VERTIGO Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is a thrilling film filled with mystery and suspense. However, Hitchcock left many unsolved issues at the end of this film. In contrast, when comparing Vertigo to more recent films of similar genre', mysteries are usually always solved and thoroughly explained by the end of the film. Ironically, Hitchcock's failure to explain everything to the audience in Vertigo is one of the film's best attributes. This lack of knowledge allows the viewer to use their own imagination and speculate as to what might or might not have become of certain characters. Vertigo boasted several different themes.
However, the "Ideal Woman - Lost" theme was the most prevalent ("Handout #1"). This theme was brought on by an obsessed "everyman" type. Jimmy Stewart, otherwise known as Scottie in the film, played this "everyman" type whose personality was maliciously twisted into an overly obsessive man. His cause for obsession was a beautiful, young woman played by Kim Novak, known as both Madeleine and Judy in the film.
Madeleine drew Scottie in so deep, that he literally became a different person. This film mirrored Hitchcock's personal feelings and was considered to be his favorite film. While there are many scenes that prove the above theme, the following are three specific scenes that clearly spell out Scottie's obsession. The scene where Scottie was sitting in his car alone after dropping Midge off at her home is a good first example.
Midge and Scottie had just spent an afternoon together researching Carlotta Valdes' history. Before Midge got out of the car she told Scottie, much to his dismay, that she was going view Carlotta's portrait at the museum. As soon as Midge got out of the car, Scottie pulled out his brochure from the museum and turned to the page that hosted Carlotta's portrait. As he stared at her picture for several moments, he began to visualize Madeleine's face. Clearly this was one of the first signs of his growing obsession.
An old college buddy hired Scottie to follow his wife, Madeleine, to discover where she was "wandering" off to. However, this job was consuming his life and Scottie was developing a serious intrigue for Madeleine, a very mysterious woman. Another good example is the scene where Madeleine jumped into the bay. Scottie rushed to her aid, and pulled her from the bay, saving her life. He immediately took Madeleine back to her car and placed her in the passenger seat. Then Scottie got very close to her face and whispered her name several times.
Clearly he forgot that he was suppose to be a stranger to her. She was not suppose to know him and he was not suppose to know her. In addition, he had no reason to have known her name. His act of getting so close to her and calling her name was a clear sign that he deeply cared for her and was very concerned for her safety and well being.
He definitely had more of an interest in her than a typical stranger would have in another passerby. Furthermore, the fact that he let his feelings surface was a sure sign that his obsessive behavior was taking over his entire personality. To top it off, he took Madeleine to his apartment, not a hospital, and proceeded to undress her entire body while she lay there unconscious. Obviously he ogled her naked body for an unknown period of time. He then removed the clips from her hair and tried to dry her hair. Finally, he carefully hung up each article of her clothing to dry.
This is clearly an act of obsession and perversion. Faced with a similar situation, most people would either call for help or assist an injured person to the emergency room. Not Scottie, he used this particular situation to his full emotional benefit. A third example is the scene where Scottie is trying to make Judy over. He becomes a completely desperate person. He pleaded with her and even begged her to let him do it.
He said, "Please, do this for me! Do this for me! You can't possibly care! Please do this for me!" (Stewart) He became so demanding and even became physically rough with her. He eventually became so desperate that he told her he would love her if she would just let him make her over. He began to make promises to Judy that he wasn't sure he could keep. Clearly his obsession had gone so far over the edge that he was in sheer desperation to successfully bring back the dead (Giannetti 265).
What is more startling than Scottie's obsession, is Judy's eventual submission and agreement to let Scottie make her over. She definitely enabled his obsession, which possibly could have meant that she too was obsessed with bringing back a relationship that had died. Together, Scottie and Judy had nothing to gain but tragedy. These particular scenes are all very successful because they clearly spell out exactly what is happening to Scottie's emotional state. Emotions are hard to portray, especially to the viewer who has no prior knowledge of a character's emotional background, personality or the meaning of their body language. Often times, in film, unlike real-life, a picture must be painted for the viewer to clearly understand the mental and emotional state of a character.
Hitchcock does an excellent job at relaying Scottie's swelling obsession to his viewers. Visualizing Madeleine while Scottie was looking at the picture of Carlotta, his invasion of Madeleine's personal space, a so-called stranger, and whispering her name, and then trying to makeover Judy into another person who is supposedly dead are all very apparent signs of obsession. These signs successfully show the viewer that Scottie is thoroughly engrossed with his subject, Madeleine, who had been "lost." The viewer is left to assume that Scottie will be unable to return to the emotionally stable person he was before the obsession took control of his life. Alfred Hitchcock was definitely ahead of his time and paved the way for many film-makers to learn from and expand on his expertise of being able to reach an audience, capture their attention, and make the audience feel what the characters are feeling. Works Cited Handout #1: Alfred Hitchcock & Notes on VertigoGiannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies.
8 th ed. New Jersey: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Stewart, James, per. Vertigo. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock.
Perf. James Steward, Kim Novak. Universal Pictures, 1958.