In the course of a TNR meditation on the enduring popularity of Alfred Hitchcock, David Thomson comments on Hitchcock’s fascinations: “he loved Mount Rushmore in the moonlight, and a semi-desert prairie with crops where no crops would grow, and all those staircases on which ordeals are resolved— Notorious , Vertigo, Strangers on a Train , The Birds , Psycho . Whenever Hitchcock gets near a staircase, you should hold on to the arms of the seat or the hand of anyone who came with you, because you are going to have to see the thing you are afraid of seeing. You could walk out, but that would deny the perilous privilege that the dark has given you.”

When I noticed Terrence Malick’s similar obsession with staircases in The Tree of Life , I thought of Freud. Perhaps, though, Malick was doing his homage to Hitchcock. Or, more likely, Hitchcock was already playing with Freudian themes of his own.

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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