’s fantasy world. Her escape on the horse symbolizes Marnie’s escape from the life of Marion Holland, a known thief, back into the life of Margaret Edgar, successful, devoted daughter of Bernice Edgar. Part of Marnie’s fantasy with Forio is that she always becomes a child again; she lets her hair loose from its sophisticated styles, and her riding clothes are white and cream in contrast with the drab colors she wears to the office, and in particular with the black coat she wears during the theft at Rutland’s.

Marnie is in the rebirth process again, ridding herself this time of Mary Taylor, when Mark discovers her at the stables. Her dismay is from more than fear at having been caught, for the robbery of Rutland’s is already far in Marnie’s past and it’s almost as if it was another woman entirely who committed the theft. The real shock is at seeing Mark there at Garrod’s, since he has no place in Marnie’s fantasy world. Mark is a man from Mary Taylor’s past—he has nothing to do with Margaret Edgar. Mark then destroys Marnie’s fantasy completely when he tells Marnie to walk and mounts Forio himself. He has taken from her the one thing that helps her to escape her pathetic reality.

Mark redeems himself of this offense, at least, when after their marriage he brings Forio to Marnie. She suddenly shows a spark of life that we haven't seen since she was apprehended, as she kisses the horse and rides away, bareback. Mark has given her back the fantasy, and she is quite ready to forget that she is now Margaret Rutland, a woman who is to Marnie a disconcerting mixture of Margaret Edgar and the thieving Mary Taylor. Previously the thief, Marion Holland or whoever, was another person entirely—and Margaret Edgar was not a thief. Now, in Margaret Rutland, she cannot fully escape from either identity—that is, until Forio arrives, and she becomes simply a woman and her horse again.

The complete and final destruction of Marnie’s fantasy life occurs in the hunt scene. She is dressed in black for the hunt, instead of the pale riding clothes she usually wears—a foreshadowing of the fact that this ride is not going to help Marnie regain her innocence. Marnie is appalled by the bloodlust shown by the other riders, has a red crisis, and takes off on Forio, as her hair falls out of its tight style in her familiar attempt at escaping reality. But somehow, this time escape is impossible. By attempting to pull back from the stone wall, Marnie doubts her horse for the first time, and Forio fails her in return when he doesn’t clear the wall. They both tumble to the ground; Marnie is shaken, but unhurt. Forio is writhing on the ground, letting out horrible screams, as Marnie runs to the house to get a gun. Marnie’s sister-in-law Lil, who was galloping after her, shows her first sign of compassion as she begs Marnie to let someone else shoot the horse. Lil clearly has seen how important the horse is to Marnie; she asks her not to shoot Forio not because it’s a man’s duty (she offers to do it herself), but to spare Marnie.

With Forio gone, Marnie tries to use her alternate fantasy life as an escape: she goes back to Rutland’s to steal the money she meant to take before, as if by so doing she can erase the memory of the past few months. She is physically incapable of stealing the money, however, because her fantasy life is gone.

Marnie’s dealings with the animal world go even beyond Marnie’s relationship with Forio. Marnie herself is constantly being compared to animals. The scene in Mark’s office is rich in these comparisons, but oddly, Marnie is contrasted with a predatory female. She is not a sexual predator, as one might say Mark is, but she certainly fits in with his description of predators as the criminal class of animals. Marnie is then identified with Mark’s pet jaguarandi:

Mark: I trained her myself.

Marnie: What did you train her to do?

Mark: To trust me.

Marnie: Is that all?

Mark: It’s a great deal… for a jaguarandi.

Clearly, this is what Mark is hoping to do with Mary Taylor, and, later, with Marnie.

On the drive home, Mark and Marnie begin to discuss horses and racing. After Mark invites Marnie to the racetracks, she asks him if he’s fond of horses, to which he replies, "No, not at all." His comment serves both to clue the audience into the fact that he’s fallen for Marnie, and that Marnie, who is spiritually a horse, is not the sort of woman he usually goes for.

At the track, of course, the horse images continue. On hearing that she doesn’t believe in luck, Mark asks Marnie what she does believe in. She replies vehemently, "Nothing! Oh, horses, maybe; at least they’re beautiful, and nothing whatever like people." Marnie is, of course, beautiful; and evidently, she would like to think of herself as different from other people. With her remark Marnie reveals not only her distrust of people, but her dislike of the human qualities she cannot help displaying. This odd reply gives Mark his first inkling that Marnie’s problems go beyond her strange behavior at his office.

Marnie’s third "red crisis" occurs at the track, when she sees a jockey in a riding habit covered in large red polka dots. These crises do not occur every time she sees the color; always, extenuating circumstances exacerbate her reaction. The first instance, triggered by the gladioli, occurred near the original spot of the murder; the second was caused by the red ink on her blouse, which looked to her like the blood on the sailor’s shirt; and this third occurrence was set off primarily by Marnie’s nervousness over being recognized, but also by the betrayal she feels at seeing a horse involved with the offending color.

The weekend after the races close, Mark brings Marnie to his family home. By this time, Mark has clearly accepted Marnie as an animal—specifically, of course, as a horse. When Marnie appears nervous at meeting Mark’s father, he reassures her: "You’re all right. Dad goes by scent. If you smell anything like a horse, you’re in." Marnie does not literally smell like a horse, of course; Mr. Rutland is expected to like her because, aside from her interest in horses, she is like a horse. On introducing Marnie to Mr. Rutland, Mark actually denies that she is human:

Mr. Rutland: A girl, is it!

Mark: It’s all right, Dad, she’s not really a girl—she’s a horse fancier.

Mr. Rutland then questions Marnie’s attraction to Mark: "Certainly can’t find old Mark very interesting. Doesn’t hunt, doesn’t even ride." Mr. Rutland has, like Mark and the audience, recognized that Marnie is not really Mark’s type. Mark appears quite eager to change, however, and even chooses the stable as the setting for their first real kiss. Marnie pretends to enjoy the embrace, but her distaste becomes clear when the audience glimpses her expression. Mark himself realizes that he hasn’t charmed Marnie completely, and he offers the family horses as bait to get her to keep seeing him.

But the next Saturday, of course, Marnie isn’t available: she’s back at Garrod’s, erasing Mary Taylor from her memory with Forio’s help, when Mark intrudes and makes one of the film’s most blatant references to Marnie as a horse:

Marnie: You said you didn’t trust horses.

Mark: I don’t, but they trust me—which brings us directly to our relationship, Miss Edgar.

Marnie is supposed, expected, to trust him; he is angry that she does not.

The next few scenes, in which Mark is driving Marnie back to Wickwood, contain a great deal of clever writing and have particular emphasis on animal references. Mark has begun to undergo some character dissolve: he compares himself to an animal for the first time, as he explains his plan for marrying Marnie. There won’t be any problem with Mr. Rutland, Mark says, because his father "admires wholesome animal lust." (Hitchcock himself, in the movie’s trailer, says as he narrates the rape scene that sometimes he isn’t sure which of the characters is the wild animal.) Mark seems determined to treat Marnie as an animal; by this time he isn’t even subtle about it, as we hear in what is probably the most famous exchange from the movie:

Marnie: You don’t love me! I’m something you’ve caught! You think I’m some kind of animal you’ve trapped!

Mark: Yes, and I’ve caught something really wild this time, haven’t I? I’ve tracked you and caught you and by God, I’m going to keep you!

As with his jaguarandi, Mark has trapped Marnie, and now he wants to teach her to trust him—just as if she was an animal. "I’ll just go on calling you Marnie," he says, "that’s easily explained—pet name."

On the honeymoon, Mark seems anxious to identify Marnie with one of the exotic animals that is his specialty. By discovering just what sort of animal she is, he feels he would know better how to control her behavior. He tells Marnie at length about a certain species of insect, evidently hoping for some response from her: "In Kenya, there is quite a beautiful flower… rather like a hyacinth. If you should reach out to touch it, you would discover that the flower is not a flower at all, but a design made up of hundreds of tiny insects called phatid bugs. They escape the eyes of hungry birds by living and dying in the shape of a flower."

The audience recognizes at once that this is a hopeful Mark’s rather idealistic, romantic view of Marnie. She is evidently not taken with his comparison, however, since in a later scene he remarks that "I’m boning up on marine life, since entomology doesn’t seem to be your subject, and I want very much to find a subject, Marnie." He wants her to be an exotic creature, but Marnie is still adamantly identifying herself with horses. When she and Mark return to Wickwood, she telephones her mother and explains that her failure to write was due to a bad case of the flu. Marnie speaks in a low voice to avoid being overheard, and excuses this with a line that is too fitting to be mere coincidence: "Yes, Mother, I am still a little hoarse." Despite her incrimination, marriage, and rape, Marnie can still escape to the safe world of horses.

Once Marnie kills Forio, however, she has destroyed her horse-self, and is left with nothing but her human-self, which is pitifully under-developed. From this point on, Marnie is referred to only as a person, usually a young girl. It will be some time before she matures into a woman who is as adult as the Marnie who was destroyed. The end of the movie is optimistic that the new adult Marnie will be whole and real, instead of the illusion she was at the beginning of Marnie.

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