Psycho

It is a common view among Psychologists, especially Sigmund Freud, that many psychological pathologies arise from the society-dictated repression of instincts and desires. Indeed, in its constitution the patriarchal society of which we live consists of a plethora of psyche crushing, trapping both men and women into constructed roles with little escape. Such roles include circulation from those of the family institution, to that of marriage and back to the family. However, in Psycho, Hitchcock guides the audience on a journey into the private lives of its characters, Norman Bates and Marion Crane, revealing secret instincts that, while suppressed in public, allow themselves to escape in the privacy of the household. In discussing the space of the uncanny, an area where repressed desires return and haunt, Freud elucidates that the trauma of repressed desires turns the space of the home, a space of the familiar and concealed, into that of the uncanny. In the Bates household, fueled said transformation is Norman’s Oedipal complex. Failing to repress his sexual desire to fornicate with his mother causing an intense jealousy over her lover, Norman murders both the man and his mother. However, the mother persists, inhabiting Normans mind causing a split personality. In fact, another oedipal complex forms, yet in reverse and from the mother’s perspective. Jealous of the young women whom Norman is sexually attracted to, the mother commands Norman to kill them to ensure she’s his sole object of desire. Norman, trapped within this oedipal cycle and immense guilt, shown visually through the numerous stuffed birds, bird a slang term for women, that stare down at him through the film.

Due to his split in personality, Norman exists simultaneously both as aggressor, through his mother’s half, but also as victim. Norman’s last name Bates, a homophone for bait, reflects his aggressive side, as he baits Marion Crane, Crane being a species of bird, into her murder in his hands. Yet, Norman also inhabits Marion’s position. In fact, Marion and Norman are almost anagrams, mirror images of each other. Both characters, driven by guilt stemmed from pleasing the law of the mother and performing their societal roles, allow their id to influence them to commit crimes, Marion stealing the money and Norman murdering his mother. While Marion’s superego exists, through imagined dialogue from her boss and Sam imagining their unflattering reactions towards her as a criminal, Norman remains fractured. As Hitchcock shows us, Norman, sounding like no man, or one who is neither a man or a woman, is an example of the damage the patriarchal order can do to a man. Indeed, it is easy to identify with Norman through his shy, boyish personality. When Norman cleans up Marions murder, the audience wants him to successfully hide the evidence, wants the car to sink all the way. Through the character of Norman Bates, Hitchcock wishes to expose the psychological effects of living in the wasteland left by patriarchal society, one in which one wriggles and squirms, like a worm trapped under a boot, until they are killed, Marion, or possessed, Norman.

North by Northwest

In North by Northwest, the thriller comedy about Roger Thornhill, another example of the director’s much favored “innocent man on the run”, Hitchcock reminds the audience of the absurdity of cinema, and its manipulative ability to draw you in and toy with your emotions, an ability Hitchcock has mastered and shows off to great effect. As Francis Truffaut points out, North by Northwest’s most famous scene, the one where Carey Grant escapes a fighter pilot in the middle of a field, it cinematic gratuity at its finest. “It’s a scene that’s been drained of all plausibility or even significance. Cinema, approached in this way, becomes a truly abstract…and here it’s precisely that gratuity…that gives the scene all of its interest and strength.” The scene and sequence of events that happen is pure fantasy, and yet, in the moment, it is believable or plausible, as one doe snot stop to question the logic whilst enthralled by pure cinema. Here, Hitchcock is flexing his directorial muscles, boasting loudly that only he could make a scene so implausible but get the audience to believe it. It almost sounds like one of Hitchcock’s famous practical jokes.

However, Hitchcock also imbues within North by Northwest a darker side to his exploration of the absurdity of cinema, one where the audience is under constant threat of manipulation and falling into the abyss of absurdity and irrationality. In the opening of the film, Roger Thronhill is portrayed as a bad person, a machine of deception through his advertising job, a person partly responsible for the rot of American society. This most explicitly shown by his matchbox, the O in R.O.T. literally meaning nothing, as he means nothing. However, as the film progresses, Hitchcock, and Carrey Grants self-ironizing performance, manipulates the audience into caring and rooting for Roger. In addition, many scenes that take place in seemingly safe and pleasant places, end in violence or unpleasantness. The plaza hotel when Roger is kidnapped, the long-island escape where he is interrogated, the inside of the United Nations where a man is stabbed to death and the snack bar at Mt. Rushmore. Scenes, at first simple and pleasant, can quickly devolve into terror and suspense. Hitchcock relates this to the experience of watching a movie, an experience where the film can fire back and kill the audience or even manipulate them through the fantasy dreamscape they offer, threatening a fall into Roger’s O. However, Hitchcock disguises this through the, mostly, lighthearted tone of the movie, summarized perfectly in the musings of the room of intelligence officers after they discover that the nonexistent George Kaplan is actually Roger Thornhill. “So horribly sad…how is it I feel like laughing?”.

Vertigo

In Vertigo, released in 1958, Hitchcock’s almost fetischistic obsession with controlling women comes to a head both literally and figuratively. In many of his films, his female characters display similar traits, blond, tight, cold and distant, bound in strict fashionable clothing that of timed mesmerized their male counterparts. In Vertigo, Kim Novak plays such woman in Madeline, a, as Francis Truffaut describes, “passive” character with an “animal quality”. In the same interview, Hitchcock described his frustrations with the actress’s creative desires: “Miss Novak arrived on the set with all sorts of preconceived notions that I couldn’t possibly go along with”. In the film, Madeline, revealed to be a far more down-to-earth Judy, is manipulated, controlled and constructed, both in behaviors and appearances, by two men, Gavin and later Scottie, the protagonist. Here, at his most confessional, Hitchcock portrays himself in Scottie, molding, shaping, Judy as he molded and shaped Madeline. Hitchcock also imbues a perversity in Scottie, and by extension, himself. When Judy returns from dying her hair, Scottie is dismayed at her lack of hair bun, as Madeline would’ve worn. “What this really means is that the girl has almost stripped, but she still won’t take her knickers off. When he insists, she says, “All right!” and goes into the bathroom while he waits outside. What Stewart is really waiting for is for the woman to emerge totally naked this time, and ready for love.”

At last, Judy, now fully transformed steps out of the door, illuminated by the fogy green light of a billboard, echoing the ghost-like quality of the muir woods, naked-like and ready for love as Bernard Herman’s “scene De ‘Amor” swells in the background. The pair kiss as the camera slowly circles around them. Here, Scottie’s romantic act performed upon Judy, the object constructed to fit the ideal woman of perfect beauty, Hitchcock confesses his sexualized obsession with control as he creates the perfect shot. However, this shot, while superficially encapsulating passionate romance, is merely a sinister façade. Firstly, the woman whom Scottie kisses in not his love, Madeline, but another woman dressed up as her. As Hitchcock puts it, “the man wants to go to bed with a woman who’s dead; he is indulging in a form of necrophilia”. Secondly, Judy is one of Hitchcock’s most sympathetic characters. At the mercy of controlling, insecure and psychic-ly handicapped men, Judy is manipulated, cast aside, and torn apart by Scottie in the bell tower, resulting in her death. Judy becomes the release for Scottie’s sadism, a sadism Hitchcock portrays as interwoven in masculinity. The scene of passionate love now transform into something sinful and transgressive, as the victimized Judy and sadist Scottie lock lips, the camera swirling around them mimicking the spiraling abyss both characters are trapped in, an abyss Hitchcock admits to being lured into.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock opens the films on an orchestra in the midst of performing “Storm Cloud Cantata”, tracking in slowly on a cymbal player until.. CRASH! The screen cuts to a title card reading “A single crash of cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family.” This sentence contains two important aspects that influence subsequent analysis of the film. The first is the duo of puns, “crash” constituting “clash” and “cymbals” constituting “symbols”. Indeed, Hitchcock imbues the film with clashing symbols. In the Albert Hall sequence, such symbols are found, all stemming from the cymbal player. On both sides, the choir, the men dressed in black, signifying death, and the women in white, signifying life. This is significant as the cymbal player literally holds life and death in his hands, and if the crash happens the prime minister will die. In addition this may symbolize the clashing of men and women in a family unit, the woman, who bears life, must surrender her authority to the man. Thus the man is akin to a grim reaper of sorts, metaphorically killing woman’s independence once she marries. Jo’s scream disrupts this as the woman who finds her voice, hence why she is wearing grey. This conflict, both literal and metaphorical is perfectly encapsulated in the shot of the conductor, framed between the cymbals.

The second interesting aspect of the opening title card is the later section of the sentence, “…how it rocked the lives of an American Family”. This sentence proves false, as the mysteriousness of the significance of the crash is presented quite explicitly, loosing its drama. In addition, since the cymbals was already known to the McKenna’s before the Albert Hall sequence, it makes no sense to say the crash “rocked” their lives. Instead, it was Jo’s scream, an abnormal noise punctuating the normal, planned sound of the cymbals, a contradiction bursting through a seemingly tranquil event. Through the act of screaming, Jo finds her voice, her authority and her independence, breaking free from her constriction between the cymbals. However, an ambiguity still exists. What if Jo scream wasn’t planned, but an outcry of despair released at the perfect moment? Here, Jo would not escape from the cymbals confinement but would be ensnared, permanently trapped or even crushed between; as the crash occurs after her outburst. These ambiguities, as set up in the title card, permeate and define The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Rear Window

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, released in 1948, the protagonist Jefferies lives in an overcrowded apartment complex. Inhibited by a broken leg, Jefferies spends the film gazing through his rear window into the intimate lives of his neighbors. The claustrophobia of the apartment complex and its location, Greenwich Village, a major location for movements considered avant-garde at the time, such as gay rights, invokes a collective voyeurism between residents reflecting their psychical desire to connect with each other, as is at the basis of the search for human relationships. In the film, each neighbor displays an attribute that evokes desire, or empathy from Jefferies akin to Object Relations Theory. Lisa’s extravagance and conceitedness reflects Jefferies narcissisms to be an adventuring photographer. Mrs. Lonelyheart’s imaginary date evokes a sense of loneliness and emptiness that Jefferies empathizes with and is afraid will befall him if her never marries. Lisa envies the composer’s creativity, where Jefferies talent as a photographer is reflected in Miss Hearing Aids sculptures. Finally, Jefferies, though unconsciously, relates to Mr. Thornwald’s displeasure in his marriage, a feeling he projects onto his his hesitation to marry Lisa. On the other side, Jefferies constant gaze at Miss Torso’s evocative hip movements also reflects his desire for a beautiful lover.

However, the web of mirrors would not be complete without the spectator, as they see everything and everyone, empathize, desire and even reject aspects of the characters in themselves. As Hitchcock has expressed repeatedly throughout his filmography, watching cinema is a voyeuristic activity. This is expressed explicitly in Lisa’s introduction. The extreme close of of Lisa’s, Grace Kelley’s, beauty is evocative and evokes intense desire in the audience to be the object of her desire. However, she desires Jefferies, bestowing upon him a kiss the audience will never receive. It is this kiss and Jefferies status as desired the audience relates to. Therefore we empathize with him, his struggles, and his quest to solve the murder, a relationship perfectly analogized in Jefferies’ continuous itching. The audience wants Jefferies to scratch his itch, an action difficult for him. Finally, the audience feels relieved when he reached the itch, a feeling reflected in Jefferies contentedness and relaxation in the final scene.

Strangers on a Train

Released in 1951, Strangers on a Train deals with the repercussions from the chance encounter between two men, Guy and Bruno. During the scene where Bruno strangles Miriam to death, Hitchcock deliberately cuts to a shot of her demise reflected through the lens of her glasses. This reflects the motif presented in the film, as highlighted by Laura Mulvey in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, that women who wear glasses, symbolizing their desire to see, as characterized by their defiance of their role in patriarchal society as objects to bee seen by males. In Strangers on a Train, Miriam is characterized as manipulative, cold, unappealing and undesirable, precisely due to her desire to see. Hence her thick, stocky glasses block her would be beautiful face, reflecting the man’s gaze back onto himself. Since, according to Mulvey, this is not allowed, Miriam must be punished.

In the scene leading up to her murder, Miriam is stalked by Bruno through the carnival. While she sees Bruno following her, the two men she is with fail to see, implying Miriam’s ability to see, an unallowable act. When Bruno strangles her, her glasses fall off her face and Hitchcock cuts to the reflection of her death in the glasses. What is being communicated here connects the motive for murder with her glasses, more specifically it was through her act to looking and seeing Bruno that sealed her fate. Miriam is punished through her death. Another layer connotation of the shot it that, since Miriam’s glasses fall off, her face no longer inhibited by them, she reverts back to being a spectacle for the audience’s visual pleasure, thus, assuming the role of a conventional, rule-following woman for a few seconds before her death. As Miriam becomes an object for visual pleasure, the audience sees Miriam as a “turn on”, eroticizing her murder.

Rope

In Rope, a film about two young homosexual men who strangle a colleague in a Nietzschean twisted experiment, grapples homosexuality and its effects on heterosexuality and on society in general. In the film, Hitchcock associates the murder of David as an act of gay sex. From David’s orgasmic scream, to the rope tightening around his neck evoking the image of a sphincter tightening around a phallus, to the act taking place in the dark, as such taboo practices would in that time period to Phillip asking Brandon how he felt during “it”, the “it” being a euphemism for gay sex, to which Phillip responds orgiastically with “tremendously exhilarating” while handling a phallic Champaign bottle. Hitchcock appears to condemn homosexuality by associating it with death, in contract to heterosexuality which it associated with life. Perhaps this is why Rope, a film prominently featuring homosexuality, passed the Catholic Legion of Decency, as homosexuality is considered a sin in the bible, specifically in Leviticus 20:13, as a sexual act that doesn’t produce children. At the end of the film, the homosexual characters, Brandon and Phillip are punished, and will, as Rupert says, “hang” for their crime, gay sex, while the heterosexual characters, Janet and Kenneth, are redeemed.

While Rope may appear to be a rebuke of homosexuality, many collaborators who worked on Rope were, or were later revealed to be, homosexual. From the actors, John Dall, Brandon, who many film historians claimed to be closeted, as he lived with another male actor for a period of time, to Farley Granger, Phillip, who was openly bisexual, and even to one of the writers, Arthur Laurents, whom was tasked with connotating the leading duo’s homosexuality. In addition to this, the film explicitly condemns the Nazi’s interpretation of the Übermenschen. The Nazis persecuted gay men, exterminating them in concentration camps, deeming homosexuality as “inferior” to the “superior” Aryan. Here, Hitchcock aligns with Brandon and Phillips’ viewpoint, reputing Nazi thinking and homophobia. This is further supported by Rupert’s speech , expressing that murder, homosexuality, is reserved “for those few who are really superior individuals”. Thus, a philosophical defense of homosexuality. So, is Hitchcock condemning homophobia or supporting it, or is it something more complex? In Rope, Homosexuality and homophobia, are intertwined, and thus cannot be separated, influencing not only every character in the story, but also influencing how they shape heterosexual men in patriarchal society, as demonstrated through the “Full Peacock’s Fan” in Anal Rope.

Notorious

Notorious, a spy thriller released in 1946, revolves around Alicia, young woman living in the shadow of her father, a recently convicted Nazi spy. Whilst reading I could not help but notice how cowardly the leading men act regarding Alicia, especially Devlin. From his introduction, Devlin emerges from the shadows, raising questions and suspicions in the audience’s minds, questions which the audience will continue to ask as he manipulates Alicia into spying for him and emotionally distancing himself from her when she is doing her job. In the party scene, Devlin, masked in menacing shadow, watching Alicia, clad in a zebra like shirt put on a performance of flamboyance and loneliness, akin to an observer in a zoo. Man watching “that type of woman”, one who lives for herself and not others. What does Devlin do after first seeing her? Takes away her independence, exploits her patriotism (a scene wonderfully staged as Alicia emerges from the shadow into the light) and forces her into a situation out of her league, one that nearly gets her killed.

After giving into his feeling for Alicia, Devlin is confronted with the hard truth that Alicia must marry another man, thus, emasculating and castrating him. Instead of confronting his feelings, he projects them onto Alicia, blaming her for his desire. When before Devlin argued that Alicia is not “that kind of girl”, now Devlin tells Alicia that he told his superiors that he “figured it was up to you (Alicia)”. Devlin is cold, quiet, his rage and masculine fury hidden below the surface. Hitchcock seems to be commenting upon the propensity of men to force women into uncomfortable, often promiscuous situations, only later the blame and judge them.

Shadow of a Doubt

Released in 1943, Shadow of a Doubt explores qualms of the American family institutions through the eyes of Young Charlie. As in the 39 Steps and most of his other movies, the plot of Shadow of a Doubt takes a backseat to the story, ideas and themes Hitchcock is trying to convey. How and why would police follow a suspect from New York to California if they don’t know what he looks like? Why would they suspect Uncle Charlie if they don’t know what the killer looks like? When the detectives arrive in Santa Rosa, why do they wait outside the Newton’s house for weeks and why do they use the cover of taking photographs of Americans’ bed rooms? What family would believe that? Since the plot revolves around Young Charlie’s suspicion of Uncle Charlie and his cloddish attempts to murder her, which for some reason doesn’t heighten the suspicion of the detectives surveilling, this creates an air of absurdity uncertainty that taints the seemingly perfect Santa Rosa. These cracks within a seemingly airtight narrative, are tantamount Hitchcock’s exploration of family, an institution we view as the bedrock of society, yet hides pernicious cracks in its ideologies. As Hitchcock describes his films more dreamlike than plausible, and dreams in psychoanalysis are a means to express unconscious, and usually reprehensible ideas, maybe the plot holes that initially pass beneath the viewers consciousness, are a facilitation of expressing the unseen destructiveness of the institution of family.

Rebecca

Released in 1940, Rebecca follows the story of a naïve young woman, who marries a rich man, Maxim De Winters, and is whisked away to Manderley, a mysterious, gothic mansion dominated by the “ghost” of Rebecca, Maxim’s ex wife. What I find interesting is Hitchcock’s dismissal of the film as one of “his”. In Hitchcock-Truffaut Episode 9: ‘Rebecca’, 1940, Hitchcock states that the film is “not a Hitchcock picture”, rather it has a novelettish quality. While Hitchcock states that he doesn’t dislike feminine literature, it makes one question his statement. Is he saying this due to his domineering patriarchal views or because he doesn’t agree with feminism. While Hitchcock denies that the film is his, his dramatic flairs and ideologies are ever present. The end product is very much the antithesis of feminist thinking, as the protagonist “wins” by prioritizing her insignificance, and loosing her personality traits, compared to Rebecca who is punished and killed for acting on her own authority. However, as “Woman and the Labyrinth” states, there are still aspects of feminist ideologies that Hitchcock was unable to divorce from his film. Maybe this is why he does not consider the film to be a “Hitchcock picture” and points out its flaws and plot holes on the Hitchcock-Truffaut episode.