12
SYMMETRY, CLOSURE, DISRUPTION: THE AMBIGUITY OF BLACKMAIL
The extensive and intensive investigation into the operations and function of classical realist narrative over the past two decades has stressed two basic premises:
1. The function of classical narrative has been, overall, to reinforce and appear to validate the patriarchal order and its subordination of women.
2. The fundamental principles that govern the structuring of classical narrative include symmetry (especially of the beginning and end -- "the end answers the beginning") and closure (the resolution of all the narrative threads and moral issues, the restoration of order, the reaffirmation of a set of values, embodied in a system of rewards and punishments of which marriage and death are, respectively, the privileged instances).

One need not argue with this, provided it is understood as the kind of crude generalization that can offer a useful starting point for critical inquiry into particular works -- and provided the inquiry is prepared to find exceptions to the rules as well as examples that prove them. Where the line of argument becomes very dubious is in its tendency to collapse the two premises together, so that symmetry and closure are seen as indissolubly tied to the reaffirmation of patriarchy. There are strong reasons why this might be expected to be the case within our classical cinema (itself a patriarchal capitalist institution with its stake in preserving the status quo) but no convincing ones why it should be held to apply absolutely. Consider a simple imaginary scenario: at the beginning of the film a housewife arrives home from the daily shopping; during the

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Hitchcock's Films Revisited
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - (1988) 1
  • Book One - Hitchcock's Films 53
  • 1 - Introduction (1965) 55
  • 2 - Strangers on a Train 86
  • 3 - Rear Window 100
  • 4 - Vertigo 108
  • 5 - North by Northwest 131
  • 6 - Psycho 142
  • 7 - The Birds 152
  • 8 - Marnie 173
  • 9 - Torn Curtain 198
  • 10 - Retrospective (1977) 206
  • Endnotes for Earlier Editions 229
  • Book Two - Hitchcock's Films Revisited 237
  • 11 - Plot Formations 239
  • 12 - Symmetry, Closure, Disruption: the Ambiguity of Blackmail 249
  • 13 - Norms and Variations: the 39 Steps and Young and Innocent 275
  • 14 - Ideology, Genre, Auteur (1976) 288
  • 15 - Star and Auteur: Hitchcock's Films with Bergman 303
  • 16 - The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock's Homophobia 336
  • 17 - The Men Who Knew Too Much (and the Women Who Knew Much Better) 358
  • 18 - Male Desire, Male Anxiety: the Essential Hitchcock 371
  • Bibliography 389
  • Index 391
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