Rebecca (1940)


A young woman marries a rich Englishman after a whirlwind courtship, and she returns home with him to his country estate, where they are both haunted by memories of his first wife, Rebecca

Rebecca (1940)

Rated PG

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock    Production Company: Selznick Pictures

Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson

A young woman marries a rich Englishman after a whirlwind courtship, and she returns home with him to his country estate, where they are both haunted by memories of his first wife, Rebecca

Opening Thoughts

I first saw this movie probably about twenty years ago when I was doing a big Hitchcock binge. I had been given a giant boxed set of DVDs of his films, and I think this was one of them. I felt the film was sort of slow moving, it definitely wasn’t my favorite Hitchcock movie (that would be Rear Window). But I was very impressed with the way the film played up the icky manipulations of Mrs. Danvers, and found myself really being able to sympathize with the shy Mrs. DeWinter. When I was trying to pin down a film for October, I felt like God was telling me to give this one a re-watch, so here we go!

Spoilers For Rebecca Start Here!

A young woman is visiting Monte Carlo as a lady’s companion to the stuffy Mrs. Van Hopper, a relentless social climber. While there, she meets the rich but mysterious Maxim DeWinter, and begins spending time with him. After merely a few weeks’ time, he proposes, she accepts, and he brings her to his English ancestral home, Manderley.

At Manderly, the new Mrs. DeWinter meets the staff, including the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was a personal maid to Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. Rebecca’s presence is felt all over the estate, as all of her possessions are kept just as they were, and the house orders continue to be carried out as Rebecca had wished.

The newlyweds’ marriage begins to fray at the edges from the unceasing reminders of Rebecca, and the fact that Maxim refuses to speak of her. Mrs. Danvers begins to exert unhealthy influence over Mrs. DeWinter, constantly telling her she will never measure up to Rebecca, and that Maxim will always be comparing her to his first wife. She even subtly insinuates that it would be better for Mrs. DeWinter to commit suicide and leave Maxim alone with his happy memories of his original marriage.

The discovery of Rebecca’s sunken boat in the bay is what ironically brings healing to the couple, as Maxim reveals that he hated Rebecca, and was never happy with her. Rebecca’s cousin and lover, Favell, accuses Maxim of murdering Rebecca while she was pregnant with his child from their affair, and Maxim faces a coroner’s inquest. However, Rebecca’s health records show that she was not pregnant, but instead dying of cancer. She goaded Maxim into trying to kill her so that she would not have to go through months of pain and illness, but during their argument she slipped and hit her head, dying instantly. Maxim, in a moment of panic, put her body on her boat and sank it.

Maxim, now exonerated, returns to Manderly, only to find it in flames. Mrs. DeWinter and the staff escape safely, but Mrs. Danvers, who started the fire, perishes in the blaze rather than live any longer without her beloved Rebecca.

So What Did God Show Me?

-I love how Maxim loves Mrs. DeWinter just as she is from the beginning, a clumsy, shy, mousy young thing. She doesn’t have to do anything to improve herself to earn his love. In fact she can’t even really believe that he does love her at first…when he is proposing she thinks it’s because he wants a new secretary! But Maxim doesn’t want to lose her and so asks her to marry him so they can be together forever..

It sort of feels like that with God, sometimes, doesn’t it? We start finding out about Him, and He extends the offer of relationship to us, invites us into intimacy with Him, and we can’t really believe it, that the Lord of the Universe would have any interest in little old us! He must want us a servant, yes, that’s it, after all, doesn’t the Scripture say He’s looking for ones who would serve Him faithfully? (Matthew 25:21) But God does love us, so much that He was willing to die for us so that we could be together forever with Him. It does kind of bend your brain when you’re first getting to know God…this amazing Person that you don’t know very well wants you, all of messy you, forever!

-It’s fairly easy to tell that Mrs. DeWinter has probably never been showered with so much love and abundance in her life. She does share that she came from a loving relationship with her father, but that they never had much money. Now that she’s with Maxim, who is crazy rich, she’s getting whole bouquets of flowers, clothing, an estate…money is no longer an object. She has to wonder if she’s worth all the money and attention that Maxim is giving her.

I think we think that too, at least, I know I have. God has showered me with countless blessings my whole life, some that were very apparent and some that were smaller, more intimate gestures. Why, just yesterday, in my prayer time with God, I felt Him ask me, “Sarah, how would you like me to show my love to you?” My brain sort of went into stutter-stammer mode as my immediate reaction was, “Oh, Lord, no, really. I’m fine, I don’t need anything.” But I felt Him ask again, more gently but firmly, “Sarah, how would you like me to show my love for you?” It really made me stop and think, because the root of my first reaction of refusal was a fear of putting God out, that I wasn’t worth what He wanted to pour out on me.

My second reaction was, what if I asked for something and it was too much? Would God see me as selfish, and rescind His offer? Like, “Oh geez, Sarah, you want WHAT? No, I’m sorry, that’s way too big. I was trying to be nice, but that’s taking advantage of my good nature. It’s not all about you, you know.” No!! God is a God of unlimited resources, who delights in us as His children, and loves, just adores to give good gifts to us, with no strings attached.

-When Mrs. DeWinter asks Mrs. Danvers and others about Rebecca, they are quick to extoll her virtues: Rebecca wasn’t afraid of anything, she had beauty, wit, intelligence. In contrast, Mrs. DeWinter is afraid of everything, all the time, and she doesn’t see herself as beautiful, witty, or intelligent. So often we see our faults, perceived or otherwise, as gigantic and looming, and that we are just a useless garbage person. And just as often, we DON’T see our positive traits, the things that make us the wonderful unique people we are. Mrs. DeWinter may not be the most beautiful woman, or the wittiest, or most intelligent, but she has things Rebecca never possessed: kindness, sincerity, modesty, and faithfulness. Maxim himself says Rebecca was incapable of love, tenderness, or decency. Some wonderful things about me are my generous heart, my humor, and my excitement about life. (I say these things with humbleness because they are things God and others have told me they love about me.)

-Mrs. DeWinter listens to Maxim’s sister Beatrice and Mrs. Danvers when they say Maxim likes a certain kind of hairstyle and clothing on a woman. She tries to change her hair and dress because she’s been told Maxim will like it better than the way she dresses now. But when Maxim asks why on earth she’s wearing a certain dress and that it’s not her style at all, she feels ridiculous. She even changes her costume idea for the ball because Mrs. Danvers encourages her to, which ends up enraging Maxim because it was a copy of a dress Rebecca had once worn.

In the past I’ve tried to change things about myself when I was attracted to certain guys because I thought they would like me better if I did. Surprise! Yeah, that never worked. Again, God never wants us to be anyone but ourselves with Him. He can gently poke us and be all, “Hey. I love your hair and your face and so much more, everything about you. You don’t have to change a thing, so stop posing at me.”

-Mrs. DeWinter breaks a small statue, and is terrified of getting in trouble, so she hides it, and only confesses to the truth when a servant is accused of stealing it. Maxim is irritated with her, not because she broke the statue, but because she hid it and didn’t tell anyone about it. As mistress of the estate she owns everything she sees, so why should she worry if she breaks something?

Oh, I was feeling Mrs. D on this one. I remember once for Christmas I had gotten a brand new pair of corduroy slacks that I was wearing for the first time, and my mom very specifically told me to be careful in them and not get them dirty. Well, my brother and I were playing in the backyard, and sure enough didn’t I fall and rip the slacks open right across the knee. Yup, first time wearing them and I trashed ‘em good haha. I was terrified of telling my mother so I pulled my shirt down to cover them, but of course I couldn’t hide it forever and she found out. I can’t remember exactly, but I think her reaction was somewhere along the lines of rolling her eyes and sighing exasperatedly.

It’s funny how little incidents like that can really affect aspects of our relationship with God. I felt like I couldn’t receive good things from Him because I’d just ruin them somehow, that I couldn’t be trusted with nice things. When He’d bless me with a gift of money, I was afraid to spend it because what if I wasted it on something frivolous when I should be putting it to something more important? He’d think I wasted His gift and not give me more because I couldn’t take care of what He DID give me. It took me a long time to realize that while, yes, God desires for us to be good stewards of what He gives us, He also gives to us because He loves to give good gifts to His children! And he knows the right gifts to give us as well, things we can enjoy, gifts that will bless us. He also knows the times and seasons for when certain gifts are right to give. For instance, I’m still single, waiting on that gift of a husband, but I trust that God understands me better than I do myself, and if I’m not married yet, then He has good reasons for it.

-I like it when Mrs. DeWinter finally starts to grow a little bit of a spine. She tells Mrs. Danvers to get rid of all Rebecca’s things, and Mrs. Danvers is of course horrified, saying “But those are Mrs. DeWinter’s things!”, to which she responds “I am Mrs. DeWinter now!” Yes! She is stepping into her identity as Maxim’s wife, and when she realizes just who she is, she is able to take hold of the authority that comes with that recognition of identity, and asserts it on Mrs. Danvers.

We can do this with the enemy! Once we start to realize and accept just who we are in God, that we are His sons and daughters, priests and priestesses of His house, and that we have all authority through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice, well, we can send the enemy packing. He has no right to harass us, and if we resist him, he will flee. (James 4:7)

-I wonder what Maxim must have felt like, having lived so long with someone who actively hated him and having to pretend that they were madly in love, because everyone loved her so much. Unfortunately, Maxim did make sort of a devil’s deal with Rebecca, she offered him a perfect deal on the surface, pretty, loving wife, beautiful house with lots of parties, but in return he had to deal with the fact that she was committing adultery with every guy she could get her hands on and actively mocked and taunted him with it. Perhaps Maxim felt he wasn’t worthy of love, either, because of the way Rebecca treated. Maybe he had come to believe no one would ever love him, and that he was incapable of love himself.

Imagine the freedom, the incredible, earth shattering freedom he and his second wife were able to receive when he finally told her the truth-that he hated Rebecca, and had never loved her. With those words, all lies and the power Rebecca’s memory had held over the couple was broken. Mrs. DeWinter finally understood that her husband truly loved her just as she was, and Maxim finally dares to believe that he has a wife who truly loves him and will stand with him and support him when he needs it. They are able to find strength in their love for each other to face the storms they must deal with at the end of the movie.

-I think it’s such a cheap shot that Rebecca knew she was going to die and egged Maxim on to kill her so she could avoid her illness and pain. I can understand someone not wanting to go through all of that, but I hate that she felt her only option was one of cowardice and selfishness, that if she’s going to die she’s going to take Maxim down with her. She doesn’t even want to die with dignity, just giving up and letting Maxim go, no, she’d rather have him kill her and go to jail for murder, as long as she gets what she wants, one last time.

How like the enemy. He knows what his future is, he knows what awaits him. So if he has to go, he’s not going alone, he’s going to take as many of us with him as he can. Stupid enemy.

Closing Thoughts

This seemed like the perfect re-watch for a gloomy, late-fall evening, and I’m glad I did. God really showed me a lot about how easy it is to let the enemy speak to our fears about ourselves, that we’ll never measure up, that we’ll never be the perfect Christian he wants us to be. How easy it is to compare ourselves to others, and how He must love them so much more than us, no matter how hard we try to please Him.

I hope and pray that this movie inspires you to take a look at your life, like I did, and see those places, and reject the enemy’s lies over your life. God loves you just as you are, right now, as the “funny, lost” person you are. He chose you, not because you were the prettiest, the smartest, or the cleverest, but simply because He loved you, just as you are! And that is NEVER going to change, no matter how many priceless statues you smash.

Links I Like

Rebecca (the original 1940 Hitchcock version): 

Rebecca (the 1979 BBC version): 

Rebecca (the 1997 TV miniseries version): 

Rebecca (trailer for the 2020 Netflix remake): 

The Making of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940): 

How have you rejected the enemy’s lies over your life in the past? Do you struggle with knowing that God loves you just as you are? Drop your thoughts in the comments!


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