Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rope (4 Stars)

"Rope" was made in 1948 by Alfred Hitchcock. Today it's one of Hitchcock's lesser known films, but it is noteworthy for various reasons:

1. It was Hitchcock's first colour film.

2. It used the revolutionary film style of taking place in real time. Ideally Hitchcock would have filmed the whole film in one take, but film reels only held 10 minutes of film. The film consists of nine takes, each lasting slightly less than 10 minutes, which were put together without further editing. The extended takes were difficult because the first colour film cameras were so bulky and could not be moved during filming, only swivelled. The set's walls had to be rolled in and out to follow the characters as they walked from room to room.

3. The film's trailer didn't contain excerpts from the film, it was a prequel, showing a conversation that took place before the film's events. The only words spoken by the murder victim are in the trailer, not in the film itself.

4. The murderers were homosexuals, which was a taboo subject at the time. All overt references to homosexuality were removed from the script shortly before shooting, but it was still obvious enough for the film to be banned in many American cities.

The film opens with two university graduates, Brandon and Phillip, strangling a fellow ex-student, Daniel, with a piece of rope. They put his body in a chest. A party is due to take place, so they put a table cloth over the chest and arrange the buffet and drinks on top of it. The invited guests are Daniel's parents, Daniel's girlfriend Janet, Janet's ex-boyfriend Kenneth, and their former prep school housemaster Rupert Cadell.

Alfred Hitchcock's film camera
The motive for the murder becomes apparent in the conversation at the party. Rupert Cadell has been a big influence on the boys, especially Brandon. He taught them philosophy based on Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the Übermensch (sometimes translated into English as "superman", but I prefer to use the original German word). This comes up repeatedly in their conversations.

"Good and evil, right and wrong, were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them".

"Moral concepts of good and evil and right and wrong don't hold for the intellectually superior".

These are dangerous concepts for a teacher to present to impressionable young men. But his lessons went even further.

"Murder is a crime for most men, but a privilege for the few".

"Murder is an art that a few superior beings should be allowed to practise".

This is the motive for the murder. Brandon feels the need to kill someone to prove that he is an Übermensch, one of the privileged few. He has invited Daniel's family and friends to the party to unknowingly celebrate that one of the weak ones has been eliminated to improve the human race.

After teaching the boys in school Rupert went to fight in World War 2. Even though he still has the same ideologies, on a purely intellectual level, his wartime experiences are causing him to have doubts. Nietzsche's philosophies were one of the main influences on Adolf Hitler's thoughts. This has led him to question who has the right to say that he is superior to others. Is intellect alone the proof of superiority? This leads to a philosophical contradiction, something absent from Nietzsche's pure logic. In order to qualify as an Übermensch and live without moral concepts you have to possess your own innate moral standards. In other words, those who have no concept of good and evil are unworthy of becoming Nietzsche's perfect amoral man.

These philosophical questions fascinate me. That's why I rate the film higher than most of Alfred Hitchcock's films. I too read Nietzsche's books when I was a teenager. I was young and foolish then. I now reject his thoughts.

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