What’s the difference between love and obsession? How can you tell if you’re in the throes of one versus the other? Can obsession become love? Can love become obsession?
These questions are at the heart of the 1944 noir film Laura. While it explores all of them fairly thoroughly, it does not provide any definitive answers. Instead, it seems to present obsession and love as two sides of the same coin, never far apart.
The New York Police Department tasks Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) with investigating the murder of a high-society working girl, advertising whiz Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). Like any good detective, he collects clues, interviews those who knew the deceased, and follows up on any hunches he might have.
Everyone he interviews professes to have loved Laura. They are all confused how anyone could have wanted her dead, much less murdered her. Yet, the body found on the floor of her apartment, clad in a negligee and shot at close range in the face, proves at least one person in New York City did not love Laura Hunt. Perhaps they were obsessed with her, and their obsession took a deadly turn.
As he investigates her murder, McPherson becomes more than a little obsessed with the dead woman himself. Everyone who knew her tells him how elegant and sophisticated, yet sweet and kind Laura was. She was intelligent and had exquisite taste, helped her out-of-work boyfriend find a job at her advertising firm, was always polite and friendly to her maid, and dazzled the entire world. How could anyone help himself from falling in love with her, even in her permanent absence?
It seems no one can resist Laura’s charm, even after she’s dead, not even McPherson, a working-class snob who calls women ‘dames’ and looks down his nose at his wealthy suspects because they live in expensive apartments surrounded by beautiful things. The only person he interviews that he appears to respect is her maid Bessie (Dorothy Adams), a working-class woman who practically worshiped her employer. Bessie and McPherson get off to a rocky start, but once he stops casting aspersions on Laura and starts listening to Bessie, they get along fine.
McPherson may be a reverse elitist, but when it comes to the murdered woman, all his prejudices go out the window. He doesn’t mind that her apartment is expensive, her things beautiful, her furniture and clothing in the best taste. That just makes him more fascinated with her. So fascinated that he spends the night in her apartment, going through her clothes and personal possessions, drinking her alcohol, and staring at her portrait. He even puts in a bid on her portrait when he learns it will be sold at auction.
You can’t fall in love with a dead person you’ve never met, but you can become obsessed with them. Maybe even as obsessed as the person who killed her so she could never be someone else’s. McPherson almost gets so lost in his own yearning for this woman he’s never known that he stops investigating her murder… but only almost. In the end, he finds the killer, and even gets a chance at actual love, the kind that could replace his unhealthy obsession with Laura.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Kovaciny’s western fairy tale retelling novels “Cloaked” and “Dancing & Doughnuts” are now available in paperback and Kindle editions. Learn more about her at her author website, rachelkovaciny.com