December 8, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock's Final Twist

Alfred Hitchcock's Surprise Ending
A biographer said that the director, at the end of his life, shunned religion. Not true. I was there.

Alfred Hitchcock has returned to the news lately, thanks to an apparently unflattering portrait of him in a new Hollywood production. Some of his biographers have not been kind, either. Religion, too, is much in the news, also often presented in an unflattering light, because clashing beliefs are at issue in wars and terrorism. The violence provokes some people to reject religion altogether. For many who experience religion only in this way—at second hand, in the media, from afar—such a reaction is to a degree understandable.

What they miss is that religion is an intensely personal affair. St. Augustine wrote: "Magnum mysterium mini"—I am a great mystery to myself. Why exactly Hitchcock asked Tom Sullivan to visit him is not clear to us and perhaps was not completely clear to him. But something whispered in his heart, and the visits answered a profound human desire, a real human need. Who of us is without such needs and desires?

Some people find these late-in-life turns to religion suspect, a sign of weakness or of one's "losing it." But nothing focuses the mind as much as death. There is a long tradition going back to ancient times of memento mori, remember death. Why? I suspect that in facing death one may at last see soberly, whether clearly or not, truths missed for years, what is finally worth one's attention.

Weighing one's life with its share of wounds suffered and inflicted in such a perspective, and seeking reconciliation with an experienced and forgiving God, strikes me as profoundly human. Hitchcock's extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines . . . or today's filmmakers and biographers.

One of Hitchcock's biographers, Donald Spoto, has written that Hitchcock let it be known that he "rejected suggestions that he allow a priest . . . to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort." That in the movie director's final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 8, 2012 3:34 PM | Permalink