Hitchcock's ROPE - a brief review

If there is one thing Hitchcock was best known for it was his total exaggeration of subtlety. Take PSYCHO for example: we find Norman Bates' office filled with taxidermy - an allusion to the real-life Ed Gein's hobby of dressing up in his victim's skin. In ROPE, we have a tale of two inexplicit homosexual lovers who commit a murder. We're never told they are homosexual, it is only subtly implied, then the subtlety is exaggerated by the plot - they share a unique moment together in murdering their inferior classmate.

The charm of ROPE, and the reason I think it stands above Hitchcock's other works, is primarily due to its two ultimate gimmicks. The first ida Hitchcock had was to make a film that gives the viewer the feel of watching a stage play. This means the entire story must flow in real-time and the film will not have any editing. ROPE was not so much "cut" but "stitched" together, with a couple minor exceptions. Wherever one roll of film had ended (usually with someone or something passing in front of the camera) the beginning of the next roll was attached, giving the illusion of one long continuous take. While this gimmick does remain obvious, the technical precision between the minor shortcomings is still impressive. The second gimmick was the film was to be shot in glorious Technicolor. Back in 1948 this was very new technology which required a high-maintenance beast of a camera:

This is comparible to the cameras used for shooting in 3D in use today. The combination of these two gimmicks have, in my view, clearly raised the game of everyone involved in the movie - from Hitchcock to the D.P. to the actors to the stage-hands and grips and everyone inbetween. I would like to think Hitchcock was too pre-occupied with the technicalities of this picture than to deal with the details, since unlike his other movies I can see the actors have some room to become their characters, there is even overlapping dialogue! While this movie is much more reliant on the characters not screwing up thanks to the first gimmick, the result is a film with watchability.

I would typically complain that Hitchcock's films are well written but poorly filmed. Perhaps not "poorly", but "disagreeable", none-the-less worthy of debate. In the case of ROPE it is the other way around; well filmed but a kind of disagreement in the writing. It's not very badly written in terms of plot, but seems hardly informed in understanding Nietzsche's philosophy on the übermensch (translation - "over-person" or otherwise "superman" in the context of this movie). The two lead characters were supposedly raised on the philosophy of the superman, only grossly mis-interpreted, not unlike Hitler only without the racism. The main scenario where this idea was revealed was when the murder-victim's father questions one of the leads: "So you subscribe to Nietzsche's theory on the superman?" and the protagonist replies with "yes" to which the father responds "so did Hitler". Of course, the protagonist goes into a passionate rant of why Hitler got it wrong, yet he does not justify that he gets it right himself. I can understand this film was made not long after World War II had finished, and Nietzsche's "übermensch" philosophy was probably losing favour thanks to Hitler, but in a story keeping an open mind on homosexuals, I don't see why the writer could have done some extra research and have an open mind on Nietzsche.

The übermensch is not very easy to explain, but the list of the many things it is not, by contrast, is very large. The concept was introduced in the book "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" which briefly explains the übermensch is a new step in evolution for mankind. It is not a biological evolution but a mental one (the first thing the Nazi's got wrong), suited more specifically for the individualist who wishes to be seperated from the "herd mentality" (the second thing the Nazi's got wrong); in other words more suited for a hermit. It is in my observation that even someone who posesses extreme intellect, perhaps even an athiest, is still prone to fall into the "herd mentality". Nietzsche was a hermit, he invented the übermensch as a way to overcome the crushing despair of nihilism. It should also be mentioned that he was born in a family with strong religious conviction (Lutherianism to be precise) and in his dissatisfaction with the pre-conceived God he invented a new God, one that belongs to the individual.

To stray a little from the review, I personally have found contentment in nihilism. I think the destruction of belief is both liberating and also revealing of a much deeper truth: you don't have to believe in existence of things for it to exist, you can simply accept it as knowledge. I haven't read "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" all the way through. Firstly it's a very difficult book to read (an explanation of this is that Nietzsche had no peer-commentary, plus wasn't well known in his lifetime, so any criticism and affirmations come only from himself - within text itself - leading to laborious repetition and self-rebutal monologues). Secondly I found the book about as preachy and self-righteous as any other religious text.

I conclude by saying ROPE is neither right or wrong, it remains open for discussion, perhaps more about the nature of mis-interpretation. Zarathustra himself was constantly concerned with the mis-interpretation of his messages. My take on the übermensch is that it is really only a task meant to be learned by the individual, individually, and that there is no "one-size-fits-all" teaching method.

REVISED EDIT: I hadn't made any mention of James Stewart's character (the "Professor"), who was the only one vaguely approaching a proper understanding of the übermensch philosophy, however I'm only going by the plot of the film. Stewart is one of the most stale actors who has ever graced the stage in front of Hitchcock's camera lens, probably why Hitchcock liked him so much up until Vertigo. I haven't seen him in a non-Hitchcock movie yet, perhaps I will make that my next assignment.


  1. Three questions:

    Is it wrong that I completely and utterly missed the homosexual subtext?

    Would you argue that the character's homosexuality has anything to do with his self-declared status as an übermensch?

    Will you be discussing other one-take-wonders in future posts?

  2. 1. Not at all. The example I gave with PSYCHO and the taxidermy, for example, wasn't clear to me until it was pointed out to me. But now that it has been pointed it's so blantantly obvious it's hard to ignore.

    2. I don't think homosexuality is as much of a choice as übermenschuality.

    3. why soitenly!