Notorious Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Bottles of Alcohol (Symbol)

Liquor and liquor bottles feature prominently in Notorious and have many different symbolic meanings. In the beginning, liquor signifies Alicia's self-destructive descent into a hard-partying life after her father is put in jail. In moments of emotional weakness, Alicia reverts to drinking more. Thus, the liquor represents the ways that Alicia is a notorious "loose woman."

Then later, Devlin purchases a bottle of champagne to bring back for the couple to share with a romantic dinner. At first, the bottle symbolizes his love for Alicia and his desire to spend the evening with her; it is a sign of commitment. Then, when he learns that Prescott wants Alicia to seduce Sebastian, Devlin absentmindedly leaves the bottle in the office and goes home without it. Here, the bottle symbolizes the way that Devlin feels that he must abandon his love for Alicia and perform his duty. Now that he knows what the mission is, he forgets about the romantic dinner, and by extension, the love he feels for Alicia.

Then, when Alicia goes to the dinner party, she sees Emil Hupka point at the mysterious bottle of wine. Later he is killed. The bottle becomes a symbol of Nazi plotting, a mysterious object in the house which catches Alicia's attention. When Devlin and Alicia examine the bottles in the wine cellar during the party, they find that some of them are filled with sand. Thus, the wine bottles at Sebastian's house come to represent the evil plotting that is taking place under the pretense of fancy dining and high society.

Champagne on Ice at the Party (Symbol)

The bottles of champagne at the party that Sebastian throws become a more specific symbol in the movie. As Devlin and Alicia make their way towards breaking in to the wine cellar, they are on a time crunch; there is not enough champagne upstairs at the bar to sustain the whole party, and so a butler will likely have to go down to the wine cellar in due time to fetch more. This means that Devlin and Alicia have to act quickly. Hitchcock turns the camera to the bottles of champagne on ice at the party again and again, and they come to symbolize the dwindling amount of time that Devlin and Alicia have to investigate the wine cellar. Every time the camera goes back to the ice bucket, there are fewer and fewer bottles, which builds suspense as the viewer wonders if Alicia and Devlin will make it in time. Like a party that can last only as long as the booze flows, the bottles here symbolize the fact that time is running out.

Devlin's Scarf (Symbol)

When Devlin first meets Alicia at the party at her house, she insists on going for a ride, even though she is very intoxicated. They walk out into the night and Devlin wraps a scarf around her bare midriff, symbolizing his care for her. The scarf also has another meaning in that he is using it to cover up her bare midriff, perhaps in response to her "looseness" or sexual impropriety. Thus, the scarf represents both the fact that he wants to look after her and make sure she is warm, but also that he wants to reform her from her loose ways and teach her to be more modest.

Later, once she is married to Sebastian, Alicia gives Devlin the scarf back somberly, and the scarf comes to represent the fact that she sees their union as hopeless. While the scarf has perhaps symbolized her connection with Devlin in the past, it now symbolizes the fact that she is resigned to her fate as Sebastian's wife and doesn't want Devlin's care anymore.

Liquid (Motif)

Apart from the fact that Alicia is a heavy drinker, other kinds of liquids and drinks appear in the film at key moments. When Alicia awakens, hungover from her night of drunk driving with Devlin, she wakes up to a large glass of Alka-Seltzer water sitting next to the bed. Devlin is trying to heal her from her hangover, and the large glass is an almost unavoidable object on the bedside table. As Alicia rolls over, she is inches away from practically putting her nose in the glass. When Devlin then urges her to drink she refuses. Alicia doesn't want to drink her medicine.

Later, a parallel beverage is the cup of coffee that Sebastian and his mother frequently serve to Alicia. This too is framed as a kind of tonic, but what Alicia eventually realizes is that it is in fact a poison, the very beverage that is making her ill. Hitchcock keeps the cup of coffee in closeup, re-signifying the mundane caffeinated beverage that many of us know so well as a silent killer, a poisonous drink. Liquid and its effects, whether medicinal or fatal, are a strong motif—both visually and thematically—in Notorious.

Sebastian's Key (Symbol)

The key to Sebastian's wine cellar represents the tight hold that Sebastian has on his private affairs and on the Nazi-related secrets he has hidden in the wine cellar. He always seems to notice when a key is missing from his keychain, so when Alicia steals the key to wine cellar, she puts her and Devlin's well being in grave danger. Hitchcock shows the viewer just how important the key is to Sebastian in the suspenseful way that Alicia's theft of it is shot. She clenches the stolen key in her fist and as Sebastian goes to kiss each of her hands, she must throw her arms around him to prevent him from finding that she has stolen it. Then, the first shot of the large party thrown at the mansion is a steady pan down from the ceiling to Alicia's clenched fist, in which she holds the key. The key is a symbol of Sebastian's diabolical schemes and continued affiliation with the Nazi party.