„What does the O stand for? “ – Thornhill on the scout for his identity North by Northwest is a 1959 thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The plot follows Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive, who finds himself in the world of spies when he is mistaken for a man called “George Kaplan”. He gets involved in a series of misadventures and is pursued across the States by two spies and the government whilst being helped by a beautiful blonde. It becomes apparent that throughout the film, Alfred Hitchcock presents the theme of identity loss in various ways. One way in which he presents it is right at the beginning of the movie.
During a business meeting at the Plaza hotel in New York, two gangsters head Roger Thornhill off. They mistake him for George Kaplan, whose name had previously been called out. In this scene, Hitchcock presents identity loss and the reception of a new identity as a result of pure coincidence. Equally important is the moment when Roger Thornhill wants to meet Lester Townsend and uses the identity of George Kaplan to do so. He fills the empty space of the non-existing figure. After entering the lobby of the UN building he informs the lobby attendant that he wishes to meet Lester Townsend, announcing himself as Mr. Kaplan.
Roger Thornhill willingly adopts the identity of a fabled man. Here, “mistaken identity” is presented as an act of choice. Further proof for a different representation can be found in the same scene. Lester Townsend falls forward into Roger’s arms. Roger is implicated as an assassin and murderer after pulling the knife that was thrown by one of the thugs out of Townsend’s back. It appears to the crowd that Roger, or in this situation George Kaplan, has killed the UN diplomat. In this scene, a new identity is, almost by force, imposed upon Thornhill by the spies and the crowd.
He must attempt now to clear himself of a murder he did not commit with an identity that is not his own. After analyzing relevant scenes, one can see that during the movie Roger Thornhill loses his own identity and takes up the one of George Kaplan. Sometimes he does it willingly, sometimes he is “pushed” into it. By doing so he gets involved in a crime he did not commit. In conclusion, one can confirm that Hitchcock shows the audience different ways in which his main character loses and takes on various identities. This raises the issue whether Roger Thornhill finds his “true” identity at the end of the movie.