Born in 1899 in London, Hitchcock was subjected to the media’s obsession with murderers. A famous murderer at the time was Charles Peace in East End of London in 1876. While it was not directly during Hitchcock’s life, he was immortalized through the tabloids as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. In addition, Jack the Ripper and Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen were committing their crimes while Hitchcock was in college and beginning his career. This most likely sparked his interest and fascination with death.
Two main themes occur in Hitchcock’s’ movies: The fear of the unexpected and an eruption of chaos and disaster in a life that seemed secure and stable. These two themes are reoccurring and stable, while many other of Hitchcock’s’ themes changed over time (Spoto, 1983).
During the war, an explosion took place near his house which required him to quickly try to dress his mother while she was already wearing a nightgown. Comical and frightening, we see this event at the beginning of the movie Murder! (Spoto, 1983). He was placing his own experiences within his films, something he wanted viewers to do as well.
Hitchcock realized this need for the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters was key. As Hitchcock commented ….”you get the impression that the same thing could happen to you tomorrow. And that’s the key thing if you want the reader or viewer to substitute himself for the hero – since people are, after all, interested only in themselves or in stories which could happen to them.” (Spoto, 1983, p. 39). It was in fact this desire to get viewers to place themselves into the movie that drove Hitchcock.
Especially during the 1940s, people were going to movies to get away from their own stressful lives, and even if it meant putting themselves into the lives of a character who was much worse off than them. This allowed them to feel a sense of relief and comfort, since they were securely in the theatre and not where the villain was. It was this sense of security that Hitchcock found so important. As Hitchcock says “fear you see is an emotion people like to feel when they know they’re safe” (Spoto, 1983,p. 39).
The use of multiple psychological and psychoanalytic theories and themes in his movies provide the audience with a rich variety of excitement as well as the unyielding sense that these events are all too real and common. Some themes he explores are Carl Jung’s idea of the anima, transference and the Oedipus complex as made popular by Frued and the use of psychoanalytic imagery in dreams and in visions.
Hitchcock saw a difference between surprise and suspense. In one of his most famous stories, he tells of two men sitting at a table: While they are having a normal conversation, a bomb suddenly goes off and kills them both. This creates 10 seconds of surprise for the audience. Now take the same situation and show another man placing the bomb under the table before the men start their conversation. By giving the audience this bit of information, it creates 10 minutes of suspense, which is worth far more than just 10 seconds (Derry, 1988).
Hitchcock says that the only time he made the mistake of not giving the audience information was in Spellbound, a mistake he never made again. The audience has no more information than the characters themselves, which while surprising does not comprise suspense (Derry, 1988).
Hitchcock denied that he made mystery films and stated that he made suspense thrillers instead. He said that “the mystery construction can be seen as opposite to the suspense construction – the former based on initial concealment and the latter based on initial revelation.” (Derry, 1988, p. 32).