The Beautiful Evil: Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is a beautiful example of the study of Evil. We are constantly confronted with images and descriptions of violence, and in these accounts of atrocious acts we rarely get a chance to consider the criminal from any angle beyond criminality.

Where evil meets innocence, and where it wins over good people, the life of what is evil gets boiled down quickly into all that is despicable about it, because the lives it affected were very real and perceivably good. He ran a summer camp? She donated thousands of dollars to children in need? How could this criminal have fooled us into thinking he was good, when, really he was capable of [insert terrible deed]. Everything good looks like pretend, because evil people aren’t capable of good…right? Hitchcock didn’t seem to think so.

The beauty of film is that everything can be put under a microscope safely. Evil people like Shadow’s murderer, Charlie, can slip their way into pretty little towns and hearts and the story of how they commit bad deeds can play out before us, chillingly, without consequences. We can even get a chance to sympathize with the bad people and the good, alike, as we do in Shadow. Since we’re watching -enthralled- we may as well be open to the concepts that are presented, and Hitchcock wanted the innocent niece Charlie and the disturbed uncle Charlie to play against each other: admiration, love, skepticism, hurt, fear, denial confusion, resolve, closure, destruction. They are the reason we can sympathize with criminals and grow to dislike heroes like the protagonist in Saboteur, who can’t seem to catch a break. They share feelings, but in the end their relationship demonstrates the line between the good and the disturbed: a fear of others that runs so deep that they see anybody but themselves as being of less value.

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