The theme of good and evil in Hollywood

The theme of good and evil has populated the Hollywood landscape for decades. The audience draws satisfaction from seeing the punishment of bad people, primarily drawn from a cultural perception of right and wrong. Interestingly, the trope never changes, but the allusion of good and evil has evolved with time. Sympathy towards the villain or “evil” person has become a popular narrative, creating a new approach to the concept of justice. Directors like Hitchcock have revolutionized the industry by challenging peoples beliefs and attitudes towards justice. Marnie (1964), The Birds (1963), and Psycho (1960) showcase restoration of justice through intricate storylines and complex storylines, including childhood trauma, vengeful birds, and psychiatric disorders, respectively.

Marnie exhibits the theme of justice when the protagonist confronts her childhood trauma and uncovers the cause of her kleptomaniac tendencies. The storyline revolves around Marnie, a beautiful blonde and a serial thief who assumes multiple identities. Initially, it is challenging for the audience to make definite conclusions regarding her personality and compulsive desire to steal. The mystery surrounding her character heightens through her aversion to the colour red and thunderstorms. Her odd situation complicates her relationship with men, especially her husband, Mark Rutland. Bernice, her mother, appears to reinforce her hatred for men when she says, “men and a good name don’t go together” (Marnie 00:8:38-00:8:41). She raises her daughter to loathe and fear men, explaining Marnies indifference to robbing their offices. Strut affirms this upbringing when he narrates Marnies conservative nature to the police. He states how she always pulled her skirt below her knees as though they were a national treasure (Marnie 00:3:20-00:3:22). Furthermore, she would rather commit suicide than engage in any physical intimacy with her husband. Rutland is the first person to note the unusual behaviour and encourages Marnie to seek psychiatric help.

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He first attempts amateur psychoanalysis to uncover Marnie’s repressed emotions and memories (Burdock 14). His firm conviction about Marnie’s traumatized past and the current problem eventually draws the viewers’ sympathy towards her. Hitchcock’s attempt to vindicate Marnie is evident when he showcases a physical and emotional struggle as she looks at a pile of cash in Rutland’s office (Marnie 1:32:15-1:32:41). At this point, it is evident that Marnie is a trauma victim with limited control over her situation. The initial portrayal as the stereotypical cold-hearted, beautiful swindler disappears, overtaken by the urge to uncover her past. True enough, the movie reveals Marnie’s crime as a child and the resulting selective amnesia. The theme of justice transcends the stolen money and focuses on Marnie reclaiming her life. She finally remembers the incident that traumatized her, fixing the relationship between her and Mark. The ending provides a sense of relief to the audience as Marnie is morally vindicated of her crime and given a happily ever after.

Additionally, The birds portray nature’s quest for justice through vicious birds that attack Bodega Bay’s residents. The film has a horrifying storyline that shows unprovoked birds attacking people, including children. Nobody understands the cause of this attack, and Hitchcock tactfully leaves it to the audience’s imagination. However, the introduction shows a disturbing relationship between humans and birds. Voyeurism is apparent when Melanie requests a bird that can talk, despite her limited knowledge of birds. Her disappointed facial expression as she learns she has to train the bird suggests she is solely concerned by the bird’s aesthetics (The Birds 00:3:08-00:3:10).

Moreover, the birds are caged, and when asked why she ironically replies, “we can’t let them fly around the shop” (The Birds 00:4:55-00:5:05). A form of oppression is apparent since the birds are forcefully taken from their natural habitats worldwide and locked in cages. Their desire for control strategically takes them to the isolated Bodega Bay. The residents can barely connect with the outside world, exhibited by the scattered and limited radio report despite several murders and continuous attacks.

They also have a peculiar interest in attacking children in parties and school areas. Melanie explains to a lady at the caf that the birds want to kill the children. Notably, Cathy indicates that the crows would have killed her had Annie not pushed her inside. This behaviour appears as a form of retaliation against humanity as the birds intentionally target people’s offsprings. In the first scene, the bird shop attendant explains to Melanie that “they have to get them from India when they are just baby chicks” (Hitchcock 00:2:53-00:2:55). Logically, most grown birds are denied the opportunity to nurture ad cater to their offspring, explaining the targeted attacks. Their vengeance also takes a broad approach when they claw off Dan’s eyes. He keeps the taxidermy of a deer on his wall, showcasing what the birds perceive as cruelty towards wildlife. This is perhaps the most grotesque scene in the movie and explains Annie’s firm instruction to the children to cover their eyes. After the gas explosion, the bird’s eye view shows birds victoriously flying over the town, foreshadowing their dominance in the end (Selenica 114). Overall, the birds avenge their oppression and fly freely in the town.

Lastly, Psycho portrays a distorted version of justice as evil prevails over good through a historical cliff-hanger ending. Psycho is a film that tactfully manipulates the audience’s emotions and distorts their understanding of good and evil. The film introduces Norman Bates, a shy and nervous “mama’s boy” who appears sweet and innocent. His gentle personality immediately draws the viewer’s affection, and they subconsciously empathize with him even after he covers Marion’s murder. For instance, there is an intensive sense of relief when Marions car finally sinks into the swamp after lingering for a few seconds (Psycho 00:59:47-00: 59:59). To the viewers, he is a dutiful son that has to live with an overbearing mother. The story aligns with Hitchcocks signature portrayal of mothers as domineering and intrusive rather than loving and caring (Selenica, 113).

It is later revealed that Bates has dissociative identity disorder, and the mother’s side of him had committed all these murders. The revelation that he killed his mother and her lover affects the audience’s perception of him, forcing them to choose between the murderer and the disturbed boy that craves his mothers love and validation. Norman Bates’ arrest does not provide a conclusive sense of justice since the evil mother becomes the dominant personality and intends to blame Norman. Her wicked smile at the end gives an ominous and ambiguous ending that practically leaves the audience uneasy despite the detailed explanation by the psychiatrist (Psycho 1:48:31-1:48:38). Moreover, the company never recovered the stolen money. Conclusively, Pyscho diverts from the conventional notion of justice through a complex storyline that leaves the audience in suspense.

Marnie, Psycho, and The Birds exhibit the theme of restorative justice. Marnie shows a mentally sick woman that triumphs over her childhood trauma and finally quits her kleptomaniac behaviour. Marnie is a compulsive thief that hates men until she meets Mark Rutland, who helps her address her past. Likewise, The Bird take a similar but more surprising turn when the birds retaliate against human oppression. They target children and more viscously attack people with taxidermies in their homes. Overall, they takeover Bodega Bay to reclaim the years they spent trapped in cages. Psycho takes a more complicated approach to justice by including extreme mental disorders. Although the viewers explain the crimes, there lacks a sense of justice since the real evil persona, the mother, has leverage and gets a chance to blame her son entirely. Summatively, Hitchcock creates intriguing plotlines that compel the audience to challenge their perception of morality and justice.


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