Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, is a spy thriller that follows an advertising executive as he is being pursued due to a case of mistaken identity. Through dramatic irony and symbolism, Hitchcock is able to engage the viewer as well as communicate the themes of deception and love, in the film.
Different uses of dramatic irony appear throughout the entire film, which not only creates suspense, but shows how easily each of the characters can be deceived. For example, when Eve and Roger are on the train, Eve sends a note to Vandamm asking him what she should do with him in the morning. This use of dramatic irony allows the audience to understand that Roger is actually being deceived by Eve and that she is working for the bad guy. Also, when the screen shows the group of agents discussing Roger being mistaken for Kaplan, the audience finds out that there is no actual Kaplan. Throughout the rest of the movie, most of the characters continue to be fooled by the idea of an agent named “Kaplan”. By not knowing who is trustworthy and what is real, the use of dramatic irony asserts the idea that living in a world full of spies will always mean that deception happens.
The use of symbolism continuously reiterates the love between two of the main characters, Eve and Roger, as well as emphasizes the idea of deception. Eve and Roger first meet on a train, where their love first ensues. Later, they mention to each other that when they head back to New York, they should both ride the train. Even in the last scene, they consummate their marriage on the train. By repeatedly mentioning and showing the train, it turns into a symbol of their love. It is where they first fall for each other, as well as where their “happy ending” of the film takes place. The gun is also a symbol of deception, as it used several times to trick the characters, as well as the audience. The fact that the gun is used three times to fool the audience emphasizes deception, and makes it evident how easy it is to fool the naïve viewer.
Deception not only transpires on screen, but also off screen. The theme comes to life as the audience is easily fooled throughout the film as well. For instance, the gun that shoots blanks appears several times in the film. Despite being aware of the gun, the audience is easily tricked into believing that the gun that appears on screen is not the same one. For instance, Leonard holds the gun behind his back and it seems as if he is planning on killing Vandamm. When he shoots, it turns out that the gun is the same one as before. Leonard deceives Vandamm, as well as the audience, creating suspense, in order to prove that Eve is a traitor.
Despite North by Northwest having many similarities to typical spy films, there is a light-hearted feeling given off throughout the film. Hitchcock is constantly leaving the audience fooled due to his unusual approach, yet still manages to create a sense of closure at the end. Through the use of dramatic irony and symbolism, the film is able to impart the themes of deception and love.