Monday, February 15, 2016

Core Post: North by Northwest - Roger Thornhill's Masculinity Problem

In Cohen’s article, “The Spy in The Gray Flannel Suit,” he analyzes Roger as a symbol for “masculinity in crisis.” While Cohen dissects this symbol in a variety of ways – I’m most interested in the ways in Cohen discusses Roger’s masculinity in terms of his relationship with Eve and heroism. Early in the film, Roger is introduced to us as a man with slippery masculinity and male power. We hear Roger’s past failed marriages. We see his dependency on his mother. We see how effortlessly and quickly he falls for Eve Kendall. Throughout the film, Roger moves from emasculated victim to independent, powerful hero. He does this by claiming agency. In the beginning of the film, he’s completely in the dark about what is happening to him. The first night when he is taken to Phillip Vandamm’s house, he’s completely over taken by the enemy and eternal forces. He ends up bulgingly drunk, in a jail, calling his mother for help. This ties into what Cohen discuses as the “emotional immaturity of American male” in post-World War II life for returning soldiers. (5) Despite his attempts to find answers, Roger is the victim of everyone and at the will of Vandamm and his men. He wants to be protected, to move responsibility – and in quite literally run away from the terror. Someone else can help clean that up. This is used for humor in North by Northwest. Roger’s weakness and annoyance contrasts the courage and seriousness of other male protagonists from the past. This kind of male emotional immaturity used in movies is used everywhere today – particularly in male-dominated Apatow comedies such as Knocked Up and Superbad.
When Roger meets his love interest of the film, Eve Kendall, he still doesn’t show agency over his life. He falls for charms, generosity, and wit.  After meeting Eve, her actions increasingly affect control of his trajectory in the film. She gets him to hide in her room, she tells him what to do, where/when to go, how to get there. And it isn’t until the ending of the film, does Roger take control. He decides to sneak out of his locked hospital room (against CIA orders) and rescue Eve from Vandamm. This completes his transformation – through claiming the title of hero of his own story.

Of course, at the same time, as Roger gains agency and reclaims his masculinity – other characters loose agency. The narrative of Roger and Eve’s relationship shifts. Eve becomes more and more helpless. The last scene in the film in which Eve and Roger are running away from Phillip Vandamm– most of their obstacles come from Eve’s clothing (and her femininity.) First her shawl gets stuck on a tree. Then her heel breaks at the most unfortunate time when they’re climbing down Mount Rushmore. (I always hate it when that happens.) The ending – we see Roger pulling Eve up into bed and then of course, the famous and kind of gross sot of a train going through a tunnel cementing their sexual relationship and Roger’s sexual dominance over Eve. The ending of the film “confirms Roger’s maturation as a man through his redemption his redemption as a lover and a hero.” (7) By the end, the audience is meant to feel that Roger has found the right woman to make a marriage last and gained some sort of maturity/responsibility.

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