Hitchcock’s Rope: Philosophical and Gripping

My fascination with Alfred Hitchcock began years ago when I was little and would watch his movies with my parents. I have to admit, at the time, I didn’t grasp a lot of what was being enacted before my eyes, but now in my young adulthood, I am revisiting Hitchcock’s movies, and I have got to say, his genius is still relevant today.

I recently watched the movie, Rope. This 1948 film stars my favourite actor from that generation, James Stewart. Now, if you’re thinking that name rings a bell, you have likely seen him in the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. James is a superbly talented actor and a timeless one at that, but that is for another day and another blog post.

This movie opens with two of our lead characters, Bernard and Philip, strangling their friend, David, to death. The romantic philosophy of being superior beings collaborating in the masterful art of murder is touted as their raison d’etre, and their reason for committing this heinous act. This philosophy as we learn, has been first espoused by Nietzsche and taught by their college professor, Rupert (James Stewart). The duo then proceed to hold a dinner to “celebrate” this “achievement”. As the guests arrive, we see a very different aftermath play out with the two characters. Bernard is presented as the callous and charismatic psychopath, and Philip is really losing his  marbles with guilt. Enter their college professor, Rupert,  and the evening’s events begin to unravel themselves.

As is his signature trademark, Hitchcock very dexterously incorporates subtle angles in his filming that seek to foreshadow what is to come. The symbolism inherent in the various acts carried out by the characters in this movie, is exceptional. In one scene (AND SPOILER ALERT), Bernard is packaging a collection of First Edition books for the dead man’s father to take home, and he uses the same rope he killed his son with, to tie the books together.

I particularly enjoyed this movie because it got me thinking about society and the hierarchy of beings when it comes  to differentiating between superior and inferior. We see this as a recurring trend today with killings the world over, perpetrated by those holding twisted versions of concepts surrounding race or religion or gender. Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermensch or “Superman” philosophy is at the heart of this idea, where he essentially tosses out the concept of Godly values, in favour of an alternative system of values created by those who view themselves as superior to their fellow human beings. Bernard is that character in Rope. With his inflated sense of self, he rests content in the fact that he has carried out the perfect artistic venture to prove his superiority. However, as the movie hurtles towards its inevitable conclusion, all is not what it seems.

 

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