‘North by Northwest’: It’s a beautiful horror Hitchcock World

Kunal
3 min readApr 1, 2022

The frames are locked, the color correction is somewhat muffled, the scenes with their bureaucratic chaos and confusion are reactive, there are logistics of running away to somewhere and finally feeling peace. Even the bad parts of the world are celebratory… There is no deep love for any character but their jumbled perception works as escapism in a very non-ironical sense, pure angst because of the entertainment. The very prominent thing next to the Hitchcock world is Hitchcock’s style.

The pointless gestures of drama in Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ feel as if they are not really pointless. The whole philosophy of his art gets mugged up into the frame. He truly was a master of his craft but is that the only reason why his world often feels the same as if one was reading Franz Kafka on a Monday afternoon; Bureaucratic, sluggish, and horror. The crop-duster chase scene really makes you feel the lack of drama in films that define their core and fundamentals to really be ‘drama.’

‘North by Northwest’ is a 1959, Drama/Mystery film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. There have been pure controversies regarding its name and its meaning. Some people say it’s taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“I am but mad north north west when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw”

Ernest Lehman who is the writer of the film says that the initial name of the film was ‘In a north-westerly direction’ as the film’s story was going from New York and ending in Alaska in the first draft of the film which then after editing the script was changed to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. There were many titles option for the film one of them was also called ‘The man on Lincoln’s nose.’ But when the head of the story department at MGM, suggested the name ‘North by northwest’ and eventually it was finalized. the most prominent and logical reason is that it’s nothing but a nonsensical combination of words which is also similar to the wronged-man-on-run Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant.)

Just like Nolan’s time-fetish, Hitchcock’s narrative trickery was of suspense, The film is not going in any certain direction but is following wind, circumstances, and consequences. The most iconic scene in the film or of Hitchcock per se is the crop duster chase scene. The whole scene is a fascinating study about drama and its use in films. The scene is also called the art of the chase. the crop duster chasing Thornhill symbolizes his life till now. He’s wearing a suit and running on an empty road with nothing but his Bond-Esq personality.

Earlier in the film, there is a scene where people in the lift are laughing, contradictory to the situation, Hitchcock shows the subtle change in climate through it. There is always a momentum made by the background score in the film but as the crop-duster comes, the background music is removed. Truffaut comments on the editing length of the sequence, highlighting how unusual each shot length actually is.

The most fascinating highlight of the film is framing a person who is innocent to his core. Hitchcock always used his films as an instrument to show the depressing complications of bureaucracy. This film coldly smells of America. The great narcissism that the people of America often find themselves in. The core of the film is nothing but suspense. Hitchcock with making numbers and numbers of classics, with ‘North by Northwest’ he took his career one step up. It’s true what they say, no one can make the audience feel suspense as Hitchcock does. He truly was the master of suspense.

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Kunal

I’m Kunal Rajput, I’m a writer based out of Ahmedabad. I write weekly essays/Articles on Art, Culture, philosophy and Politics.