Alfred Hitchcock Couldn't Have Cared Less About His Movies Making Sense

The magic of making movies revolves around the idea that you can make up anything you want to see. Budgetary restrictions may prohibit a filmmaker from realizing the full scope of their vision, but the tools at their disposal can be used to enrapture viewers with their unique settings, characters, stories, and atmosphere. A director's imagination, emboldened by the cast and crew, gets to run wild on the screen for our amusement. There's an unspoken agreement that once you've invested yourself in a movie, you are at its behest.

How many times have you said to yourself that a character should be dead based on how hard they were hit, or how far of a distance they fell? Hell, the "Fast & Furious" movies revitalized their own franchise by gloriously leaning into the death-defying stunts that spit in the face of all forms of logic and physics. They've ultimately succeeded because the important components needed to make a great or, at the very least, an engaging film, are present. Suspension of disbelief can go a long way in helping you immerse yourself in the world of the film you're watching, and there's one filmmaker who certainly believed in the power of the unbelievable: Alfred Hitchcock.

He's right, you know

Whether he's terrorizing us with motel slashers ("Psycho") or a mysterious murder in the building next door ("Rear Window"), Alfred Hitchcock is an undisputed master of the form, whose effect is as relevant now as it was when his films came out. The book "Hitchcock/Truffaut" is one of the most important seminal texts any cinephile could possibly own, as it features two titans of cinema discussing their craft with the utmost admiration for one another's work. Within the book, Hitchcock and French New Wave auteur Fran├žois Truffaut ("The 400 Blows") find themselves talking about the nature of a film's verisimilitude, and the "Vertigo" filmmaker speaks about how much he detests confiding in it:

"I'm not concerned with plausibility; that's the easiest part of it, so why bother? Do you remember that lengthy scene in 'The Birds' in which the people are talking about the birds? In that group there is a woman who is precisely a specialist on the subject of birds, an ornithologist. She happens to be there by pure chance! Naturally, I could have made up three scenes just to give that woman a logical reason for being there, but they would have been completely uninteresting."

He's right to say so. The character Hitchcock refers to, Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies), pops in on Melanie's phone call regarding the recent attack on the school children. She doesn't help out in any way, so much as offer a dissenting opinion to the main character based on her field of knowledge. Can you imagine how boring it would be if there were time dedicated to why an ancillary character was there at that exact moment, only to immediately discard her once she's said her piece? As the scene stands, Mrs. Bundy's assertion that "birds are not aggressive creatures" works as a precursor to the gas station attack, and it only makes their unprovoked behavior even more frightening.

Not everything needs to be grounded

Alfred Hitchcock further commented on the matter of how ridiculous the concept of objective logic can be damaging to a work of fiction:

"To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately. What's the ultimate in representative painting? Color photography. Don't you agree? There's quite a difference, you see, between the creation of a film and the making of a documentary. In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it's not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow."

Even the movies we refer to as "grounded" are made from a subjective lens that can be twisted to show a constructed reality belonging to the characters within the film, including documentaries. What matters is if the film is interesting enough to let little details like the ornithologist in "The Birds" disrupt the illusion or pass you by.

If we're going with something else from Hitchcock's oeuvre, let's take "North by Northwest," for example. In the film's thrilling finale, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) fights for his life while atop Mount Rushmore. If I really wanted to, I assert there would be no way he or Eve (Eva Marie Saint) could logically traverse the mountainside monument without immediately plummeting to their deaths. It's never been established that they could do this, and yet they are. I could say that, but Hitchcock's taut direction, Bernard Herrmann's thrilling score, and the inherent peril of a final confrontation coalesce to form a climax that has us on the edge of our seats. Sometimes these things just don't matter.

"The Birds" is currently streaming on Peacock.