Family Dynamics in Strangers on a Train

Hitchcock has a bizarre fascination with the family dynamic that he presents. Rarely is the family the traditional happy, nuclear family that one might expect to see, but these families are also not so overtly dysfunctional. During the middle of his career, Hitchcock began to base his families on Freudian theory, something in which he was interested in exploring.

One film in which this bizarre dynamic is relatively overt is Strangers on a Train. The relationship between the primary antagonist, Bruno Anthony, and his mother is heavily implied to what Freud would describe as being Oedipal.

An Oedipal complex, as described by Freud, can be summarized as thus: When a boy is in development, he begins to have strong romantic feelings for his mother and sees his father as a competitor for his mother’s affections. This is supposed to fade as the child matures, However, those with Oedipal complexes do not grow out of this, causing them to desire their mothers for their whole lives.

In addition, this eventual removal of the Oedipal complex is supposed to enable the more masculine traits in young boys; the failure to remove the complex was thought to be the reason behind effeminate men and homosexuality, two concepts with which Hitchcock subtly characterizes Bruno,


While audiences at the time would have found this characterization shocking – perhaps perfectly fitting for a villain in their eyes – Hitchcock is well aware of these Freudian ideas and can, presumably, see the parallels to his own life (if one is to believe that Hitchcock is auteur movie-maker).

I feel it necessary to make a note here: The following interpretation is based on pure conjecture and is under the assumption that Freudian theory is correct in some way despite being largely discredited.

Hitchcock continued to have a strong, almost subservient relationship with his mother until her death and stated repeatedly that he held disdain for his father, two symptoms of continuous Oedipal complex. However, he was not effeminate or gay. Rather, and this only applies when taking Freud’s theories as truth, Hitchcock repressed any feelings of effeminacy.

As Robin Wood states, “It [patriarchy] requires ‘real men’ and ‘real women’ […]” The patriarchal structure of the times during Hitchcock’s life could have been a huge factor in his possible repression of any effeminate urges.

To combat this, Hitchcock portrays Bruno himself as the embodiment of feminine mama’s-boy. This can be seen as Hitchcock’s acting out, in a sense. Bruno quickly steals this show upon his entrance to the film and remains the most fascinating character. This could be conceived as commentary by Hitchcock on the nature of effeminate men and how truly interesting they are.

While some may interpret the making of the probably gay man the villain, it only reinforces the idea that Hitchcock, in some way, may be repressing feminine urges, as he instinctively would not want people to associate him with portraying a gay man as a hero, at least in the 1950s.

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