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She was going to go to the Dean. She would've ruined us. Did she think I was just gonna sit there and watch it happen? You have no idea what it was like to hold her underwater, watch her life slip away. But she gave me no choice...and neither have you.
~ Norman Spencer, after revealing his true colors.

Dr. Norman Spencer is the main antagonist in the 2000 horror-thriller film What Lies Beneath.

He was portrayed by Harrison Ford in one of his few villainous roles.

Biography

Norman is a renowned scientist and the husband of Claire Spencer, with whom he lives with in Vermont along with their St. Bernard dog, Cooper.  A year previously, Claire had been involved in a serious car accident that leaves gaps in her memory. Combined with her daughter Caitlin's departure for college, this leaves Claire profoundly affected. The Spencers — who have moved into the former home of Norman's father — live next door to the Feurs, who have just moved in and frequently engage in loud sex sessions as well as loud arguments.  An incident between the Feurs leads Clair to believe Warren Feur has murdered his wife, Mary.  Norman expresses little sympathy, so Claire invites her friend, Jody, to join her for a séance in her bathroom to communicate with Mary's ghost.  During the séance, the dial on the Ouija board starts to move slowly from "M" to "F" before Cooper interrupts.  Claire and Jody initially assume the séance has been a nonsensical exercise, but after Jody leaves, Claire returns to the bathroom to find the tub filled. This time she sees the ghost in the mirror, Claire asks the ghost what it wants. It replies with a message on a clouded mirror: "YOU KNOW". Later, her computer also displays the letters "MEF" being typed over and over.  An anxious Claire goes to Norman's office to inform him of the séance. While traveling through Norman's campus, Claire learns that Warren did not murder Mary after all.

The Spencers assume that the ordeal is over, but later a picture breaks in Norman's study. Picking it up, Claire notices a newspaper clipping about a missing girl named Madison Elizabeth Frank, whom she learns was a student at the university where Norman teaches.  Claire visits Madison's mother and steals a braid of Madison's hair.  Reading from a book on the supernatural given to her by Jody, Claire uses the hair to perform a ritual that allows Madison to possess her and seduce Norman. But Claire morphs into Madison during the tryst, causing Norman to push her away. Claire's memory returns, and she remembers that she had caught Norman and Madison together the night of her car accident. Outraged by Norman's infidelity, Claire spends the night with Jody, who confirms to Claire her suspicion of Norman's affair after having seen him and Madison together in a small cafe in the town of Adamant; unseen by Norman, Jody keeps this information to herself until she confesses to Claire.

Norman eventually confesses to having an extra-marital affair with Madison, but claims he realized that he loves Claire more, that this made Madison murderously jealous of her, and that when she came to the house, he found her dead from an overdose of pills, after which he pushed her car, with her body inside, into Lake Champlain.  Claire urges Norman to contact the authorities, and he appears to call the police before leaving to take a shower.  Suspicious of her husband, Claire redials the phone and discovers that he had not really called the police. Norman suddenly grabs her from behind, sedates her, drags her to the still-running bathtub, and places her in the rising water.  A worried Cooper comes over, but Norman drags him out of the bathroom before returning.  At this point, he finally admits to murdering Madison, who was planning to tell the college's Dean about their affair, potentially endangering his reputation and his job.

Having decided Claire knows too much, Norman prepares to drown her in the bathtub, intending to make it look like a suicide as did with Madison's demise and hoping it will "bring him closer" to Caitlin. Norman leans over Claire's paralyzed body to give her one final kiss, but notices a strange pendant around her neck.  When he tries adjust it, Claire's face suddenly morphs into that of Madison's corpse.  Norman is startled and jumps back, slipping on the wet floor and hitting his head on the sink, knocking him unconscious.  Claire recovers from the sedative and manages to save herself, but when she looks over the edge of the bathtub, she sees Norman has crawled away.  Escaping from the bathroom, she discovers the phone has been disconnected, so she tries to drive somewhere that will have cell phone reception, but grabs the wrong keys (to the Spencers' truck, to which their boat trailer is hitched, instead of the more secure station wagon).  This gives Norman, only stunned at the bottom of the stairs, time to recover as well and jump into the back of the truck as Claire drives away.

While crossing the bridge over Lake Champlain, a ghostly figure appears in the road and Claire, trying to avoid it, ends up driving off the bridge and crashing the truck, trailer, and boat into the lake.  As the boat capsizes, the mast impales Madison's submerged car, disturbing her corpse.  Underwater, Norman grabs Clare, who begs him to stop, telling him to think of Caitlin, but to no avail.  As he tries one last time to drown Claire, Madison's corpse emerges from the wreckage and grabs him.  This allows Claire to break free and swim to the surface, while Norman drowns, still staring in horror into the face of Madison's corpse.  His death avenges Madison's murder, allowing her to finally rest in peace.

Gallery

Trivia

  • This is not the first time Harrison Ford has played a villainous role. The first time was in American Graffiti as Bob Falfa, and the second time as Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast.
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