Tense, clever and with a murder at the centre of the story based on a morally repellent premise, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 Rope showcases two guys – who seem travesties of Nietzsche’s Übermensch – attempting a very misguided and ill-thought show of superior intellectual prowess.
In the end, what gets them caught is a stupid mistake, a sign of utter weakness: a hat forgotten inside a cloakroom. How ironic then that two supercilious individuals prove to be the perfect representation of their most derided weakness? Wanting to prove a point of a philosophy which is highly critical of the status quo and highlights the intelligence of those pointing the finger, they forget to check their own stupidity. They simply do not get that Nietzsche’s Superman is meant to represent a hypothetical counterpoint to our modern paradigm, and does not require any practical application.
Intending to commit the ‘perfect murder’, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) kill their former classmate David Kentley (Dick Hogan) and then throw a party, inviting many of the dead man’s closest friends and family members. With the corpse hidden inside a chest, which is then placed in the living room and used as a buffet table for the food, Brandon and Phillip entertain their guests. These are the victim’s father Mr. Kentley (Cedric Hardwicke), his aunt Mrs. Atwater (Constance Collier), his fiancée, Janet Walker (Joan Chandler), her ex-boyfriend Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick) and their former teacher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart). Also present is their housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Edith Evanson).
As the murder was inspired by ideas discussed with Cadell years earlier, the now-publisher becomes their focus of attention. Eventually the conversation turns to the ‘art of murder’ and jestingly Cadell indeed seems to speak approvingly of murder as ‘a crime for most, a privilege for some.’ As Rupert Cadell jokes, he is questioned by David’s father, Mr. Kentley, who can’t believe he is being serious. Because Rupert carries the joke one and refuses to appease Mr. Kentley one remains puzzled by the talking. Brandon, who is watching all very closely, appears mystified, fascinated with the apparent approval by his intellectual master of the murder he has just committed. But Cadell eventually mentions ideas too bizarre to be taken serious, which just confirms the absurdity of it all. At the end, Cadell uncovers the reason for David’s absence from the party and police sirens are heard.
..Darkness Closing In: ‘Nobody Ever Feels Really Safe in the Dark…’
Nowadays, the homo erotic subtext between Brandon and Phillip, who treat murder as a sexy game – even acting out implied post-coitus signifiers such as lighting a cigarette and opening the curtains after the event – is less shocking than the intellectual aspect of their killing of an acquaintance. With the advent of the internet and YouTube, the bizarre side of human beings has become more mainstream than ever before. If hordes of people gather together online to defend the idea of the flat earth then nothing more natural than to find out that some would murder another person just for the sake of proving a hypothetical point, i.e., ‘Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder,’ as stated by Brandon.
What is astonishing – and apparently totally overlooked by all of those who find credence in any theory of superiority between human beings – is that somewhere else there’s someone who might be thinking about you the same way you think about your potential victim. Logically, if one gives credit to the idea that some human beings are morally superior than others and therefore deserve the power to deal with ‘inferiors’ as they please then one should not complain – indeed, would have no rational basis to doing so – when a supposedly Übermensch comes to get them. Such ideological leanings are so blind and self-absorbed in their nature that anyone who gets hypnotised by them only see the world from their own limited point of view and become immune to self-awareness.
However contested by many, the case for the link between Nietzsche’s philosophy and some kind of aristocratic individualism can be made purely on an interpretation of that philosopher’s wholly body of work, and thus independently of any contradictions that can be found inside his texts. Because his oeuvre is highly allegorical and there are layers upon layers of paradoxical divergence in his books, which seem to create a schizophrenic whole, Nietzsche’s philosophy can then be misinterpreted at will. But one of the most important points of his, from one of his key works, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is that of the supreme autonomy that the individual must aim at all costs.
From the outset, Brandon shows to be the dominant one in his relationship with Phillip – the latter proving to be frightful and weak. However, as we might reflect longer about the story, it is Brandon that presents deeper levels of insecurity and shows to have a less autonomous mind, the very signs of a ‘slave mentality.’ From the moment David stops breathing, Phillip feels a palpable self-reproach for having committed such a crime. He is nervous and afraid to be caught, but most importantly he engages less convincingly in the conversation about the ‘art of murder,’ surely a sign of true remorse; regret over the motive, not the consequences. Meanwhile, Brandon, like a fanatic, loses all sense of proportion, and is incapable of understanding his much-worshipped master’s words for what these are: intellectual hypothesis never to reach the realm of the real.
Words that could have been used posthumously by Nietzsche himself are uttered by Rupert Cadell to explain the sick crime: ‘… you’ve given my words a meaning that I never dreamed of, and you’ve tried to twist them into a cold, logical excuse for your ugly murder…’ Like fascists of every caliber, Brandon seems not to grasp the idea that thoughts can be dangerous, but actions cannot. Ultimately, Rope is one the master’s masterpiece.