“Gas Light” is the title of a tense, atmospheric film by American director George Cukor. It was released in Italy in 1944 with the title “Angoscia”.
The movie is a psychological drama on relational perversion, masterfully played by Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for her superb interpretation, and Charles Boyer, as Gregory Anton, the man for whom she falls in love.
Other notable performers are Joseph Cotten, as Brian Cameron, a detective from Scotland Yard, and eighteen year old Angela Lansbury as Nancy Oliver, the young maid.
The drama is set in a Victorian London. Main characters are the newlywed Paula Alquist Anton and Gregory Anton.
The two meet in Italy where Paula moved after the shock of the brutal murder of her aunt, Alice Alquist, a famous opera singer. Her husband succeeds in convincing her to return to London and to move into the house where she lived with her aunt, but soon things take a wrong turn.
Gregory becomes a despot who forbids her to leave the house and to have contact with other people, declaring at the same time to be deeply in love with her, beginning an insidious process of devaluation of Paula’s personality, making her extremely insecure and dependent, doubting her own perceptions.
Paula finds a letter addressed to her aunt in a drawer signed by “Sergio Bauer”, dated two days before the murder, but Gregory rips it brutally out from her hands.
He begins to manipulate the environment, hiding some paintings and accusing her for the disappearances; he gives her a brooch and then takes it back secretly, driving her insane; he leaves the house every night through the front door but enters it again through the back door to check, undisturbed, the rooms in the attic in the frantic search of the famous hidden jewels of Aunt Paula, scaring her with the disturbing sound of his footsteps.
He lowers the gas lights of the house (hence the title of the film, Gas Light), strongly denying to having done so and accusing her, driving her insane.
Gregory’s diabolical plan is finalized to put Paula in a mental hospital in order to search, undisturbed, for Aunt Alice’s priceless jewels, the reason for the murder; Gregory Anton is indeed Sergio Bauer, the author of the letter found by Paula and the murderer of Alice Alquist.
Moved by the strange behavior of Paula, detective Brian Cameron from Scotland Yard, man of great genius, realizes everything and finally finds a way to get into the house. He tells Paula that she is not crazy and that the steps that she keeps hearing from the attic are definitely not in her mind, but it’s Sergio Bauer who’s looking for the jewels.
After a brief scuffle with Gregory the detective ties him to a chair and Paula talks to him for the last time. When he asks her to give him another chance, she asks the detective to take him away forever.
Now Paula is aware of being mentally healthy, and is finally free to start a new life.
The term “gaslighting” owes its origin to the movie “Gas Light” and has been used in clinical and research literature, scientifically classified as a refined, subtle form of mental violence.
Paula’s gaslighter is her husband Gregory, when he says: “I’m sorry if you’re not comfortable and are imagining things …”.
This is the paradox of the manipulator (the gaslighter is the king of paradoxes): the victim becomes an unwitting accomplice of the perpetrator, not only because she doesn’t succeed to get rid of him, but because she doesn’t want to.
The victim strongly believes that her abuser is the only one who can save her.
This happens in case of pathological relationship, where the victim develops an emotional dependence on her gaslighter, starting to believe that the abuser’s perception of reality is the correct one, permitting him to annihilate her personality.
At the same time, being an extraordinary manipulator who deeply cares about appearances, he’s seen from the outside as a loving and friendly person, who will never hurt his victim in public.
The victim is convinced that she could never live without him, because no one else could love her the way he does.
As happens in the movie and in real life, only those who realize what is going on can help the victim to escape from the perverse gaslighter.
For him, the victim is just a mirror, a beautiful mirror in which to be reflected.