20th Century Films Psychology

How Trust is Restored: The Awful Truth (1937)

Trust is a choice to believe in someone (often based on the evidence of their past behavior), and the stronger the belief, the greater the feeling of trust.

awful-truth-posterTrust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.”1 We often trust people because of their past behavior, and are less likely to trust a stranger. Trust is a choice to believe in someone, and the stronger the belief, the greater the feeling of trust.

In Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937), Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) no longer trusts his wife Lucy (Irene Dunne) after learning that she stayed at an Inn with Armand Duvalle (Alexander D’Arcy). Jerry’s trust is restored when he takes a risk: He believes Lucy’s denial of infidelity.

The two most common ways to respond to a trust violation are “apology and denial.”2 Lucy denies cheating on Jerry, but he doesn’t believe her. While it is possible that Lucy slept with Armand, he has no proof that she is guilty. Jerry no longer trusts her because of circumstantial evidence: “evidence not drawn from direct observation.”3 Instead of trusting her, he becomes suspicious, which causes their marriage to implode.

During their separation, Jerry and Lucy realize how much they love each other. Love is demonstrated when a person does something good to another person, in particular a selfless act. When Mrs. Leeson (Esther Dale) shares a rumor that Lucy had an affair, Jerry comes to his wife’s defense, saying that he was unfaithful, not Lucy. Jerry does this to protect Lucy’s public reputation, which is unexpected, given that he believes she cheated on him. Jerry’s selfless act (making himself the bad guy) is a demonstration of his love for her, and Lucy’s love for him is re-awakened.

When two people love each other, they need to trust each other, or their relationship will not last. Lucy says, “You can’t have a happy married life if you’re always going to be suspicious of each other.” Without trust, there can be no intimacy, and without intimacy, there can be no happy marriage.

Because trust is a belief which can never be 100% certain, it always involves taking a risk. The reward of risking to trust someone is intimacy. In the end, Jerry decides to let go of his suspicion that Lucy had an affair. Realizing that he still loves her, and having no evidence that she did anything wrong, he chooses to trust her again, and their marriage is restored.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Trust,” accessed January 21, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trust
  2. Peter H. Kim et al., “Removing the Shadow of Suspicion: The Effects of Apology Versus Denial for Repairing Competence Versus Integrity-Based Trust Violations,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 1 (Feb. 2004): 105.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Circumstantial Evidence,” accessed January 21, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/circumstantial-evidence


  1. Very nice analysis,and gives some insight into why this movie is still so popular! I look forward to reading other posts in your blog. It looks like you have an original take on a film blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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