The Cat People Literary Elements

The Cat People Literary Elements


Jacques Tourneur

Leading Actors/Actresses

Simone Simon, Kent Smith

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Jane Randolph, Tom Conway






Saturn Award and Satellite Awards: Nominated for being part of Best DVD Collection

Date of Release

December 25, 1942


Val Lewton

Setting and Context

New York City, 1942

Narrator and Point of View

Objective limited omniscient though with primary thematic perspective of Irena.

Tone and Mood

The tone is ambiguous with the horror suggested rather than shown and with a conceptual foundation that the acts of violence perpetrated by Irena may be the result of her turning into a cat or they may be the result of a jealous woman driven to madness. The overall mood is one of restrained, yet consistently building dread which mimics Irena's repressed sexuality slowly rising too the surface of consciousness.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Irena. Antagonist: Dr. Judd

Major Conflict

Conflict about in Cat People. Irena is in conflict with the cat person inside trying to get out. Irena is also in conflict with Oliver because of her sexual frigidity. And, of course, there is the rivalry between Irena and Alice. The Major Conflict of the film, however, is between science and religion as an explanation for Irena's strange behavior.


The climax of the film arises directly from the major conflict as Dr. Judd unwisely puts the movies on Irena to test his psychological theory that she just needs a real man to unlock her sexuality...religion appears to enjoy a decided victory in this climax.


Irena handing the key to the panther cage to the zookeeper early in the film foreshadows the very ending when she uses the found key to make the suicidal decision to enter the cage.


The entire film is an example of understated horror. No actual attacks are ever shown and yet many scenes still have the power to create a tense emotional reaction in the viewer.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

The sound of the bus screeching to a halt that sounds like a big cat growling has gone on to create a film trope know as the "Lewton Bus" which is essentially symbolic of anything in a film which suddenly cuts the tension by its revelation to be something other--but somehow similar--to the thing which is instilling fear in a character.


In a way, the film is nothing but one along allusion to cats. Not only are cats alluded to through invented historical myth in Irena's story about Serbia's King John, but every cat attack is really just alluded to through shadows, sound effects and suggestive.


The greatest example of paradox associated with Cat People is actually from a production standpoint: the very lack of a budget which would have allowed the cat attack to be filmed less ambiguously enforced the need for shadowy ambiguity which is exactly what has made the movie such a classic.


The opening title is from the fictional book on psychology by the character of Dr. Judd while the end title is from the real poet John Donne and has to do with the concept of sin in the world, thus punctuating the parallels drawn throughout the film of the questionable character of science versus the authenticity of religious belief.

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