Cape Fear is an interesting film in-regards to moral stances and ideology. It seems to be a film that ultimately is against vengeance and moralizing, two seemingly different things radically (for some attach bloodlust to Moral Nihilism) but actually part of the same vice. Ultimately I would say Max Cady epitomizes the false compassion that Christianity brings, while also bringing a sense of divine retribution that Nietzsche makes available for all of mankind. I’m showing my hand a little early in this essay, but ultimately that was my take away with the film.
Vengeance comes from the sickly psychology of moralizing because it is such psychology that prevents us from seeing our brothers and sisters as simply causal and material agents in the Universe and instead see them as beings that are “moral authors” in themselves. We do not attach a sense of judgment when a dog bites us or a wild animal attacks us, and yet we do such for humans despite the fact we are nothing but a rather sophisticated (in some cases) higher-primate. Cady’s torment and damnation comes from his lack of ability to forgive and do something constructive and creative with his life. In some ways he’s become intelligent and educated over the years, but it seems like in some ways he’s playing a role or entertaining a façade for the sake of his Ego. This can be seen in how though he’s well-educated and says he can “out philosophize” anyone, he makes very fundamental moral errors and is unable to see the errors and futility of his actions; he still is the savage who brutally assaulted a raped a sixteen year old fourteen years earlier.
Both Friedrich Nietzsche and the Abrahamic faiths have an at-least minor obsession with blood and revenge. One can turn to many a page in the Bible and see the most horrendous deeds performed by the Judeo-Christian god, and many vindications of the baser impulses of Man in Nietzsche. And though such heinous descriptions are more vivid in the Old Testament, Jesus “forgiving man” but damning those who do not accept him as a God to eternal torment is more ghastly than anything in the books that came before it. Becoming nothing more than a spiritual revisioning of Judaism rather than a drastic overhaul or alteration of it. Nietzsche believes he is creating a radically different code for Man to live by; funny enough he is creating simply a more secular form of the some barbarism. The only distinction being the Nihilistic privileges that the Christian gives God Nietzsche wishes to extend to Man.
Returning briefly to impulses, Cady himself tells Danielle to not suppress her urges and instead act on them – very Nietzschean indeed. But there is a difference between acting on a primal urge in the most base way and sublimating them as Freud describes to create great works of art and creativity – whether or not Nietzsche talks of sublimation I’m not entirely sure, but I think he does mention it, though perhaps not as much as Freud. While Cady is pretending to Danielle he does say some words of wisdom, but we receive quite quickly that they are a masquerade put on which are likely half-believed but wholly not acted upon. This too is seen in the fundamentalist Christian psychology of praying for those who they dislike when they have strong notions of vengeance based on ideological differences between them and those who in their mind have wronged their god. The Bible speaks of both punishment and forgiveness – but ultimately being a mystical code that does not attempt to increase Man’s knowledge or material conditions, it placates to the lesser-impulses in humanity and therefore often results in emphasis on damnation and judging while the love and forgiveness is preached by the better Christians authentically and is word-vomit by the priests and worse Christians as justification and occasional PR in-a-sense for their worst qualities.
And now to the final crux of the film asides from the Nietzsche-Christian jive: Namely how even though punishment and jail sentences are wrong (once again that is to judge human beings in a idealist rather than materialist frame work) Cady is himself wrong for feeling morally worthy of judging when he is a rapist, assaulter and liar whenever it serves his bloodlust and feeling of condemnation he wishes to place on Sam – and do anything to see him suffer rather than forgive. Cady feels he was cheated and could have been spared a jail sentence due-to the woman’s promiscuity (while telling Danielle that it’s wrong that her parents are preventing her from exploring her sexuality) but still savagely raped her. Though it is likely that he simply is searching for any “out” of why he shouldn’t have gone to jail, it could be argued that believing raping an easy girl as somehow justified plays into the Christian ethics of severely punishing those (particularly women) who are sexually active.
The film ultimately ends with Cady’s death and Danielle’s monologue; describing how she simply wishes to forget Cady and what he did and has done to them. She seems to hold none of the lust for retribution that he had, and though she claims she wishes to forget him to keep her dreams untainted by him, I think it is actually herself that she wishes to remain pure, and not violated (seen in the metaphor of Cady being a rapist not only physically but psychologically) to see the world in terms of moral judgment, condemning the sick and weak and retain hate in her heart as Cady (clearly a sick man) clearly did. By refusing to let our worst moments taint us, we “forget” them by not becoming their essence in our own phenomenogical states, therefore surpassing them and perhaps even taking the possibility of improving ourselves from them – arguably a different take on Nietzsche’s adage of “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Beginning to focus on enlightenment and compassion rather than “salvation” which is how Cady defines paradise.