Black and Deep Desires


We all know Hitchcock has a deep fixation on murder. One of the world’s first and most prominent filmmakers, Hitchcock didn’t choose an easy route. Comedy, romance, and melodrama all had mass appeal at the time, but for Hitchcock, there was no other choice than suspense. If he didn’t seem like enough of an innovator, this was a time when the concept of movie genres was still being explored. It is thanks to Hitchcock that we even have horror,  thrillers, and a number of other sub-genres we cherish today. It’s easy to conclude an analyzation of this theme by pointing to Hitchcock’s childhood and unresolved psychological issues. Of course in order to be a filmmaker of this kind (and of his caliber), he must have had some kind of personal motivation behind it. Murder isn’t an easy subject to dedicate your life’s work. But it wasn’t just Hitchcock, was it? He had an audience, didn’t he? Don’t we still love his films today? Doesn’t his genre (no matter how perverted) still hold sway over us?

In order to make the films he did, Hitchcock knew one thing: we’re all sickos. From Shakespeare to Poe, entertainers have always had a knack for pinpointing that special place in our heads where we harbor our inner psychopaths. While we want to stand up and scream “don’t go in there, you idiot!” yet we also can’t help but relish the cringeworthy moment when the murderer finally carries out the act. And while we cling to the edge of our seats for the detective to catch the perp, we can’t help but wonder “would it be so bad if he/she got away with it this time?” We love to hate the villain. This is a time-tested trope to us, but to Hitchcock’s audience, it was something more than a guilty pleasure. The silver screen changed the way people consumed entertainment. Where someone could cling to a book from the comfort of their home, their feelings hidden from all, hiding your perverse emotions is a little more difficult in a crowded theater. For example, do we laugh when Herb and Joe discuss the perfect murder in their suburban home? Who are we supposed to empathize with? It was frightening.

In the case of murder this is especially interesting. Robbery or blackmail may not be easy to go back on, but it is possible. Murder is the most permanent act imaginable. Madness, passion, downright psychopathy – these things are so powerful that they can convince someone to end the life of another is so strong within the human psyche, and we just can’t help but love it. Hitchcock knew this completely. And, I like to think, he laughed.

4 thoughts on “Black and Deep Desires

  1. lmeyer3

    I agree that Hitchcock was the master of manipulating our emotions so that we identify with whichever character he chose. It was done very carefully, and there was almost something evil about it: Psycho, for example. We are drawn into Marion’s predicament, we are made complicit in her crime, and then when she has decided to come clean…Hitchcock kills her off. And who is left for us to identify with, but Norman Bates? And once we realize that he is the killer, we realize that Hitchcock has fooled us yet again.

  2. wander

    Though it is quite reasonable to presume that Hitchcock’s subject material arises from his psychological state, Hitchcock claims profit is his sole motivation for creating his signature dark films. If we assume this is true, that means that murder is so prevalent in Hitchcock films because there is a public demand for it. As you’ve succinctly stated, we’re all sickos. I think specifically we derive fulfillment from one character’s conquest of another. When something as consequential and irreversible as a murder occurs, it is a welcome reprieve from the frustrating tedium of passive conflict. More directly, the act of killing itself excites us. A proficiency at killing was a key advantage to the survival of our species and individuals of our species until relatively recently. The biological programming is still intact. Hitchcock embraced this condition, and capitalizing on it brought him his fame.

  3. Margot Mary

    Hello Hannay,
    I agree with what you said about Hitchcock understanding that we’re all have an inner “sicko” side. I think this is how Hitchcock’s films became such a sensation amongst his audience; he knew exactly how to keep his viewers intrigued, making him him the master of suspense. You point out how Hitchcock’s style captures the side of all of us that we aren’t so open about reveling.

  4. jdabb

    Hello Hannay,
    You rightly point out how we, the audience, become complicit in the horrible actions of Hitchcock’s villains. We also carry the guilt of finding many of these villains attractive and feeling sympathetic to their predicaments when pursued by the law or other agents of society’s morality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *