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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dial M for Metaphysics

In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock directed the unusual thriller Rope starring Jimmy Steward and Farley Granger.

I say "unusual" because it is not typical for Hollywood to include drawn out philosophical reflections in its productions.

Entirely played out in two rooms of a single apartment, the opening scene shows two men at the final moments of strangling a third man to death.

Brandon and Philip are the two spoiled urbane collegians who are playing a game, performing an experiment, and, I suppose, attempting to realize their destiny.

Jimmy Stewart plays a former professor, still much admired by the boys for his unorthodox views.

Essentially, the drama revolves around Brandon's and Philip's avant garde ethical viewpoint. Patterned after the famous case of Leopold and Loeb, the two young men set out to commit the "perfect" murder just because they could. But they could not. And did not. They were caught.

I don't quite know enough about Friedrich Nietzsche to be the judge, but the film's two protagonists - especially Brandon - purport to embody the German philosopher's idea of the ubermensch.

To be plain, Nietzsche believed that traditional Christian morality was generally demeaning to man. Since "God is dead", (as he would say), why should men bridle their instincts, denying themselves terrific pleasure and reward to assuage a fictional deity?

For Nietzsche, might makes right. The one who has the power to enforce his will upon others is the best one. He spoke of the "superman" who would not grovel or cater to the heavenlies but who would assert himself.

Brandon certainly understood himself as the ubermensch. In his mind, murdering a cohort whom he considered an inferior was justified. Sort of a variation on Darwin's natural selection.

Ideas do have consequence.

cf. Rope: Nietzsche and the Art of Murder; Hitchcock and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

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Lin Wang said...

Also, homosexuality is indicated. There is almost no other way to explain why the two would stick together in such a way that they are planning future together. But in those days, such under plot had to be underplayed.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I absolutely agree. Seems glaringly obvious to us today, doesn't it?

Darrell said...

Rope is my all-time Hitchcock film, you did a great job of analyzing it here.

I've read just enough Nietzsche to have an opinion about him and to be able to participate in casual conversations about him. You're right, his fingerprints are all over this film. The notion that some men are above concepts like good and evil is pure Nietzsche.

At the time of it's release, a lot of people saw Rope as a commentary on Nazi Germany and the notion of one race of people determining that another is inferior and doesn't deserve to live. Of course, because of the way I'm wired, I see a lot of parallels between the arguments made by the two murderous characters and the pro-abortion lobby. Lin Wang is right, the two killers do seem to be intimately involved, although this is played down quite a bit and the unresolved relationship between the Janet character and the Phillip character is a distraction. Of course, the fact that the Brandon character is obviously jealous of Janet lends yet another element to the film.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the cinematography. The movie takes place in "real time," and appears to be shot in one long take. There are only 9 edits in the whole film and they're carefully hidden.

It's also interesting to see Jimmy Stewart play a character who's so unsavory, almost villainous. He sees the error of his ways at the end, of course, but I don't think that lets him off the hook for his dangerously flippant attitude about human life up until that point.

Great film! Great post!

Peter said...

Yeah, Rope is unsettlingly good.

Mollie said...

Pastor Stiegemeyer,

My husband and I were just discussing this film last night. I told him that I believe viewing this helped me see where philosophical consistency without moral grounding could be disastrous. And I love the way it is filmed, too.

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