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A symbiotic relationship

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part six of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part seven will post tomorrow.

Just as the glossy eye of the woman in the opening credits draws us in to "Vertigo" as though we were peering into a mirror and seeing the "reflection" of our subconscious, so is Madeleine the mirror image of Scottie himself. His obsession can thus be viewed in narcissistic terms, since Scottie is fascinated only by the reflection she offers of his own self.

Consequently, it is easy to see how the two are paralleled. As aforementioned, they are both victims of manipulation by Elster, and by each other, and are hence innately masochistic. Conversely, they both exhibit sadistic qualities, as is evidenced by their cruel, selfish motives:

Scottie uses and abuses the real Judy, and she in turn allures him with her facade, knowingly leading him into a physical and psychological danger. Nevertheless, both characters are ultimately portrayed as tragic figures in their search for a meaningful, romantic-erotic union.

In true patriarchal fashion, however, Scottie's misery is more poignantly depicted. He is worse off than having merely lost Madeleine--he has even been deprived of her image upon the realization that she is a fraud. His hopeless obsession is both self-destructive and irrational, aggravating to his vertiginous symptoms. The death of Judy is utterly tragic, as well, in that the loss of her ordinary reality is even more catastrophic than the loss of Madeleine’s ideality.

Because Judy dies, the question of whether or not Scottie would have accepted her remains a mystery. Scottie recognized a potential in Judy—“Judy, it’s you, too. There’s something in you,” he says. But the sentiment is only connected through her embodiment of Madeleine. He can't even come to touch Judy, since it would bring him no closer to his idealized vision.

The tragedy of Scottie and Judy relates to their desperate yearning for a romantic-erotic union that will redeem them and provide meaning to their lives. But these desires are blemished by the deceit present in their first meeting. They wander around aimlessly, experiencing guilt and anxiety, looking for a romantic illusion that will somehow accentuate their deficient identities.

At the film's conclusion, when Judy sees the shadow she thinks is either the ghost of Madeleine or a vision of death, she is completely confused, as if Scottie's vertigo, which he has now overcome, has been transferred to her: Hitchcock's oft-used "transference of guilt" theme at work.

Scottie has thus defeated death and his affliction through the sacrificial demise of Judy, a concession that guarantees the illusion of his own immortality. It takes the whole film for Scottie to overcome his acrophobia and his fear of death to reach the male-oriented, god-like solitude of the film's closing scene, which is a further commentary on the film's implicit dominance of man over woman and the preservation of patriarchal values.

It has been suggested that the denouement tower scene links religion to sexuality, resulting in death. The emerging shadows Judy sees--the silhouette of the nun--terrifies her, causing her to slip and plummet to her death. The falling motif has come to its fruition as a metaphor for the falling beyond fear into guilt and illusion, which was transferred to her by Scottie.

Tomorrow: Part 7—Mad about Madeleine

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