Monday, September 22, 2008

"Dying together's even more personal than living together." HITCHCOCK MARATHON

Lifeboat-1944-Alfred Hitchcock


Lifeboat is easily read as a propaganda film. We were in World War II at the time and obviously the German’s were evil.

Upon watching I was hoping the German character would truly be noble, because it would be so unique for the time, so revolutionary. It’s just like today where we have Vantage Point or some other nameless action film with Middle Eastern terrorists. When are we going to realize that lumping a group of people together because of the foolishness of a few doesn’t do anyone any help?

Anyways, from ranting to reviewing.

Lifeboat begins with a boat being torpedoed by the Germans. The wreckage is monstrous and we get to see the aftermath. In the midst of all of this is a single lifeboat. On this lifeboat is a single woman. She seems to have no harm done to her whatsoever. Throughout the film, various people come aboard and leave, including a German Nazi. Those on the boat must try and trust the Nazi or give in to paranoia. They split on many decisions and just when you feel for the Nazi he does something horrible, but Hitchcock creates sympathy around this awful character, at least in my eyes, that I wanted to see him be good. Alas, he was not and the film was a bit worse off for it.

Lifeboat isn’t a bad film by any means. As a matter of fact it is a truly interesting character study. Much like 12 Angry Men, or The Mist, Or Dog Day Afternoon to some extent, we get characters thrown together in a tense situation forced to deal with one another. As usual it is an allegory for our lives, and the way we treat one another in the world.

The German isn’t always bad in the film. During a scene where a character needs a leg amputated, he is a trained surgeon and performs the surgery with the limited utensils they have. He doesn’t do anything wrong on purpose and actually performs it perfectly. It isn’t until later that we see this same character pushed into the ocean by the German. What is Hitch trying to tell us here? Did he have it all planned out when he was performing the surgery, or maybe he was just annoyed, or bored? The wonderful thing is that it isn’t telegraphed. We aren’t sure of every reason why every character does everything.

Something I loved about the film was the character Joe. Joe is a black man (played by Canada Lee) and although all the other characters were written by Jo Swerling, Canada Lee was able to write his own lines. This leads to some wonderful moments. One such moment happens when they are all trying to vote who the skipper of the boat is going to be, and when Joe is asked who he is going to vote for he simply replies “Do I get a vote?”

The suspense in this film is built between the tensions in the characters. Hitchcock uses the weather a lot, almost as a character itself. At their lowest moment, it suddenly rains, and they are forced to sit through it. This also brings the characters together, and some even fall in love (which seemed a bit forced to me.)

The truth is, while I did enjoy this film, and it does deserve some merit, Hitch just didn’t seem to pour his soul into this film as he did in his other classics. It seems like he had a lot he wanted to do that he kept at bay to make the audience happy. The overtones of science versus religion are also easily drawn. The German believes in science while the sympathetic, level headed Americans believe in religion. While this may have been true for the time, the way they paint the characters and the beliefs they uphold and then correlating that with the way the characters act, I am very disappointed. While I am a Christian myself, I do not stand by the belief that I am smarter than anyone who doesn’t follow my faith. I am actually positive there are many who know more than I do about any given thing, especially science. I also think we should be striving toward a world where religion and science can co-exist together, rather than being at each others throats. While this film was made over 60 years ago, I still think Hitch could have had better sense than to add silly little things such as these character traits into his film, that otherwise would have been pretty great.

In the end, I get the sense that Hitch used the medium of propaganda film to make a statement. While being paranoid is never a good thing, as shown by the way the characters act in the end when another German boards the ship, being gullible also is a terrible trait to have. The problem is we aren’t exactly shown a happy medium. Maybe there truly isn’t one. Maybe you either must be paranoid and realize that the world is a terrible place, with terrible people, or be gullible and think only the best of everyone. Could it be that when we think we are in between those two ends we are really tricking ourselves? These are the underlying questions that get pushed aside for the use of propaganda.

No comments: