In his seminal essay on film melodrama, Thomas Elsaesser describes how domestic objects in the genre become charged with meaning, crowding in on the characters whose world they populate and ‘becom[ing] more real than the human relations or emotions they were intended to symbolize.’ By stripping its dramatic objects of everyday meaning, this paper argues, film melodrama enables us to approach the eidetic qualities of the domestic object – namely the particular manner in which it produces and reproduces the domestic space. For Walter Benjamin, domestic objects fulfill a mediating function; liberated from the world of commodities so as to become expressions of the self, they retain, through their material ‘facticity’ as objects, the possibility of connection to a transcendent collective culture.
However, through the example of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), this paper argues that the autonomy of the object as object always threatens to overwhelm both its function within the affective economy of the film and its very status as a narratively comprehensible signifier. The status as ‘liberated’ commodity of the ring gifted by Charlie to his niece is quickly undermined by the personal history that is engraved onto its surface. Revealing of his murderous past, this history functions in Graham Harman’s terms as a ‘hidden surplus’ and sets in train a set of object-to-object relations within the film that cannot be explained within the logic of the diegesis. Through editing and soundtrack, the film establishes a connection between a set of objects, including the title of a waltz and a recurrent scene of figures dancing, that remains autonomous from any perceiving consciousness within the narrative – there is literally no point from which it can be comprehended - thereby constituting a ‘weird realism’ that disrupts the film’s generic status, spatial economy, and consistency as a filmic object.