North by Northwest

North by Northwest Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Hitchcock make use of camera angles to symbolically represent different situations?

    Hitchcock makes use of shots from great heights to emphasize Roger’s isolation and flight across the country. The two most notable examples of storytelling from a high elevation are the shot in which Roger is seen running from the United Nations into a cab after being framed for murder and the scene in which Roger waits alone to meet with Kaplan on the side of the road in rural Indiana.

    Hitchcock also uses the camera angle to signify emotional distance between characters. When Roger and Eve meet in the woods of South Dakota, after Eve pretends to murder Roger, the couple stands roughly 30 feet apart talking to one another in the woods. They are not out of danger yet, and they cannot yet be together; the distance between them signifies this. This shot also parallels the shot in which Roger stands across the road from the man he believes is Kaplan. There is a divide between Roger and the mysterious “Kaplan,” who represents the solution to Roger’s troubles.

  2. 2

    What is the significance of the title “North by Northwest”?

    The obvious interpretation of the title is that it roughly tracks Roger’s journey across the country, first to Chicago, and then to South Dakota. The title, which refers to an intersection of sorts, is also symbolic of Roger’s conflict: he has, quite by accident, “intersected” with Kaplan’s identity, and this intersection sends him in a number of directions, all of which are the result of a misidentification. Searching desperately for the truth, he continually finds himself in situations where he is mistaken for someone he is not. He also continues to “run into” various characters, sometimes seemingly by mistake, including Eve, Vandamm, and his henchmen.

  3. 3

    How does this movie portray the theme of identity?

    Identity is a persistent theme of the film. The most important aspect of this theme is of course Roger’s mistaken identity as a government agent. Despite all of his denials, he cannot escape this false persona, based solely on circumstantial evidence. As one of Vandamm’s henchmen puts it, “You respond to Kaplan’s name, you live in Kaplan’s room, you answer Kaplan’s telephone, and you are not Kaplan?” The more curious he becomes to unveil the mystery, the more Roger frames himself as George Kaplan. The existence of “Kaplan” is purely based on the fact that he has clothing, belongings, and seemingly human habits, but there is actually no non-material evidence to suggest he exists.

    Later, society’s misconceptions of identity take on an unsavory tone when Roger is mistaken for a murderer. Again, the material reality does not match the actual events. In society’s eyes, the photograph of Roger holding the knife is enough to prove his guilt, but the audience knows that Roger Thornhill has been framed.

  4. 4

    Why does Roger Thornhill become so intent on pursuing his captors?

    When nobody in his life will believe his story about being abducted by Valerian and Licht, Roger is charged with car theft and drunk driving. While this small infraction is not a big deal, he becomes hell-bent on proving his innocence, if only for the fact that his abduction has confused and shaken him; after all, he narrowly escaped death. Intent to snoop and get some answers, he wanders into the hotel room of the mysterious George Kaplan, but can find nothing to get him out of his plight. Not even his mother believes him, and he becomes intent on solving the mystery himself. When Roger meets the Professor, and finally gets all of the answers he was looking for, he is almost content to walk away from the situation and wash his hands of the entire thing. However, when the Professor reveals that Eve Kendall is the double agent whose life is in danger, Thornhill is once again pulled to get involved in the complicated situation. First, curiosity and righteousness motivate him to solve the mystery, and then love for Eve motivates him to do away with the traitorous Vandamm clan once and for all.

  5. 5

    What is unique about Cary Grant's performance?

    Throughout, Grant maintains a certain level of detachment from the crazy events taking place around him. This allows him to be funny, witty, and irreverent, even in the most dire of circumstances. When he is first abducted by Valerian and Licht, Roger makes pithy jokes rather than panicking, and barely raises his voice or makes a run for it, up until the moment they threaten to forcibly intoxicate him. After being framed for murder, and making a run for it, Roger maintains a cool detachment, an ingenuity and a sense of humor that feel like understatement given the circumstances. Cary Grant's likable performance carries the viewer along with him, through every twist and turn and reveal, even when we know more than him. It is his humor and his detachment that make the character such a compelling protagonist, and which gave Grant his star power.