Monday, September 30, 2013

The Callous Nature of the State According to Hitchcock

Over the weekend, my wife and I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest.  It was an entertaining spy thriller with many iconic scenes that were often parodied or copied by so many other movies and shows.  For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, this was the one where a crop duster airplane is used to attack a man and where the climax takes place on Mt. Rushmore.

Beyond the action sequences, there is a lot of character-driven plot as well.  We see an ad-executive who is mistaken for a spy by a couple of bumbling goons working for a freelance intelligence merchant.  Basically, the main villain is a man who is looking to sell secrets, especially ones related to national security, to whoever he can.  Meanwhile, the Federal government’s intelligence agencies are seeking to take him down by any means necessary.

To that end, they created a decoy person, named George Kaplan, allegedly to draw out the villain and distract from the real assets within his own organization.  The leader of this organization is named “The Professor” and he shows a keen interest in his games, but otherwise is callous to the fate of the assets he employs.

An ad executive by the name of Roger Thornhill is the main focus of the story.  After being mistaken for being George Kaplan, he ends up becoming framed for various crimes, then eventually becoming an asset for The Professor.

Little focus is placed on the spymaster known only as the Professor.  What little we do get from him, we don’t see much of a pretty picture surrounding the nature of international intelligence.  What we see with him is a man who is willing to take advantage whoever he can in order to arrest the enemies of the State.  He demonstrates little regard for those who end up caught in his game.

In the first scene with the Professor, he is discussing the nature of Thornhill’s alleged murder of a UN diplomat and talking about how they are fortunate to have a real person to take on the persona of Kaplan.  When one of his colleagues questions what will happen to Thornhill, he callously states that he will probably be killed, either by the police or by their target (a man known as Vandamm).  Clearly, he doesn’t care about the innocent people he is supposed to protect.

We find out later that the “inside man” they have planted in Vandamm’s organization is none other than Eve.  Her story is that she got close to Vandamm by chance and the Professor approached her and encouraged her to work for them.  What would have been probably a weekend fling for the young lady ended up becoming a dangerous spy game where she may have been killed (which does almost happen).

Regular people to spymasters like the Professor are nothing more than potential assets for a game that we are unwilling participates in.  This kind of thinking reflects the nature of the State and its use of the people who are supposed to be protected by them.

When questioned as to what organization he works for, the Professor flatly states that all the agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.) are basically the same.  This may be misdirection on his part, but it is chilling to hear this because, if true, it basically means a man like him is the real power behind the curtain.

When Thornhill asks why he didn’t help him when he was framed for murder, the Professor states that they usually let the local police operate without interference.  In other words, knowing the truth, he was willing let Thornhill possibly face capital punishment for a murder he didn’t commit.  It was only when Thornhill endangered Eve’s status with Vandamm did the Professor intervene.

The ending provides a redemption, of sorts, for the Professor in that he intervenes and saves both Thornhill and Eve.  But this is a classic Deus Ex Machina and a huge plot hole as he could have had no idea where Thornhill was going or what he was doing.  You’ll have to watch it to see know what I am talking about, but it appears to me that the whole situation was contrived to give a quick, happy ending.

In reality, both Thornhill and Eve would have ended up dead and the Professor would have botched his own investigation because he trusted a slightly ditsy women to gather incriminating evidence against a dangerous man.

The true nature of the State and how it operates can be viewed in this movie, which is now over 50 years old.  Whenever you see stories about intelligence operations, just think back to the Professor and his callous disregard for the people he used to achieve ends which he didn’t really seem to fully understand.