Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Hitch in Time

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:24-25

I love most of the Hitchcock movies like The Birds, Vertigo and Rear Window.  I think it was Frenzy that I saw in a movie theater with a friend of mine.  We were thoroughly unsophisticated hillbilly kids, and it was about too much for us.  We agreed to not tell anybody we had seen it.  It was guilt by association.

A similar film from the ‘80s is The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell.  I noticed I mentioned this movie in a post a couple of years ago, but we're expanding it a little here.  It’s like watching a copperhead in the weeds, repulsively fascinating.  If you are familiar with the plot, you know that Howell plays a youthful character named Jim Halsey who is delivering a “drive-away” Cadillac from Chicago to San Diego.  He makes the mistake of picking up Hauer’s ominous hitchhiker, John Ryder. 

First of all, there really aren’t any homosexual, homo-erotic undertones in the movies.  I’m not saying that couldn’t be read into it, as some have done, but I think it misses the much bigger point.  Ryder and Halsey -- one hauls and is the vehicle while the other rides and controls.  I can see how someone obsessed with sex or told, at some point, by a sex-obsessed person that it’s like catcher and pitcher might start thinking that.  Halsey and Ryder do get accused of being homosexual by a flagman on the road construction crew, but that is deliberate misdirection on Ryder’s part to defuse suspicion. 

Ryder is a psychotic but a very capable and, we might even say, supernaturally intelligent murderer.  He’s demonic.  He is able to follow Halsey undetected, appearing and disappearing at will.  The reason, so it seems, that he picks Halsey and puts him through so much torment is that he wants to be stopped.

It is almost as though Halsey and Ryder were the same person, a kind of Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Gollum/Smeagol, split personality.  Halsey wants to do the right thing, tries over and over to turn himself in, to escape from the avalanche of evil that he has innocently been caught up in.  Every time, Ryder comes from out of nowhere to intervene and keep Halsey trapped in the ever-tightening spiral.  The movie is on Youtube if you don’t remember it or have never seen it and want to watch it.  Most of the gore is off-screen.  There are dead, bloodied bodies around and a lot of implied horror, but we don’t witness so much of it as we would in the more current slasher movies.

Halsey might understand what Paul was talking about:  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out …  I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil is right there with me … ( a little loosely from Romans 7:15-25).  

Every time we want to set things right, to rectify and put everything back the way it should be, something will come out of “nowhere” to upset and thwart our best-laid plans and good intentions.

Now my very exclusive coterie of readers, all four of you, I’m sure don’t have this problem.  For me, though, it’s not really out of “nowhere”.  I suspect that I know exactly where my hitcher is riding as well as his real identity.  I’d like to deny culpability for these sins, point the finger, and blame Ryder, and there’s no question that he needs to be stopped – to die.  But I’m the one who is responsible for stopping him. 

Near the end of The Hitcher, Ryder has been taken into custody by the Texas DPS and is being transported in chains to prison.  Halsey is riding with a DPS captain – who represents the Law.  Halsey says something like, “You’re not going to be able to hold him.”  The Law is good, but it is inadequate to deal with Ryder.  He can’t simply be imprisoned and confined.  We can’t pass off our obligation to the authority of the Law.  We brought him here.  We have to stop him.  In his better moments, in his brief moments of clarity before his nature reasserts itself, Ryder wants us to stop him.  He gives us opportunity after opportunity. 

So, Halsey, after setting the Law out by the side of the road (a mirror image of how the whole thing started) and taking the vehicle of the Law, turns around and goes after Ryder, catching up with the bus just as Ryder makes his escape.  With this last one-on-one confrontation, it is Halsey who goes free.


John Lien said...

Well it least it sounds like it has a happy ending. Unless "goes free" is a euphenism for hacked into little pieces.

I tell ya' I'm fairly smart in some respects but I'm a retard when it comes to finding deeper meaning in art. I have the same trouble with the Bible. I need spirit guides.

mushroom said...

Father Barron is probably the best on films.

The question I always have is, do they do this intentionally? There are things that speak to us whether or not we know what's going on.

For example, in The Searchers, John Ford makes notable use of the physical resemblance between John Wayne and Henry Brandon (Chief Scar) and makes us realize that the chief's physical scars are reflections of Ethan's psychic scars That was intentional.

In this case, though, I suspect a lot of what I got from The Hitcher it was a function of the filmmakers trying to create an archetypical villain. To create a good archetype, you have to tap into the cultural mythology.