In his book Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze, William Rothman includes a fascinating chapter on The Thirty-nine Steps in which he elucidates the identity of the protagonist Richard Hannay. Rothman argues that Hannay is “exempt from having a self” and this lack of identity enables him to “face death without anguish” as he is free of any responsibility. It is his identity as a wanderer without an identity that gives him the freedom to pursue the mystery of Annabelle’s death and the concurrent plot.
Rothman argues that Hannay’s trip to Scotland is neither a “spiritual journey or a rite of passage.” He asserts that Hannay would not engage in a struggle for selfhood because “he is exempt from having a self.” From the first time the audience is introduced to Hannay in the theatre, he is marked as a n outsider and “outside the rigid system” by which we judge the other members of Mr. Memory’s audience. This transcendence of the limitations by which other characters hold to and are judged places Hannay in a totally different sphere. Rothman argues that this is a place where Hannay is “not a character.” His lack of identification through comparison with others combined with his easy acquiescence to Annabelle and willingness to help leave no way to clearly identify his character, Rothman argues. He is simply “reacting within a situation in which he is no more the author than we.” Hannay is a wandering force who happens to be drawn into this scenario and has the capability to see it through.
William Rothman’s chapter on The Thirty-nine Steps presents a unique perspective on the character of Richard Hannay. Rothman argues that because he has no explicable identity within the film, Hannay has the freedom to run off at a moments notice and defend the secrets of his country. It is only within this construct that his actions can be explained.
In Toby Miller’s book Spyscreen, he includes an entire chapter on the The 39 Steps and examines how the portrayal of Richard Hannay reflects on the position of the film within the genre of spy fiction in the late 1930s. His analysis not only sheds light on the importance of the character for the film’s release at the time, but also examines the films attention to everyday life and normality in contrast to many other spy works of the time.
Toby Miller asserts that The 39 Steps is, relative to other spy film works of the time, a “conservative text” due to both it’s “faith in the ‘talented amateur’ and it’s abhorrence of the crowd” while still portraying very standard, everyday life. This is notable, he argues, at a time when most spy films were centred on the revelation of a secretive, hidden world of espionage. For Hitchcock to portray an everyman is notably different from the more extreme spy films of the era and this makes it, Miller argues, “not a case of spy fiction allegorizing or adequating to the real, but of contributing to it.” In other words, Hitchcock’s choice does not seek to escape any sense of reality, but rather revels in the capability of the everyman working within the confines of everyday life.
Toby Miller, like many critics of Hitchcock’s work, appreciates the role of the everyman in his spy films. Richard Hannay works within the confines of his own abilities and the resources of everyday life to rise to complete a task far above what could be expected of him. This portrayal is a reflection of Hitchcock’s conservative approach to spy films and flaunts the less realistic, overly dramatic spy film options of the time.
In Warriors in Flight: John Buchan’s War Novels, Maria Noelle Ng explores John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps on which Hitchcock’s film is based. She discusses the novel’s ‘hero-on-the-run’ subgenre and how it affects both the narrative arc of the story and the reader’s sympathies towards the character of Hannay. Although Hitchcock adapted Buchan’s story, these assertions hold true for the Hannay of Hitchcock’s film as well.
Ng argues that upon the death of Annabelle (or Buchan’s original Scudder), Hannay becomes the archetypal ‘hero-on-the run,’ the masculine cruasader pursued by enemies known and unknown. She notes that this role serves a dual purpose: both to drive the plot forward and to engage the sympathy of the reader. Hannay’s brazen pursuit of a relatively new and personally insignificant event highlights his masculine drive and allows the narrative arc to continue. As the reader (and later audience) is exposed to his genuine pursuit of what he ascertains to be in the best interest of his country. This selflessness easily employs the sympathy of the reader. Ng goes on to elaborate on the significance of the story to World War I. Published in 1915, Ng argues that “Although the Great War is not explicitly mentioned” it is an underlying assumption of the novel and “reflects the attitude of the British at the beginning of the war.”
Ng’s piece, although focused on Buchan’s novel, examines the character of Hannay and the timing of the book in an interesting way. She illuminates how his masculinity supports the narrative arc as well as his easy procurment of reader sympathies. This character and his story, Ng argues, are an implied component of the First World War.
"Postmodern Antihero: Capitalism and Heroism in Taxi Driver" Bright Lights Film Journal 47 (2005).
The author of this article compares Taxi Driver to a number of other film genres, as it combines elements of noir, the Western, horror, and urban melodrama. Iannucci believes Travis’s lack of a distinct identity compels him to compose an exoteric identity which is externally influenced by personalities such as the “gunslinger” and the Indian. In reality, what Travis Bickle does is create a postmodern antiheroic identity that is nostalgic and pop culture oriented. The author argues that Travis employs a Western-style philosophical approach to life by solving a complex contemporary problem with an individual solution. The film’s climactic ending shows how absurd the Western idealistic depiction of heroism is because the media in the film not only ignores Travis’s actions but also glorifies a psychopathic killer as a noble citizen. According to Iannucci, Travis’s search for vengeance under the guise of violence makes him an antihero because it is more insane than courageous. In addition, Scorsese’s camerawork is discussed as he implies characters’ ambiguities and complexities with the use of editing and odd framing angles. Scorsese uses dissolve sequence to create a deformity that permits the viewer to understand Travis’s consciousness and point of view.
Although Travis lives in the city, he stands bent by his own loneliness and trapped by his own isolation because he cannot seem to connect with anyone on a personal level. The value of this article is that it allows the violence of a film like Taxi Driver to be understood a little deeper as it dwells into the psyche of Travis Bickle. Travis’s contradictory intentions are confusing because he attempts to rid the city of violence by committing the ultimate act of violence, which is murder. His logic is irrational and circular as his solution suggest that violence is the only answer to alienation and loneliness. Travis takes it upon himself to play the role of Iris’s protector and save her from the evil realms of prostitution. His “antiheroic” actions stem from the need to save Iris and perhaps impress Betsy, thus, giving his life a “sense of direction”.
Homer’s Odyssey is one of literature’s most known stories. It is the epic tale of the Greek hero Odysseus returning home after the historic fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years for him to return to his native Ithaka and reunite with his father, son and wife. During this time, the gods play with the fates of Odysseus and his followers by helping them or harming them, but through a deep sense of faith and virtue, Odysseus makes it home and back to his family.
A major theme throughout Homer’s epic poem is the idea of faith; faith in one’s family, and most especially faith in the gods. Odysseus was obedient to the will of the gods and believed he would find his family again. The underlying theme and story of The Odyssey connects perfectly to The Godfather in that both put a huge emphasis on the ideals of family and faith.
Throughout the film, Francis Ford Coppola reinforces ideas of family and religion. For example, the film starts out at a traditional Sicilian wedding celebration. Later, Michael decides to be Godfather to Connie’s baby, just as his father Vito was Godfather to Johnny Fontane. Finally, Michael asserts his power for the first time by having his enemies killed while taking part in the baptism of his godson. These are three key parts of the movie that all involve family and faith.
Michael relates to Odysseus in that his family is his only motive for his actions. He took over the business because his father needed him. He killed his enemies because they went against his family, and he commits his crimes in order to carry on his loved ones. As Vito Corleone so plainly put it during the first few scenes of the film, “…a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”