52 SONGS

...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, March 17, 2014

13. North by Northwest


Syntax of movies: Elision. Since the last one of these I wrote was long long long, this'll have to be short. I want to talk briefly about an elision at the end of North by Northwest. [Be warned: spoilers.] At the climax, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint) and Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), running away from the bad guys, end up hanging from the top of Mount Rushmore. Yes, it's just that awesome. (Or silly, if, that is, you've come down with a bad case of what Hitchcock called "the plausibles.")

After Roger pulls himself to safety, he reaches down to pull Eve up, who's still hanging by her fingers. It's not looking good. She's slipping, desperate, and he implores her to reach. [1] We see a tight shot of his hand and hers stretching and eventually just barely clasping, and as he pulls, he pulls her up into a bed in a sleeper car in a moving train, where Roger and Eve are now husband and wife, beginning their honeymoon. The edit elides her rescue, their reunion and embrace at the top of the mountain, a final confrontation with the villain, their wedding, and a whole host of other events that precede their arrival in the train car. [2] The delight is not only formal, in the elegance of the cut and the concision the cut enacts in the movie, but in the fact that our brains are stimulated to piece together what the film withholds. We get to participate, actively, in making the movie make sense. Just as we're piecing together what we've missed, one final edit, the last, famous shot of the movie (not described here), exploits our ability to figure things out in a visual pun that, in context, is comically naughty. One of my favorite point-to-a-ble examples of what cinema can do.

Quick examples from American Lit spring to mind, where this same sort of thing happens: The last lines of Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station," & the passages that end the apartment party chapter in The Great Gatsby.


Notes:
[1] I can't remember the exact dialogue here, because Youtube, which has the clip, won't load for me.
[2] An earlier scene of the movie takes place with Roger and Eve in a similar train car. The earlier scene was about romantic frustration. This one is about romantic fulfillment. The audience has been prepped for this.

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