The Complex Male Relationship in Strangers on a Train (1951)
Guy and Bruno’s relationship in Strangers on a Train is complex because the two men are not strictly contrasts or complements of one another. Hitchcock loves to mystify the audience’s perception of who is “good” and who is “evil” in his films. He never lets his heroes be unfaltering in their purity or his villains completely unrelatable. In Strangers on a Train, the villain, Bruno, is envious of the hero’s life and attempts to transform their differences into similarities; whereas the hero, Guy, is fearful of the similarities he sees between himself and Bruno and tries to repress those parallels.
Bruno immediately makes it clear he is jealous of Guy’s life discussing Guy’s personal life when he engages the conversation on the train. The first few topics Bruno brings up are how beautiful Guy’s girlfriend is, and that he (Bruno) admires “people who do things” like Guy. Bruno, on the other hand, is trapped at home with his only his parents: a father whom he despises and a mother who dresses him up like a daughter at a pageant. He makes the remark about his tie clip only being there on his mother’s insistence: a complaint about his own life at home that when coupled with his admiration for Guy’s life makes Bruno seem envious of this stranger on the train. Despite these differences, Bruno sees a way to bring he and Guy together; two non-parallel lines intersecting at a single point: murder. His “crisscross” murder plan comes from a common goal of wanting someone murdered. He sees this want in Guy and founds their relationship past this point around this similarity. Bruno is keeping track of Guy so that Guy will follow through with the murder, and conveniently for Bruno, this brings him and Guy closer together as he stalks Guy to multiple social events and parties. At a tennis match Guy gives a look of outward regard, then we see the people in the stand following the ball back and forth but one man, Bruno, staring directly at Guy. Guy is more than a tennis player or partner in crime, he is Bruno’s obsession.
When Bruno moves in closer to Guy on the train at the very beginning, the over-the-shoulder point-of-view shot is from Guy’s perspective. These first impressions of Guy being relatable, and Bruno being intrusive dictate who the audience perceives as the hero and the villain. However, overcoming the idea that these men have non-parallel or dissimilar intentions reveals how the crisscross really describes similarity more than difference. Before the characters are introduced, during the opening tracking cross-cut montage they are just interchangeable pairs of shoes. The initial association described before is necessary because at the very beginning of the movie it’s not clear at all which stranger on the train is going to be the hero. Hitchcock loves this mystery he created for the audience because it’s a sign that these two crisscrossing men are actually the same. Consider the crisscross as a symbol. In mathematics it is a multiplication symbol that magnifies one number by another’s magnitude. Perhaps Bruno’s sociopathic ideas magnify the subtle rage that Guy has tried to bury inside himself. When Guy calls Anne after seeing Miriam he loses control and screams “I could strangle her” over the sound of a passing train. His encounter with Bruno and the train (a symbol of Bruno’s presence) amplified his rage to near sociopathic levels, further equating Guy and Bruno.
Guy’s attempts to suppress the bits of his personality he sees in Bruno are in vain because of the growing presence of Bruno in his life. Guy would rather have nothing to do with Bruno whereas Bruno wishes they were best friends. My mother, and many others I’m sure, told me “who you spend time with reflects who you are.” As the two spend more time together, Bruno sees himself in Guy more and more and loves it, and Guy sees himself in Bruno more and more and hates it.
Originally written 10/26/14