A theme is a concept in the movie that is continued throughout in order to establish a connecting motif that ties the movie together. One prevalent theme in the movie «North by Northwest» is double or false identities.
Everyone in this movie either steals, creates, or assumes double or false identities at some point in the movie. No initial character ends up being who they appear to be. One major character that carries this theme is Roger O. Thornhill, played by Cary Grant. He begins as himself, a Madison Avenue businessman who’s only life excitement revolves around taking his mother to the play that evening. He then turns into the angry man who is wrongly accused of being George Kaplan. He then becomes a fugitive from justice, dodging the police like he had been doing that all his life. In the end, he ends up assuming the role of Kaplan in order to save the woman he loves. Eve Kendell, played by Eva Marie Saint, also plays two different roles. To Roger she is the helpful, exciting blonde on the train but in real life she is «working» for Vandamm. It is interesting to note that she is also playing a double role to not only Roger but also Vandamm. Vandamm thinks she likes him and is helping him to capture Roger where in real life she is working for the government to try and help catch Vandamm. This theme of people playing double or false roles is also prevalent in Hitchcock’s film «Shadow of a Doubt,» with Uncle Charlie playing the sweet uncle and the Merry Widow Killer.
The theme of double and false identities is highlighted strongly on the train scene between Eve and Roger. After a passionate kiss, the camera closes in on Eve’s face looking over Roger’s shoulder. Her expression on her face conveys to the audience that she is troubled by her apparent «act» and that there is more to her character then we know. The audience then finds out that indeed she is playing another role when she sends the letter to Vandamm asking what to do with Roger in the morning. Another scene where the theme is reflected is in the scene at the airport between Roger and the American intelligence agent when Roger finds out the truth about Eve. This scene then leads into the Mt. Rushmore observatory where Roger is shot by Eve. These two connecting scenes show Roger taking on the role of George Kaplan. The audience can see the dawning revelation on his face as he learns the truth about Eve. He then decides to «play» Kaplan, the secret agent and play into Vandamm’s earlier plot. Dialogue was one film technique that Hitchcock used a lot in this movie to convey the theme.
The action sequence at the Mt. Rushmore conservatory is a key example with the dialogue revolving around Roger and Vandamm. Vandamm almost congratulates Roger for his «many roles» he has played but that now the only role he will be performing is playing dead. After this is said, Roger is shot by Eve’s fake bullets. This dialogue interaction makes the audience realize that Roger is indeed assuming many different roles throughout the movie. Another film technique used in «North by Northwest» is the use of specific locations for his scenes. The scene of Roger’s reconciliation with Eve after the false shooting is filmed among trees with cool, calm shade and sunlight drifting through. This is the first time the characters are ever surrounded by trees. It signifies to the audience the beginning of a new life for the both of them. This shows that Eve is now emerging as her real self. She is unmasking to Roger her true character and what a perfect way to do this unveiling of previous roles then in a beautiful clearing with sunlight pearing down.