In His Bold Gaze My Ruin is Writ Large
What's wrong with The Wrong Man?
To comply with the dialectical axiom that the only way to reach the underlying law of an universe is through its exception, let's begin with The Wrong Man, a film which clearly sticks out from the totality of Hitchcock's oeuvre:
On the one hand, The Wrong Man is Hitchcock at its purest. His special attachment to it is attested by the exceptional character of his cameo-appearance in the prologue; Hitchcock addresses the viewers directly, informing them that they will see a tragedy taken from real life. This prologue sounds like an implicit apology-"sorry, but you will not get the usual comic-thriller stuff here, things are for real, I shall throw my cards on the table and deliver my message directly, not wrapped up in the usual comedian's costume…"
The classical Marxist reproach to this would be that the ultimate function of such an allegorical procedure, through which the product reflects its own formal process, is to render invisible its social mediation and thereby neutralize its social-critical potential-as if, in order to fill out the void of social content, the work turns to its own form. Indeed, is this reproach not confirmed per negationem by The Wrong Man which, because of its suspension of the allegory, among all Hitchcock's films comes closest to social criticism, dreary everyday life caught in the irrational wheels of judicial bureaucracy? Yet one is tempted to defend the opposite argument: the strongest ideological-critical potential of Hitchcock's films is contained precisely in their allegorical nature. In order for this potential of Hitchcock's benevolent sadistic playing with the viewer to become manifest, one has to take into account the strict concept of "sadism" as elaborated by Lacan. In "Kant with Sade," Lacan proposed two schemes which trace the matrix of the two stages of the Sadean fantasy:
V as Volonte designates the Will-to-Enjoy, the fundamental attitude of the sadist subject, his endeavor to find enjoyment in the pain of the other, while S stands for this other subject, suffering and-therein consists Lacan's point-as such, non-barred, full: the sadist is a kind of parasite in search of the corroboration of his being. In suffering, the other-his victim-is confirming himself as much as resisting solid substance: the live flesh into which the sadist cuts authenticates the fullness of being. The upper level of the scheme, V--> S, thus denotes the manifest sadistic relationship: the sadistic pervert gives body to the Will-to-Enjoy, which torments the victim in order to obtain the fullness of being. Lacan's thesis is, therefore, that this manifest relationship conceals another latent relation, which contains the truth of the first one. This other relation, the object-cause of desire to the split subject, is represented in the lower level of the scheme. The sadist as aggressive Will-to-Enjoyment is but a semblance whose truth is the object a: that of an object-instrument of the Other's enjoyment.
- Further proof of Hitchcock's personal commitment: he renounced his director's fee for The Wrong Man.
- ….to which even Jameson succumbs, at least for a moment-Fredric Jameson, "Allegorizing Hitchcock," in Signatures of the Visible, New York: Routledge 1990, p. 127.
- Jacques Lacan, "Kant with Sade," in October 51, Winter 1990~ MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.