- Definition of ‘GASLIGHTING’ :
“GASLIGHTING is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or groups ,in order to make them question their own memory, perception or sanity.”
The term originates from the 1938 play, GASLIGHT and the 1940 and 1944 film versions.
The expression apparently came into use in the 1960s, as a descriptor in medical circles for a deliberate attempt to cause a victim to question their sense of reality.
Psychological mind games is at the heart of “Gaslight”, and in the 1944 MGM film, the manipulator is played with subtlety and icy coolness by CHARLES BOYER.
If you haven’t seen this film which won INGRID BERGMAN her first Oscar, you are missing a nail-biting ,suffocatingly claustrophobic thriller!
Set in Victorian London, Ingrid Bergman plays a young heiress who is wooed and won by Charles Boyer who then insists they live in the old mansion where her aunt was murdered a decade earlier.
It becomes obvious she can be easily influenced, especially by the man she adores, and his evil plan starts to evolve.
(The reason behind it all is that Boyer’s character is obsessed by the missing priceless jewels of the murdered aunt and is convinced they are hidden in the house attic or elsewhere in the house.
By driving his wife mad and having her put away, he’ll control her fortune and have free access all round the house.)
When Ingrid sees the gas light dimming in her room, it is because Boyer has turned on the attic light, reducing the flow of gas downstairs . She hears noises and footsteps from above, but Boyer and the two servants ( Angela Lansbury and Barbara Everest ) don’t believe her.
Each time it happens, Boyer has left the house, and her light brightens again when he returns. ( The attic has been closed off and contains all the aunt’s belongings. He has found a way to get into it secretly through an adjoining deserted house.)
Slowly and surely, he begins to question her memory. Little items disappear , a brooch, a picture on the wall. He is concerned to begin with , saying, “You’ve been forgetful lately,losing things.” , or “I hope you’re not starting to imagine things again.”
Eventually, he drops all pretence of concern, not allowing any visitors, or letting her leave the house. The isolation adds to her misery. Not helped by the young maid (a marvellous Angela Lansbury) who openly despises her.
She disintegrates before our eyes- until finally ( thank goodness!) someone believes her. That someone is JOSEPH COTTEN who plays a policeman who knows the history of her aunt’s murder.
When he gains access to the house and starts talking to her, the lights dim and he says, “The gas just went down.” And she replies, “You saw it too.”
At last, she begins to feel sane again.
The last half hour of the film feels a bit rushed as Cotten quickly establishes the truth , telling her, “You’re slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind.”
When Boyer is finally caught and Ingrid asks for a moment alone with him before they take him away, he still feels he has power over her, saying, “Help me,Paula. Give me another chance.”
He tells her to get a knife from the drawer to cut him free. She gets the knife but says to him, “Are you suggesting this is a knife I hold in my hand? – I’m always losing things, hiding things….”
She’s coming to her senses at last, and he is taken away by the police after half-heartedly apologising to her, blaming his obsession with the jewels.
I haven’t given away the whole plot, just most of it! ( The jewels are found and the mystery of the aunt’s murder is solved.)
The film had seven Oscar nominations, including Boyer and Lansbury . David Selznick loaned Ingrid Bergman to MGM, but insisted they use another of his contractees, Joseph Cotten.
I had never heard the term ‘gaslighting’ until a few days ago when a U.S. commentator used it in reference to President Trump!
Fake news and all that.
Joseph Cotten, Ingrid Bergman, director George Cukor.