Academic journal article Film & History

Hitchcock as Philosopher

Academic journal article Film & History

Hitchcock as Philosopher

Article excerpt

Robert J. Yanal. Hitchcock as Philosopher. McFarland, 2005. 216 pages; $35.00.

Analytical Ocean

Alfred Hitchcock is, arguably, the most written about cinematic figure of all time. Scholars, critics, and historians have continued to study his films with great scrutiny and frequency. He is the penultimate, the alpha and the omega of theoretical cinematic discourse, the blueprint by which academics from all around the globe use to construct their own thoughts and opinions of a man some may consider the greatest film director of all time.

So, it comes as no surprise that a philosophy professor, Robert J. Yanal, would decide to contribute his own ideas into what has now become a vast analytical ocean that consists mainly of Hitchcock theory. Unfortunately, Hitchcock as Philosopher is just a small fish in that ocean. Writing a text that relies more on plot summary than on solid theory, Yanal, even with this fascinating way to look at Hitchcock's films, is unsuccessful in the project he undertakes.

Yanal begins Hitchcock as Philosopher by choosing three arbitrary philosophical terms-Deception, Mind, and Knowledge-and then attempts to connect these ideas to Hitchcock's characterizations showing that they speak "general truths about human nature" (3) while at the same time embodying all three of the criteria Yanal claims are imperative to the study of philosophy. Uncle Charlie and Charlie in Shadow of Doubt, Guy and Bruno in Strangers on a Train, and Norman Bates in Psycho (amongst others) raise "a problem of morals or metaphysics," "solves such a problem," and then "defends its solution" rather than refuting that problem as not being a possibility (4).

It is here where Yanal builds an interesting argument in simple terms and applied to a subject that both academics and laymen could follow. But Yanal's argument breaks down when he starts to take Hitchcock literally in his interviews with Truffaut and Bogdanovich while also taking the stance that Hitchcock "may not have engaged much in explicit philosophizing," but""always aspired to be" a philosopher while creating films that he wanted to be commercial successes (10). Hitchcock never "aspired" to be the philosopher; that is to say that to place that label onto his characters could well be a correct assumption, but when discussing Hitchcock one must realize that he understood that to be the philosopher would be an impossibility. …

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