Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Ambivalence of Evil in Shadow of a Doubt

When I recently showed Vertigo to a group of educated people who are yet uninitiated into Alfred Hitchcock's work, I was gratified to see them identify Scottie's villainy. Tom Leitch's article on Villains on Ken Mogg's site makes a similar reference to Scottie.

Other thoughts:
On the whole, Shadow of a Doubt (along with Hitch's other 52 films) is firmly ambivalent about the world's hellishness. Young Charlie and her beau, Jack Graham, also see that there is a bit of heaven on earth -- if you want to look for it.

By giving himself fully "to the dark side", Uncle Charlie represents that most dangerous of villains -- the integrated man who chooses evil. But, the twist is, those unintegrated people who throw in their lot with what they perceive to be good can do just as much damage -- surely, the ignorance of people like Emma and others creates a climate in which evil can grow. Young Charlie, by contrast, is, perhaps, the only character in the movie who has fully integrated both of her capacities to do evil and to do good -- and who chooses good. By definition, then, she is the only character who has integrity. (The same might also be said of Detective Jack Graham, who
arrived on the scene as an integrated person. As such, he is a static -- some might read "dull" -- character, in contrast with Young Charlie, whose growth we get to witness.)

The bad guys get the best lines in H's screenplays -- just listen to The evil Charlie's "The world is a sty" speech! Given Hitchcock's penchant for symmetry -- and, specifically to SoaD, doing things doubly -- one would expect Charlie to speak up for all that is good and clean and white in this world -- it is 1943, the height of WWII, after all! -- BUT SHE DOESN'T! Maybe her heart just isn't in it. All we get is Jack's epitaph-like "The world goes crazy now and then" line.

That said, there is an unmistakable ray of hopefulness in SoaD that is not unlike the rays of sunlight streaming into the purgatorial final shot of The Birds. I'll elaborate in a separate post.

Deep down, many, if not, most people would, like Uncle Charlie, agree that the world is "a foul sty." However, they repress these thoughts as part of their buy-in to the so-called "social contract." However, this causes more destruction than if they were to just get honest. For instance, by buying into the delusion that the oil crisis will eventually be resolved, many people are enabled to continue driving around in the comfort of their SUVs. They cause even more
trouble than Uncle Charlie and Norman Bates. Rather than overcoming "evil" thoughts, I aver that truly healthy people do as Young Charlie did and OWN such thoughts.

Both Charlies are self-aware, amoral people, and that gives them power. The difference lies in what they do with the power that bestows on them. The one who chose to do good did, in fact, conquer the evil one.

And that's an interesting conclusion to come to. It suggests that the Nietzchean ideal of a select minority can exist. But that worthy few probably accepts such a mantle only after enduring trials and only then with much reluctance and humility.

By contrast, Uncle Charlie, Like Rope's Brandon, proved unworthy of his aspirations. Even after settling in to Santa Rosa (presumably to retire from his life of crime), Charlie began to pursue a new widow -- a move that could only lead to disaster for her and for him. Like an
alcoholic who wants to stop drinking but cannot, Charlie is a slave to his will. It was that very hubris that disqualified him from the elite position he aspired to, and which cost him his life.

Joel Gunz

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