Reincarnation and Hitchcock: An Exploration of the Metaphysical Found Within His Work
(This is a preview of a long article that will be published in the 'MacGuffin' Journal)
by Robert Schoen
"I will be remembered as how Churchill once described Hitler: an enigma within an enigma." -Alfred Hitchcock
As with any great work of art, many of the most profound aspects of Hitchcock's work are often instinctively accepted, long before they can be fully intellectually grasped. In an ongoing effort to unravel the mysterious essence of Hitchcock's cinema, many writers have explored the Catholicism he expressed in his work. Others have focused on the rich psychological interactions between Hitchcock's both protagonists and villains for insights into his method. But perhaps the real reason Hitchcock's work continues to hold an endless fascination is that it points the way to a far more universal and expanded view of human consciousness than the narrowly defined dogma of the religion in which he was raised.
To fully appreciate Hitchcock's work, one must examine the common strands which run throughout all of his films. One rarely explored aspect of Hitchcock's vision that points the way to a deeper understanding of his work is the way in which many of his characters seem to reappear from one film to another.
This theme of character reincarnation is an integral part of the Hitchcock signature, subliminally reinforcing the storytelling myth that ties together his entire body of work. Hitchcock used these recurring characters; such as the possessive mother, the falling man, the guilty self sacrificing woman, or the numerous veiled portraits of family members and himself, to imply we all exist on some deeper sphere of consciousness. If we examine Hitchcock's films from this point of view, we can find many examples of esoteric thought, and the metaphysical as well.
Strictly speaking, Hitchcock made only three films dealing directly with metaphysical themes. Vertigo explores the notion of possession; while Family Plot has a story line involving phony spiritualist claiming to contact the dead in order to find a woman's lost nephew. Both of these examples have stories where, at least on the surface, the esoteric turns out to be nothing more than an all too human scam. The Birds chronicles a series of surreal bird attacks that begin in the idyllic hamlet of Bodega Bay with the arrival of Melanie Daniels. It can be reasonably argued these strange attacks have their own inexplicable logic, as much as any hurricane, or other natural disaster.
Other great films that deal with almost overpowering psychic or karmic connections between the central characters, such as Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt, could easily be categorized as having metaphysical themes as well. While Hitchcock remained largely silent about the deeper meanings expressed in his films, it becomes apparent when one examines the recurrent patterns found throughout his entire body of work, that Hitchcock sought to portray far deeper layers of the human condition than what Western civilization ordinarily recognizes.
Specifically, we find in Hitchcock, a subtle exploration of the esoteric and metaphysical that permeates his entire oeuvre. These recurring themes touch on the issues of reincarnation, karma, and the karmic ties and the psychic debts that hold people together, astral projection, the illusion of time, and the cross influence of living in a different gender from past life experience.
Much of what was once commonly dismissed as new age or esoteric thought has now emerged as having a profound validity in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and even in areas of cutting edge physics. These new (though truly ancient) discoveries are offering mankind a deeper understanding of the eternal nature of the soul, and of man's true place in the scheme of things. Modern psychology has slowly inched toward accepting the notion of reincarnation as a working hypothesis to unraveling the mysteries of the multi-layered and often conflicted human psyche. Past life regression and the study of multiple personality both embrace reincarnation as an expanded explanation for mankindís eternal consciousness.
Robin Wood thoughtfully states that Hitchcock's oeuvre must be examined in its entirety in order to grasp its complete meaning. If we consider each film as only part of a much larger mosaic, we see the emergence of patterns that not only enrich and reinforce the story logic and significance of each individual film, but also offer a very clear reference to the metaphysical. Of particular interest are the frequent reincarnated characters who reappear from one Hitchcock film to another, and Hitchcock's dramatic use of the karmic ties that link these characters within his stories, for better or worse.
Each film's core conflict resolves itself through a certain string of choices. A lesson is learned and by the end of the film, a new sense of order is established. But as each cinematic drama completes its two hour running time, is this really the end of the story? It becomes obvious to even the most casual observer that Hitchcock often sets up theoretical sequels at the ending of many of his films, and they in turn start the beginning of another film with similar characters.
THE AGING TENNIS PRO LEARNS A FEW NEW TRICKS: FROM STRANGERS ON A TRAIN TO DIAL M FOR MURDER
In his monumental biography on Hitchcock, Donald Spoto perceptively points out that Tony Wendice, the retired tennis player whose wealthy wife seems to be tiring of him in Dial M for Murder, is in almost exactly the same predicament the younger tennis pro Guy Haines could find himself in, fifteen years down the line. This assumes, of course, that Guy eventually marries the wealthy Senator's daughter Ann Morton at the conclusion of Strangers on a Train. On one level, this example points to Dial M for Murder as a possible sequel to the final predicament of Guy and Ann in Strangers on a Train.
But it is more than just a sequel; it is a projection of the callow essence of Guy Haines and the transferring of his soul into the latter film's Tony Wendice. This projection mirrors exactly what would be accomplished by Guy's reincarnation into Tony. Although Guy had not technically murdered his first wife Miriam, he wished her dead, and fantasized about killing her. He demonstrates no real love for his fiancée Ann, who strongly suspects him of the murder.
One could argue that the Bruno Anthony character could be seen as just an alter ego manifestation of Guy's subconscious, much like Jimmy Stewart's giant rabbit in Harvey. Bruno is just acting out what Guy wants accomplished, and perhaps what Guy ultimately wants to be: a wealthy playboy with obligations to no one. But while Guy's only concern in the film seems to be that he doesn't get caught, or that his perfectly planned life doesn't become ruined, Bruno assumes full moral responsibility and guilt for the murder of Miriam.
After Miriam is lovingly strangled, Bruno leaves the amusement park and sees a blind man waiting to cross the street. He considerately assists the blind man through the moving traffic. Robin Wood astutely points out that this ironic gesture is Bruno's acknowledgement that he has robbed the sight from Miriam when he knocked her glasses to the ground, those same glasses which looked on as their master was strangled to death by Bruno.
But this act of kindness to the blind man is also a metaphor of karmic debt: Bruno has just killed Miriam, and in another lifetime, he will be obligated to make it up to her. Strangers on a Train is masterful in its overall linking of the characters and their actions in a criss-cross pattern of cause and effect, itself a perfect metaphor of both synchronicity and of the karmic ties that link events and people.
The alter ego identity link between Guy and Bruno is made abundantly clear when the two are left alone together in Senator Morton's parlor after Bruno's strangling of Mrs. Cunningham. When Bruno confesses, "But Guy, I like you," Guy punches Bruno directly in the face, knocking him back. Hitchcock films this incredible sequence in rapid cutaways to each man's face, suggesting that Guy is really punching himself out. (Eight years later Phillip Vandamm will slug his assistant Leonard with exactly the same punch in North by Northwest.)
In this context, the Tony Wendice character of Dial M for Murder would indeed be a plausible extension and continuation of Guy Haines. Tony still harbors the desire to kill his wife, but is too cowardly to perform the murder himself. He forms a pact with Swann, a man who knows nothing of his wife, and frames him with the letter to perform the dirty work of Bruno. But this time Tony is the aggressor, pressing Swann to commit his murder. It's as if Guy had learned a thing or two from the last movie, and was applying these lessons to liquidate Margot (played by Grace Kelly) in a smarter fashion, this time placing himself (in the form of Tony) in control of the murder plot.
As morally reprehensible as Guy is, it's amazing he's not a more interesting character. He has all the screen presence of a fourth Marx Brother. In fact, he reminds us of the wholesome but out-of-place detective Jack Graham in Shadow of a Doubt, another walking clotheshorse marring an otherwise perfect Hitchcock film. It would be interesting to think of how much more resonant Guy's character would have been with Montgomery Clift or William Holden in Farley Granger's place. Does Hitchcock purposefully cast such human voids to show us that neither Charlie Newton, nor Ann Morton, has anything to gain by marrying such men?
Perhaps the real reason for casting Farley Granger in the role of Guy Haines was that Hitchcock was seeking to create a link between this film and his previous film with Granger, Rope. In that movie, Granger played the pianist Rupert Cadell, who was similarly entrapped as an accomplice to murder by his dominating roommate Brandon. Both movies center on a murder committed just to prove a theory, and in both films the Granger character's only anguish is the fear of getting caught, not remorse or guilt over the deed itself.
Bruno Anthony is one of Hitchcock's most fascinating creations. Charming, afflicted with a batty mother who gives him his artistic bent, Bruno says something very strange to Senator Morton at the party shortly before he accidentally strangles Mrs. Cunningham, while staring at Barbara Morton.
He tells the Senator that he's "harnessing the life force, a power that will make atomic power look like the horse and buggy. I'm already developing my faculty for seeing millions of miles. And Senator, can you imagine being able to smell a flower, on the planet Mars?" This banter at first appears to be nonsensical, until one considers it in the context of astral projection and the related phenomena known as "remote viewing."
Astral projection is the ability of the soul to travel outside of the body. It is something most of us commonly perform while dreaming, and the sensation one gets of falling upon awakening from a particularly vivid dream, is often metaphorically expressed in Hitchcock's films when one of his characters falls to their doom. Remote viewing is a disciplined form of astral projection that has been successfully employed by the CIA and US Military Intelligence to locate chemical weapons in Iraq. It is accomplished when the mind concentrates on a far off object, say a flower on Mars, and projects its consciousness to that object to report on it.
Was Bruno's comment just a humorous throwaway line, meant to establish his lunacy, or a glimpse into a deeper wisdom few men know about? It is very reminiscent of when Hitchcock put uranium into wine bottles of Notorious, made a year before anyone had ever heard of nuclear energy or the atomic bomb. Again, how did Hitchcock know about the life force and remote viewing?
An interview with author of Hitch&Alma, Robert Schoen
Did Hitch have a secret collection of Outtakes? Some Photos and Posters:
Alma, the woman behind a very large man:
Hitchcock's Other Leading Ladies:
The Mother in Hitchcock's films:
Hitch & Herrmann, artists with the same obsessive vision:
Hitch at Work:
The Perfect English Couple:
Fine Art and Hitchcock:
Readerís and Web Site Visitorís Comments:
Book description and how to order a copy of Hitch&Alma:
1999, Events Celebrating the Hitchcock centennial:
Links to other Great Hitchcock Web Sites: