The O is for Oedipus

If you thought, Forrest Gump’s emotional attachment to his mother was slightly awkward, then you certainly haven’t met Mamaboy Nr. 1, Roger Thornhill.

Alfred Hitchcock’s spy flick North by Northwest (German title: Der Unsichtbare Dritte) is generally considered to be one of the most overt representations of the oedipus complex.

In a nutshell, the movie is about Roger Thornhill who is accidentally mistaken for being George Kaplan, a secret agent, and thus abducted by a group of spies. In the course of the movie, Thornhill is trying to escape and to prove his true identity. And as in every good hollywood movie, there is also a love interest involved, played by Eva Marie Saint: the prototypical Hitchcock-Blonde who supports Thornhill in pumps and lipstick.

But let’s come back to the issue of the oedipal complex. Despite his already greying hair, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is very much attached to his mother, with whom he regularly goes to the theatre and to supper. He has his secretary check up on her and the coincidence of his mistaken identity is actually triggered by Thornhill remembering that he still owes mommy a call. Yet, like the good American hero, the film’s two hours are enough for him to free himself from his inappropriate maternal love and to find a fulfilling and healthy relationship with Eve Kendall.

This isn’t enough to convince you that Hitchcock’s spy thriller is actually a rendition of the ancient tale about a guy falling for his mother? No? Then check out my three pieces of evidence:

1) The film’s grand finale takes place on Mount Rushmore. While Roger and Eve try to escape, they have to climb the faces of the former presidents carved in stone. Could there be a more obvious remedy to your oedipal complex than proposing to your newly found, socially accepted mother-substitute than to do it right under the noses of these massive forefathers?

2) To be or not to be Hamlet? Ever wondered why the film was entitled North by Northwest? Sounds quite strange, doesn’t it? I mean, yes, Thornhill travels from New York to Mount Rushmore, i. e. in a northwestern direction, but is that enough to explain the title? I don’t think so. I (and some scholars) take this to be a reference to Hamlet’s “I am but mad north-north-west.” And who would be a better suited candidate for Freud’s couch than Hamlet?

3) The “O” stands for nothing. When Thornhill is asked what the “O” in “Roger O. Thornhill” means he replies, that it stood for nothing. As if, Mr. Oedipus!



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