Just an hour or two after seeing The Lodger, and almost all that’s left in my mind is a series of half-imagined, partially obscured, insinuating images--moments scattered with simple but secretive logic. It seemed to want to lead us somewhere; and while this was no experiment in film-narrative but a simple mystery-story, each person, building, machine--even the quality of the light, pooled or laid across the frame like bright bars--conspired to draw us not toward the solution but into uncertainty.
And why not, with murder at the heart of it, in the end not so much a plot as an understanding resisted. Oh, we all want enlightenment about everything--but not about untimely, violent death--here, “the avenger,” tossed on newspaper headlines like dirt on a coffin.
Maybe because it’s a British film, and the rhythms of their lives are not as clear as we’d like. --But that’s not it; something else disrupts clarity: all those close-up faces, grimacing, fearful--even smiles dropping--“golden curls to-night” interrupting the images on the screen, repeated words--a warning, a promise. And the golden-curled girls pause, stare at the threat, laugh it off--but someone has to get it, we’ve been promised.
The director, Alfred Hitchcock, seems excited to be in control of everything:
The lodger paces, and the people below look up at the ceiling and the swaying chandelier--and the ceiling becomes transparent so that we can watch him pace.
The lodger approaches the girl for a kiss, and his white face looms, fills the screen like spilled milk.
The suspicious suitor stares at the dirt at his feet, and sees his suspicions parade by.
Time and again, whatever is needed, happens, the sequence of images obedient to the obsessions of the characters--and, it seems, the director, who urges our suspicions--then punishes more than rewards us for doing as we’re told. All he wants is our undivided attention, so he can satisfy and sicken us with murder--even giggling a bit, the strange man in the back who laughs while everyone else in the theater sniffs away tears. He loves to make us wait, and draws out the moment--almost until we think we’re watching a different picture--but not for long, the threat hanging always, like a rubber bat in a Dark Ride, part jest, part unwholesome preoccupation--Oh, look at the monster! we exclaim, glancing in the fun-house mirror.
This is the thing Hitchcock built, a seeming window that, the closer we get, closes, irises toward the white-faced lodger, the sudden victim--innocent after all, the wrong man accused, his darkness masking sorrow, not guilt--and so the lens advances upon us, the angry mob stuck in our seats, unable to turn away from our false conclusions that, again, the film insists we make--as transgressions.