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The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock (2002) by Christopher D. Morris

author Christopher D. Morris
publisher Greenwood Press (2002)
ISBN 0275971368

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In this interpretation of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Morris argues that suspense - the fundamental component of Hitchcock's cinema - is best understood not through psychology or philosophy,because these disciplines are founded on unjustifiable assumptions. His deconstructive analysis begins with the very meaning of the word "suspense", which relates to dependence or hanging, and analyzes its portrayal first in painting and sculpture,and then in Hitchcock's body of work. In this iconographic tradition, hanging figures challenge the significance of human identity and rationality, and further imply that "closure", or an end to suspense, is all but illusory. This work represents a deconstructive approach to suspense, and a survey of the iconography of the hanging figure. Hitchcock's films provide ample opportunity for such discussion, with their constant use of the tool of suspense, and Morris argues that, essentially, all of human existence is in this very state, a state embodied particularly well by the films he discusses. Drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man and J. Hillis Miller, this cross-disciplinary study establishes the advantage of a deconstructive and figurative approach to an often-studied directorial style.


  • Introduction (page 1)
  • Part I. Theories of Suspense (page 17)
  • Current Theories of Suspense (page 19)
  • Hitchcock on Suspense (page 37)
  • Part II. The Iconography of the Hanging Figure (page 53)
  • Introduction to Part II (page 53)
  • The Hanging Figure in Non-Cinematic Visual Art (page 57)
  • The Hanging Figure in Hitchcock's Films (page 93)
  • Part III. Suspense in Hitchcock (page 113)
  • The Lodger: Deferred Identity in the Crucified Figure (page 115)
  • Easy Virtue: Framing Nothing (page 127)
  • The Ring: The Circularity of Reading (page 135)
  • Spellbound: The Suspense of Black Marks on White (page 145)
  • Notorious: Thresholds in the Glamorously Dangerous Charade (page 155)
  • Rope: Suspense as the Absent Referent (page 167)
  • Vertigo: The Futile Search for Something Tenable (page 185)
  • North by Northwest: Groundless Figuration (page 199)
  • Psycho: Empty Interiors (page 215)
  • The Birds: Signs of a World Without Cause or Meaning (page 227)
  • Torn Curtain: The Hanging Figure (page 239)
  • Afterword: Figures of Suspense (page 255)