18 November 2007


Rope, a famous film by Hitchcock, is another suspense worth watching, not only for its riveting plot but also its homoerotic overtone. Needless to say, Hitchcock's name guarantees its superb editing and no-nonsense storytelling.

The plot centres on two young men, Brandon and Philip, who just finishes the perfect murder of their friend David Kently. The murder is inspired by their former teacher's rather cynical view of killing, that there exists such an 'art of murder' in which the inferior fall victim to the superior. Ethics is in this sense created by the winner rather than by the loser. I personally found this rather grim view inspired by the WWII, the impact of which was still ongoing when the film was made in 1948, harking back to Hitler and his compatriots who mercilessly killed millions of Jewish people without any sense of remorse.

What is interesting, though, is the representation of gay people as being able to perpetrate this atrocious act. Clearly aesthetes, both Brandon and Philip are implicitly represented as gay, as both stay in the same apartment and plan to go on holiday together after the party. Some may say that the murder committed by them represents a revenge gay people may wish to take upon society at large which oppresses them. But I beg to differ. I think queer people are blessed, not only with knowing all the social rules, but also with knowing how to play and negotiate with these rules. With social stigmata, they realise that social rules are nothing but social constructs aimed at marginalising some minorities, and these rules are not founded upon the absolute, transcendental truth, but contingent conditions. This understanding makes gay people rather cynical and sophisticated, questioning social ethics and morals.

But of course this sophisticated (some may label this 'postmodern') view on life is out of place at the time of the Second World War, where leniency and play were juxtaposed with the mass murder, whose effect was both palpable and close. This view is therefore severely put under fire. I think somehow the film questions this ruthless 'ethics' of postmodernism even before postmodernism is made into a tangible current. In other words, the film puts forth the limits of postmodern ethics of 'anything goes' and calls for a reconsideration of some absolute ground rules.

How about queer representation? I think they are unlucky in this film, as they are linked with this postmodern view. Sexual orientation and intentional killing are so far different on the scales of ethics. By juxtaposing them together in a single matrix of representation, the film makes scapegoats out of gay people, which somehow is as terrible as gay-bashing.


Mat said...

WWII wasn't "ongoing" in 1948, as it finished in 1945.
Yes, the killers are portrayed as gay in the film, but it's based on a real case of two gay killers (Leopold and Loeb), and most of Hitchcock's killers are not gay. Furthermore, it's only one of the killers who is unsympathetically represented.

dechito said...

First point. Of course the impact of WWII was still palpable in 1948, only three years after the war actually finished.

Second point. Even though the film was based on a real murder committed by two gay men, representing them in this film is another matter. Representation entails a process of thinking through, of how to link 'homosexuality' in this kind of murder, as though homosexuality is a static feature essentially linked to homicide.

Mat said...

Well, the impact of WWII is still felt today, too, but your original point was that WWI was ongoing (not that its impact was ongoing) in 1948 :-)