Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets for the theatre this evening." HITCHCOCK MARATHON

North By Northwest-1959-Alfred Hitchcock


Mistaken identity.

Hitchcock's thrilling and totally entertaining chase film North By Northwest follows Roger Thornhill. A wealthy, but ordinary man, who is mistaken for a (fake) CIA officer named George Kaplan. He ultimately is chased throughout by foreign spies. The US must decide what to do, because they created the pseudonym of George Kaplan to throw off the enemy by booking hotel rooms across the country with such a name, without ever putting anyone into them. Thornhill happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and is not believed by anyone that he hasn't been to places or done certain things.

As in most Hitchcock films, Thornhill also has a mother complex, seemingly relying on her for everything and practically treating her like a girlfriend.

The thing I find truly interesting about North By Northwest though, is in how Hitchcock strips Thornhill of his identity little by little throughout the film. It begins with just a name being called and his response making it seem like he was 'Kaplan'. Then he takes his mother to the estate to prove to her he wasn't drunk driving on purpose, but the lady of the house calls him Kaplan and tells him he had to much to drink last night.

The strips come off even more when they head back to the hotel where Kaplan is supposed to be staying and break into his room. When the maid sees Thornhill she calls him Kaplan, not having ever seen Kaplan (since he is non-existent).

As the film goes on Thornhill is framed for murder. This is what allows the CIA to realize that someone has been mistaken for their non-existent decoy.

Professor: We do nothing...That's right, nothing. Oh, we could congratulate ourselves on a marvelous stroke of good fortune. Our non-existent decoy George Kaplan created to divert suspicion from our actual agent has fortuitously become a live decoy... What can we do to save him, without endangering our own agent?...We didn't invent our non-existent man and give him the name of George Kaplan, establish elaborate behavior patterns for him, move his prop belongings in and out of hotel rooms for our own private amusement. We created George Kaplan and labored successfully to convince Vandamm that this was our own agent hot on his trail for a desperately important reason...If we make the slightest move to suggest that there is no such agent as George Kaplan, give any hint to Vandamm that he's pursuing a decoy instead of our own agent, then our agent working right under Vandamm's very nose will immediately face suspicion, exposure and assassination, like the two others who went before

To which Mrs. Findlay add's; "Goodbye Mr. Thornhill, wherever you are."

Once Thornhill reaches the train and meets Eve, he lets us in on a major part of what his character is.
Eve: Roger O. Thornhill. What does the 'O' stand for?

Roger (shrugs): Nothing. (He lights her cigarette) I'd invite you to my bedroom if I had a bedroom.

What we then happen to find here is that in Roger's heart of hearts he is an empty individual. As we see in earlier scenes where he explains to his secretary that lying isn't bad, or makes excuses when he steals a cab from someone else. His reasoning is always empty, and shows his own selfishness. This is a film about the death of the old self and moving on to be a better, more fulfilled person.

This then brings us to another Hitchcock regular. The lying woman. Eve is working for Townsend(the spy) and is only using him, but in turn, falls in love with him. Just as in other Hitchcock classics(most notably Vertigo).

It seems Roger cares not about lying to others, but when he is lied to, it hurts. He tells Eve she has "no feelings to hurt" and leaves her, until he is informed that she actually works for the CIA but is also Townsend's mistress.
I just find it fascinating the way in which Hitchcock directs his films. The themes of many of his films could be soft, slow-paced indie drama's, but he infuses them with such vigorous, dramatic relevance that draws the viewer into the story and makes the film enjoyable in two ways. Either for just entertainment purposes, or for thematic study. You can watch a Hitchcock film and see only surface and be entertained. Or you can look deeper and realize that Hitchcock has placed his heart in the center and has allowed the film's rhythm and beat to follow the beat at which his heart allows it.

North By Northwest is about finding your place in life. We, as humans, can get to a point where we just become empty and filled with routine. We make excuses for our selfishness and seem to have a good reason for anything we do, that we don't think right for others. But life has a way of stripping away the layers and making us who we are meant to be.

Thornhill goes through a struggle of identity in North By Northwest. Not just mistaken identity, but he faces an identity crisis.

It seems that maybe his mother complex has led him to be a grown man-child. He bottles everything up inside, and is afraid of being hurt. But after the layers are stripped we find a different tune being played by Thornhill.

Eve: You're supposed to be critically wounded.

Roger: I never felt more alive.

Eve: Whose side are you on?

Roger: Yours always, darling.

Not only this but during the final chase scene Thornhill spouts about his past, and how he's changed.
Roger: If we ever get out of this alive, let's go back to New York on the train together, all right?

Eve: Is that a proposition?

Roger: It's a proposal, sweetie.

Eve: What happened to the first two marriages?

Roger: My wives divorced me.
Eve: Why?

Roger: Well, I think they said I led too dull a life.
The final chase, with Mount Rushmore involved, just seems to make me think of how Thornhill and Eve and the spies were dwarfed by the monument. They are dwarfed by history, and the past. While the spies cannot survive Roger and Eve are able to make it through the past and realize that although the past is bigger than them, they are to move on from it and learn from it. Another way to look at it would be for them to also have grown to understand their significance in this life is small, but important. There are bigger things in life (the world, history, politics,etc.) than themselves (as Roger overturns his selfishness) and moves on to more rewarding things.
In typical Hitchcock fashion the title , North By Northwest, has a lot more to do with the plot than meets the eye. It relates to Thornhill's identity crisis, as it is not only not seen on a compass, but it cannot make up it's mind in which direction it is truly going. To further the theme Hitchcock constantly had his characters go north and then west. Not only this, but when Thornhill is traveling he travels north by Northwest.

Hitchcock knew how to make smart, fun films that could be enjoyed by anyone and studied for ages to come, this is no exception.

1 comment:

Ambrose said...

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