Most of the perspective in The Third Man is from Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), which is why much of the film is off-kilter and twisted. Visual technique tricks are used to convey a sense of imbalance on the part of the characters, techniques like canted frames, redundant shots, exotic locales, and use of shadows. When Martins is first introduced, he happens to saunter right under a ladder propped up against his friend’s building in Vienna. This reflects Martins’ down-to-Earth persona, showing a non-superstitious, practical character that is only interested in facts and justice.
However, the straight forward path is not really open to Martins. He has not seen his friend, Harry Lime, in some time; Martins is in odd surroundings and among strangers; he does not know what post-war Vienna is capable of turning a man into. Because of this, the western writer is left with a mystery that keeps twisting upon itself, which is shown to the audience by the canted, or slanted frames. The shots symbolize Martins’ off balance mental position. When Martins gets drunk, he sees Lime, but when he chases after, Martins is only chasing Lime’s enormous shadow. His seeing and chasing a known dead man further pushes the envelope of Martins’ sanity. When Martins and Lime are in the Ferris wheel, Martins starts out with one idea, and when they come out, Lime may have convinced him of another. The audience can also see the view changing outside the window as their box rotates.
In the same vein as the warping of perspectives, there is the redundancy of the chase scenes. At first Martins gets chased around, through a building, and down a pile of rubble. Later in the film, Lime gets chased down the same pile of rubble, proving that their positions have switched. Lime’s character is constantly conflicted; he is a greedy crook, willing to kill or drive insane for his own profit. However, he is still Martins’ childhood friend, and Anna Schmidt’s lover. He is the only person Schmidt’s cat likes. He seems intelligent, clever, and charismatic, but he is also a crook and a murderer. Lime’s personality is reflected in the Ferris wheel, because his personality and justifications are constantly changing. These fluctuations catch up with him in the end, however, in the final chase sequence. The twisting labyrinth of sewer underground is a come-to-life map of all the lies Lime has told, and he is being closed in upon on all sides. In the end, Martins shoots his friend out of mercy rather than malice.