What is odd and unusual about the opening of the film and what purpose does it serve?
The film opens in Waldo Lydecker’s expensively decorated penthouse apartment with the camera lingering for just a few seconds on a certain clock. Waldo’s voiceover narration situates this as his memory of the first time Det. McPherson has arrived to ask questions in his investigation of Laura’s death. The narration also mentions that the clock is a two-of-a-kind with the other still located in the dead Laura’s apartment. The unusual thing, of course, is that the film actually draws attention to what will turn out to be the key object in unlocking the mystery of who killed Laura. The downright odd thing is that Waldo’s narration situates this opening as a memory. Remember, Waldo is dead at the end of the story. When, exactly, is he supposed to be recalling it? And to whom? And to what purpose? The filmmakers have a clear purpose. The opening scene is a masterpiece of irony in showing not just the murderer, but the hiding place of the weapon while at the same time clouding suspicion of Waldo since his narration does not telegraph the end such as the similar dead or dying narrators of Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.
How essential is the flashback structure to the film?
Absolutely vital. The story could not be told in a more chronologically linear fashion without losing the mood and atmosphere which underlines its compelling strangeness of a man slowly falling in love with a dead girl. From the lyrics of the theme song to the portrait of Laura to the puzzle put together by McPherson through the multiple perspectives of witnesses, the strangeness is dependent upon Laura not being completely real. She is not an illusion, to be sure, but something more akin to an image recalled from a dream. If the story were told in a present-tense fashion in which the audience comes to know Laura objectively rather than subjectively, it would be impossible to connect so strongly to McPherson as learns about her. Without the flashback, the strengths that make Laura something more than a murder mystery would collapse.
How can Laura be read as an acceptably mainstream examination of necrophilia?
For half the movie, Det. McPherson has no reason at all not to believe that Laura Hunt is a dead woman. She is, to put it bluntly: a corpse. Physically speaking, that is. And yet it is quite clear from his increasingly aggressive and even jealous attitude he develops toward Waldo and Shelby that he is falling in with her. Of course, in reality he is falling in love with the image he has pieced together from what he learns about her which can be all the more effective tied to the representation of her predeceased physical attractiveness forever frozen in a moment of glorious youth in the large painting decorating her apartment. Symbolically, however, as many critics have pointed out, the film relentlessly on narrative trajectory toward consummation. One way of reading the surprise return of Laura in the flesh, in fact, is that it is McPherson pushed to the point lust for a dead woman that recreates her in the in the flesh entirely within his mind. Which is to say that the pursuit of love has take primal importance over the pursuit of a killer for McPherson and since the crime essentially seem unsolvable, he creates that that solution to getting competitors out of the way as well. In the end, however, the consummation is imaginary as well but only as a means of avoiding the only possible alternative if fails to resurrect her in his mind.
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