Friday, March 2, 2012

"Strangers on a Train"

“Strangers” is one of Hitchcock’s better known plots, even if a lot of people who know the story haven’t actually seen it: Two men have a chance encounter on a train. One suggests that they each murder someone the other would like dead; to avoid the pesky motive problem. Guy, our protagonist, considers that a crazy idea and quickly ends the encounter. Only problem: the crazy guy thinks that they have agreed to the plan and kills Guy’s estranged wife.

 A lot has been made of the way Hitchcock accentuated the two men as doubles—opposite sides of the same coin, much as he played with the same device in “Shadow of a Doubt.” That is true but it is also too simple. It is the near double nature of the men, but also their pronounced difference that make this one of the more scary and disturbing stories Hitch ever told.

The horror is achieved by having the murder be one of those random acts of violence. Our victim does not know her killer and as far as she knows there is no reason for him to kill her. That sort of violence is real and disturbing. However, for Guy, the horror goes beyond that. There is a sense in which he has caused or been complicit in the random act of violence.

It is an interesting and disturbing study of the nature of sin and guilt. Guy is not exactly guilty of murder, but he is also not really innocent. He wanted his ex-wife dead. He would have killed her if there were not some social, ethical pressure for him not to act. In his heart it is as though he had killed her—in the way that Christ equated hatred with murder in His sermon on the mount, only in this case she actually ended up dead.

There is a lot to reflect on here about guilt. How much do we bear based on our actions and how much do we ignore even though we have sinned in our hearts? We struggle to get a calloused society to recognize individual guilt and yet believers in Western culture today have dismissed corporate guilt altogether. We do not think we bear any responsibility or guilt for the sins of our society and culture.

How many evil deals have we made with the culture of which we are a part?


  1. that is an interesting movie.... so, how was your train ride last night? Did you meet anyone? Chris

    1. It was weird. I was almost the only person on the whole train!


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