Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics

Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics

Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics

Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics


  • The gushing shower in the Bates motel suddenly becomes a shower of blood
  • The birds line up on the fence, watching and waiting
  • An airplane chases Cary Grant through a cornfield
  • James Stewart experiences vertigo in the church tower in San Juan Bautista
  • These moments are as real to us as our earliest remembered birthday, or the assassination of King or the Kennedys. Alfred Hitchcock is the cinematic genius who took over popular consciousness and won't let it go. More than any other popular director, Hitchcock confronts his audience with disturbing ideas, concepts, and ethical issues.

    • What does Sabotage, the classic movie portrait of a terrorist, teach us about 9/11?
    • Can The Birds show us the distinguishing marks of human nature?
    • Does Psycho come to the help of theologians concerned about the Problem of Evil?
    • What insight does Lifeboat provide into the dilemmas of democracy confronted by the totalitarian mentality?
    • Are the philosophically minded killers in Rope really disciples of Friedrich Nietzsche, or have they got Nietzschean ethics wrong?
    • How does Vertigo illustrate the difficulty of really knowing another person?
    • When is it rational for us to be terrified out of our wits?


    William A. Drumin

    In Hitchcock's 1943 film, Shadow of a Doubt, a young woman discovers that the uncle she idolizes is a pathological killer. the confrontation with this horrific revelation engenders a profound identity crisis that forces her to abandon her naive insular view of the world as a domain for unlimited adventure, growth, and self-development, and compels her instead to recognize that the world is permeated with profoundly evil forces for chaos and destruction.

    In this film, as in others, we can discern a strongly antiUtopian element in Hitchcock's artistic vision, rejecting a view of the world as inherently good, rational, or perfectible. Chaos, destructiveness, evil are not mere temporary or eliminable obstacles to the perfect society. Attraction to chaos and destruction lies very deep at the heart of the individual and social psyche. So that while Hitchcock does not construe the world as inherently or predominantly evil, he warns that it does require constant and diligent watching: for it is perpetually at risk of “going crazy,” like the psychopathic uncle of Shadow of a Doubt.

    Ever since Plato's Republic, diverse visions of the ideal or perfect society have exercised a powerful attractive force on the imaginations of many philosophers and savants. Derived from the title of the visionary work by Renaissance philosopher Thomas More, the term Utopia has come to signify the generic characterization of such reconstructive visions of the social order. in addition to Plato (427–347 B.C.), whose Republic has exercised perennial influence on human thought, the history of philosophy has seen the advocacy of Utopian visions by such . . .

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