"Rope" -- A Commentary

Fr. Peter West
Priest Associate, Priests for Life
January 01, 2005

Is there a moral law that applies to everyone? Are some human beings superior to others? Are laws against murder merely a social contract that we abide by for the sake of order or are they based on fundamental moral principles? Is human life sacred? These are questions that are raised in the movie "Rope" made in 1948, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Jimmy Stewart.

The story is inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924 and their obsession with the superman theories of Friedrich Nietzsche. Two college students, Brandon and Philip, decide to murder a classmate, David, in a bizarre experiment. They agree with their old prep school headmaster Professor Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) who accepts Nietzsche’s concept of the "übermensch" or "superman". Rupert says "Murder is an art, and as such the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals."

Brandon and Philip think of themselves as superior to other human beings and plan to exercise their superior role by strangling David, one of their prep school classmates. After the murder, they hide his body in a chest within their apartment. After killing David, they arrogantly host a party. Their victim’s family and friends are invted to attend.

As the evening progresses Rupert who is invited to the party begins to suspect something is very wrong and the movie is a suspenseful drama that leads Rupert to finally discover David’s body. Rupert is brutally confronted with the consequences of his own philosophy. He is ashamed that he bears some responsibility in David’s murder. Brandon and Philip have done what Rupert preached.

Are we not at risk of raising a whole generation of Brandons and Philips as so many of our society’s leaders proclaim "a right to choose"? The "right to choose" they defend is the right to choose to take the life of another human being. Like Rupert, those who defend the "right to choose", may find that their philosophy has unintended consequences.

If we accept the principle that some human beings have a right to choose to take the lives of other human beings, what is to stop a future generation from deciding they have a right to choose to take our lives, if we become burdensome? Aren’t we seeing the beginnings of this already as food, water and other necessary care are quietly withdrawn from sick, elderly and handicapped patients in some of our hospitals and nursing homes.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today is abortion, because she said "if a mother can kill her own child, what is there to stop you and me from killing each other?"

Today in the United States, abortion continues to claim the life of every fourth child conceived. This can not help but dull the moral consciences in ways that ultimately harmful to other human rights. Let’s work together to end abortion and proclaim the sanctity of every human life. Whether we succeed or fail in this mission may determine the security of our own right to life.

Priests for Life
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