Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Family Plot"

Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic, but he did not overtly tell stories about religion or spirituality until his last effort. (Unless one counts his take on psychoanalysis, which was a lot like the religion of the Twentieth Century.) However, in “Family Plot” he plays with a common take on the theme: that of religion as a manipulative trickster.

The most obvious case of religious trickery is our protagonist. Blanche Tyler is a con-artist using people’s beliefs to cheat them as a psychic. Traditional religion is also spoofed and satirized though. When a bishop is kidnapped the criminals are not nervous because religious people are too inhibited to react. When a minister is seen taking Sunday School kids out for lunch it is really an elaborate scheme for him to meet a lover.

Ultimately, the source of all the conflict and humor—the plot itself—rests in the conceit that all of the apparent spirituality is simply informed people taking advantage of uninformed people. They make it seem as though they have access to supernatural sources of truth. This is a fairly accurate criticism of religion throughout history. It has often been a way for the powerful to remain so and to control the masses. However, to equate religion with spirituality is unfair and this film exposes that as well.

Behind the fact that there are multiple cons occurring in this story is the inescapable conclusion that they are all only possible because they are based in truth. The way that the story itself is constructed causes the viewer to be amazed at the “coincidences” that propel it forward. And in the end—the final shot in the Hitchcock cannon—the storytellers wink at the way it was all a cleverly constructed story. That is a truth that spills over into our real life. Those who don’t insist on living life with their eyes closed are constantly amazed at the stories that happen all around us; and they are often beyond simple, material explanation.

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