(*Originally written as the final to my Intro to Film course.)
Introduction to Film
16 May 2007
Film Final Paper : Mise en scene and ROPE
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope examines sociopathic tendencies and subsequently, the makeup of a fascist philosophy, in the sociological context of a modern aristocratic class. In the midst of their homosexual subtext, the film’s two protagonists, Phillip, and the domineering Brandon, serve to elicit both the disgust and intrigue of the spectator. In order to help communicate the theme of psychological tension and manipulation the two characters initiate, the film employs a multitude of unique techniques and symbolism in its mise en scene that serve to elicit associated emotions within the viewer. As spectator, we are manipulated by the mise en scene, and contained symbolism, in the same fashion that Brandon and Phillip manipulate their guests.
The central symbol throughout the film is, arguably, the chest in which the murdered David rests; representing psychological manipulation and physical vulnerability. Although we are, for the majority of the time, detached from the scene, looking in from behind the chest, at the same time our eyes are consistently drawn to it, as it taunts and teases the spectator in anticipation of the characters’ discovery of its gruesome contents. In one scene in particular, Mrs. Wilson is shown clearing off the makeshift buffet from the chest, with the camera positioned close-up, so that the chest itself is the focal point, with Mrs. Wilson bobbing in and out of the left side of the frame. As she quietly removes items off the surface, we hear Phillip banter back and forth with Rupert, denoting that he is unaware of how close Mrs. Wilson is to the possibility of discovering the body (Hitchcock). The contrast of her silence in the foreground and the camera’s continued stasis versus the two men’s background chatter and unseen action subsequently elicits an equally contrasting set of emotions in the viewer; both a positive anticipation in awaiting the reveal of Brandon and Phillip’s act, and an anxiety toward what will be found and how the characters could react.
In another outstanding scene, whilst playing the piano, Phillip is approached by Rupert and questioned regarding the whereabouts of David, and how Phillip has been acting strangely that evening. Becoming overly defensive and visibly anxious, Phillip eventually breaks down from dodging Rupert’s interrogation effort and ceases his piano-playing. In the midst of otherwise quite, his metronome is heard, ticking back and forth (Hitchcock). This device serves to build the tension in the scene, not only for the characters, but the spectator as well, as it emphasizes what is now a genuinely awkward, painful silence between Rupert and Phillip. Additionally, the lone sound of the metronome denotes a “ticking clock” device, underlining what could be read as Rupert’s assurance of what really is going on, and thus the defining moment in Brandon and Phillip’s time beginning to run out. Another aspect of this scene that contains heavy visual symbolism lies in the metronome being situated between Phillip and Rupert, swaying back and forth between them. This seems to represent what becomes a power struggle, not only to gain control in their particular emotional exchange in this scene, but to take control overall, and assert intellectual dominance.
A third scene which emphasizes the theme of manipulation occurs when we see Mr. Kentley, David’s father, carrying the bundle of books given to him by Brandon and Phillip. In motion, the camera pans along with him, gradually focusing on only the books themselves, highlighting the fact that Brandon has tied the books together with the same rope used to kill David, the man’s own son. Brandon seems delighted at this concept, while Phillip is disturbed (Hitchcock). Not only is this a shining example of how sick Brandon in particular is, and a shocking scene for the viewer, but the visual focus on the books also symbolically exemplifies the ignorance of Mr. Kentley, and all their guests, with the exception of Rupert. The rope is representative of David’s manipulation and subsequent death, and the books representing “knowledge” or the truth itself. Coupled together, the rope keeping the books closed and tied tight, it stands for Phillip and Brandon’s control of the situation early on, as opposed to later scenes involving the more aware Rupert, like the scene involving Phillip and the metronome.
Within Rope, a seemingly simple concept is taken to innovative extremes. In it’s handling of mise en scene, we are not only exposed to themes of manipulation and fascism in its plot, but we too feel the rising tension, and the psychological and emotional ups and downs of the characters. Reviewing the three scenes looked at prior; we see how important mise en scene is to a film like Rope, with each scene containing a central object that elevates the scene’s function in communicating a greater idea or emotion. Without Mrs. Wilson clearing off what we know to be David’s tomb, amidst casual conversation, the fear and anticipation of her unveiling what is inside would not be nearly as apparent. Likewise, without Phillip’s metronome assisting the audible crescendo of he and Rupert’s charged exchange into an eerie almost-silence, and its pendulum-like swinging, that scene would lack a pivotal piece of its unforgettable tension and representation of their stuggle for control. Similarly, in the scene wherein Mr. Kently is shown retrieving his books, the illustration of Brandon and Phillip’s sickness, as well as the entire rope/books metaphor would be nonexistent. With all this, it is purely evident that without the clever mise en scene techniques of Rope, much, if not all, of the film’s powerful messages and emotional twist-turns would fall short as well.
Works Cited :
Hitchcock, Alfred, Rope, Warner Bros., 1948