There’s not a lot that you can be sure of in this world; we don’t have the power to control the behaviour of others, or to predict the future. But one thing that most people can count on is their own sanity. No matter what, we are always aware of our own thoughts and actions. But what happens when you’re not? What happens when your mind starts playing tricks on you, when you cannot be sure of your own actions, cannot confidently recall events, and become a prisoner in your own head?
Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is a promising opera student, who’s had several years of tutelage since the murder of the aunt who raised her after her mother’s passing. Beautiful, talented, and with a bright future ahead of her (despite the trauma of her past), things take a turn for the worse when she meets Gregory (Charles Boyer). Gregory is a charming older man who manages to not only completely sweep Paula off of her feet, but convince her to give up her burgeoning career in Italy and move to London with him as well. Though she has no family left and no acquaintances in London, she agrees and they move into the town-home left to her by her late aunt.
From the moment the couple settles into their new home, Ingrid starts coming apart at the seams, provoked by strange occurrences around the house. But Gregory convinces her that the noises she hears in the attic, objects disappearing around the house, certain conversations they’ve had, and the gas light she sees flickering nearly every night are all in her head. Gregory’s seclusion of his new wife only exacerbates matters, but he convinces her that it’s best for her mental health that she remain at home, with he and their new maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), soon becoming all that Paula has to depend on. Alone, afraid, and unsure of what is real and what isn’t, Paula is in one of the most terrifying situations that a person could ever imagine, where they can no longer trust themselves and are completely at the mercy of those around them to be truthful.
Gaslight is not only a brilliant psychological thriller, with an extremely talented cast (including an 18-year-old Lansbury in her debut role), but the material itself is thought-provoking, terrifying, and (sadly) relevant long before and after the making of the film and the play which it is based on. In fact, this film is what helped coin the colloquial term gaslighting, a frightening form of psychological abuse that’s both subtle and calculated enough to occur in any relationship dynamic. For Paula, an isolated 1940s wife, and for all of the women who have had to contend with this form of damn near-impossible to prove abuse in a society that sees women as inherently weak (especially psychologically), Gaslight is not just remarkable, but necessary.
I give this one 5 stars.