Double feature: The plots of many films hinge on cases of mistaken identity, often based on the slightest of pretenses. What sets “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “North by Northwest” apart from this multitude is their protagonists’ complicity in the mistake. Something in both of them wants to get swept up in, and perpetuate, the confusion of their identities, despite the dire consequences accompanying them.
The heroine and hero of these films are introduced to us as flat personalities whose only source of dimension is a self-awareness of their own flatness, and a concomitant hankering for the kind of adventures that personalities unlike them are having. In “Desperately Seeking Susan,” this desire is more conscious than in “North by Northwest,” partly because the former film’s heroine has a specific object of envy upon which to project her desires.
Both films have a great eye for atmospherics, and style to burn. Both are generous with their attention to those scenic details that give flavor to visuals, but to different effect: watching “Desperately Seeking Susan” is like taking in the street life from a downtown fire escape; “North by Northwest” feels more like gliding through an alternating series of well-composed dioramas and suspended animation aquariums (in the best possible sense.)
In the end, it’s not only the films’ protagonists who hit upon adventure, but their viewers as well.
For a marathon: The scruffily dynamic Manhattan depicted in “Desperately Seeking Susan” shows up a year later in the similarly plotted “Something Wild.” Spend some time on these streets and you’re guaranteed to be invigorated.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “roboppy” and “jules:stonesoup” at Flickr)