Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Adam Sanacore

I. Table of Contents:
- Synopsis
-Symbolism and Themes
-Zizek The Master of Hitchcock

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I. Introduction & Synopsis

In the inner circle of Hitchcock film making, Vertigo has become instantly recognizable as one of the most inquisitive, mind bending, and story driven acts to manifest itself from the mind of one of America's most influential film makers.

Vertigo's plot revolves around John Ferguson, a police detective with a fear that is very unusual for his profession: acrophobia (the fear of heights). This fear becomes heavily outlined when John, who is too petrified by his vertigo to move, watches in horror as a fellow officer falls to his death while attempting to pull John up from the ledge that is helplessly dangling on.

Though the death of John's partner convinces him to retire from his work as a patron of the law, an unforeseen meeting with Gavin Elster, a college friend from John's past, gives him the motivation to reluctantly keep his prestige as a private eye for a short period of time.

During the meeting with Galvin, John is debriefed on the purpose of the meeting. Gavin tells Scottie that he wants him to keep tabs on the movements of his wife, Madeleine. For the past few days, Madeleine has started to exhibit very unorthodox behavior. From time to time, John will stare into the eyes of his wife and feel as though he's looking at an empty shell that is devoid of emotion and life. Though the inner beauty and happiness of his wife does return, Galvin cannot shake the feeling that his wife is keeping something from him. John makes the suggestion that he should take his wife to see a psychologist, but Galvin does not want to do anything until he has the details. Before John leaves to come to a decision on what he should do, Galvin informs him that he'll be able to meet his wife at a restaurant known as Ernie's the night after.

When the movie shifts to the inner walls of Ernie's, it is important to take note of some symbolism that Hitchcock leaves for this viewers to uncover. For example, the inner decor that surrounds Scottie is composed of a dark velvet color base. This type of scenery becomes an excellent foreshadow to the secret feelings of love that Scottie secretly develops for Galvin's wife. The second element to take note of is the unique direction that Hitchcock takes the camera. When Scottie turns around to get a look of Madeleine, the camera starts to slowly pan out and focus on the the entire population of the restaurant. From there, the camera slowly travels to other side of the room, where it begins to slowly put focus on Madeleine's back. The scene in question can be viewed below:

The purpose of this unique pan out seems to be putting a greater amount on realism. In the commonly philosophy of film technology, camera shifts that put focus on a character's interest are generally fast. The camera begins by focusing in on the face of the individual that his or her interest placed on an object or person, and then shifts to the item in question that is being analyzed by the character. Hitchcock, on the other hand, went against this form of conformity, and gave more attention to human anatomy by forcing the audience to imagine that they are in Scottie's position, and are trying to locate Madeleine by looking around the entire spectrum of the room and eliminating the wrong individuals.

The next day, Scottie begins to follow Madeline around the city of San Fransisco. His journey first takes him to an art museum, where he watches Madeline spend what seems like an eternity staring at the portrait of an unidentifiable female. The second leg of his trip brings him to an alien residence that, for the most part, his abandon and has no solid connection to his friend, Galvin.

Deeply confused by the the blind trail that Madeline is leading him on, Scottie returns to Mitch and asks her if she knows anyone that has a rich knowledge of the city's lesser known past. Mitch brings Scottie to a historian named Pops. Pops tells Scottie the story of a lady named Carlotta. Carlotta was a beautiful young woman who once inhabited the house that Madeline has become so keenly drawn to. Though her life was adorn with riches, tragedy struck the young woman's life when she lost her child. The loss drew so much grief and depression into her soul, that she eventually committed suicide. Deeply concerned and disturbed by this revelation, Scottie decides to return to Galvin to let give him a summary of what he's figured out thus far.

When he reunites with Galvin, Scottie is shocked to learn that Madeline's sudden interest in Carlotta may not be a random occurrence. Galvin tells Scottie that Madeline started to wear the jewelery that she inherited from Carlotta on a habitual basis. After she put it on, he would watch Madeline stare at herself in the mirror for what seemed like hours. Scottie is also informed to a blood line that Madeline shares with Carlotta. According to Galvin, Carlotta is Madeline's great grandmother. What's more is that the hotel that Madeline has been spending countless hours at was once Carlotta's home, and the baby that was taken from her was Madeline grandmother. Of course, the shock factor does not end there for Scottie. Galvin informs his old friend that his wife had no prior knowledge of Carlotta. Not only was she not informed that the hotel used to be her home, she was not even told where Carlotta grave was located. All of this information drives Scottie to the hammer down the drink that his before him.

After trying to compute everything that Galvin told him, Scottie quickly returns to his work of keeping tabs of Madeline. He follows her down to the area beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and, to his horror, watches as she jumps straight into the water. Rushing down to the water get a location her, Scottie jumps into the water to rescue her.

After returning his apartment and introducing himself to Madeline, Scottie obtains a call from Galvin and informs him on what has happened. Afterword, Galvin gives Scottie some very disturbing news: Madeline is twenty-six, the same age as Carlotta when she committed suicide. Feeling the need to check on the woman he saved after learning this disturbing piece of information, Scottie runs back to the guest room to find Madeline has disappeared.

Scottie frantically chases Madeline down, and, in an effort to calm her, decides to take her away from the city and into the lush and peaceful of the natural world. After standing in awe at the beauty of the state's redwoods, Scottie takes Madeline down to the water. Madeline makes a run for it (it not crystal clear if she was planning on committing suicide or not), and Scotty catches her before she can do anything rash. Madeline tells Scottie that despises the fact that she cannot remember anything about the past, and Scottie, who finally allows his hidden love for her to manifest itself into the open, promises her that she'll help her discover who she really is. The two then embrace in a kiss.

The next day, Scottie takes Madeline to a church that has connections to her past. Before Scottie can begin to jog her memory, Madeline becomes fixated on the church's bell towers, and starts to run toward it. Scottie chases Madeline into the bell tower, and sees hears going up the towers stairs. As Scottie follows Madeline, he begins to succumb to his vertigo. This causes him to lose track of Madeline, who makes it to the top and slips through a small hatch. Before Scottie can to the hatch, he hears a woman scream. Scottie looks out the window and watches in horror as Madeline falls to her death. Overcome with shock and grief at the sight of Madeline lifeless body, Scottie slowly walks away as the scene fades off.

The next scene shows Scottie before a hearing regarding Madeline death. The judge that presides over the case states that it is hard to see the death of Galvin's wife as nothing more than a common suicide. The judge tells the jury looking over the case to take note of Scottie's fear of heights, a symptom which made it impossible for him to reach the top of the tower in time to stop Madeline from jumping. He also tells them to take note of Galvin, who did not check his wife into a clinic for help because he wanted details before rushing into anything. The jury agrees, and comes to the conclusion that the judge sees regarding the death of Madeline.

Scottie enters into a serve case of manic depression over Maledeline death. When Scottie falls asleep after the trail, viewers are treated to one of the most famous scenes in the movie. The dream sequence, which can be viewed below, is composed of multiple color effects and ill coherent sounds.

Midge, Scottie's good friend, checks him into a clinic to help him recover psychologically. It is during this time that we see Hitchcock makes further use of his eye for unique camera tricks. During a sequence in which Midge is talking to Scottie, the camera angles upward towards Mitch's face when she is trying to communicate Scotty. The camera then moves downwards on Scottie's head, emulating the feeling that the audience is in Midge's shoes and attempting to have direct communication with Scottie. This systematic movement of the camera between two characters invokes a great deal of humanism, and reflects the importance of establishing connections between audience members and characters. The shot in question can be viewed before at the eight minute and ten second mark:

After an undisclosed amount of time is spent at the hospital, Scottie leaves to try to regain some focus in his life. However, little does he know that something unbelievable is about to happen to him. When he returns to the Empire Hotel in downtown San Francisco, he notices a strange woman that causes him to feel uneasy. When he goes up to the room that she is occupying to meet her, he nearly stumbles backward at who he sees. There, standing before him, is a brown haired girl that bears an uncanny resemblance to Madeline. Feeling as though he's come across a ghost, Scottie asks the woman for her name. He tells him that its Judy, and she defensively asks him what he wants with her. Stating that he would like to come in and get to know her better, Judy says "no" and tries to shoo Scottie away. However, when Scottie continues to persist, Judy finally agrees to let him in for a little while. After talking for a short time and giving Judy the impression that she reminds Scottie of a lover that had passed on to the other side, Judy reluctantly agrees to go out with dinner with him. After steeping out, viewers are treated to a scene of events that further justifies Hitchcock's persona as a master of suspense. The film goes back in time to the scenario in which Scottie "thinks" he sees his love commit suicide. The word "think" is used because Madeline does not die at all. After reaching the top of the bell tower, the movie shows Madeline meeting with none other than her husband, Galvin. Galvin is holding a doll that bears a striking parallel to Madeline, and motions her to keep quiet until the time is right to scream. The two then disappear into the day.

After Scottie leaves the room, Judy, who the audience now knows is Madeline, takes out a piece of paper and pen and begins to write a farewell letter to Scottie. In the note, she tells Scottie that she was sorry for betraying him, and that Galvin had used his fear of heights as a key element in getting away with the false murder. Interestingly enough, Madeline never conveys the reason for the false suicide. Though money may be the primary motive that most viewers would used to justify the act, she never tells Scottie the truth.

Before Madeline can finish the letter, she tears it up and throws it away. She realizes that the love that she built for Scottie is too strong, and decides to use her alternate persona as a means of building a new relationship with her.

It is as this point that viewers begin to notice as change in Scottie. Though he may seem to be back to his old self, he has failed to fully recover from Madeline's death. This depression becomes so strong, that he begins to treat Judy as his own personal Barbie doll. In the case of Judy, he becomes set on molding her into the image of his original love. To do this, he starts by taking her to Ernie's, the location that he first set eyes on Madeline. He then takes her to a clothing department to buy a simply gray dress that matched the one that Madeline had on before she (supposedly) passed on.

After picking out the right clothes, Scottie asks Judy to change her physical appearance by dying her hair blonde. Judy starts to become upset at Scottie, insisting that he's only in love with the image that he's creating. Scottie promises Judy that if he does this one last thing for her, he promises to love her.

Scottie waits for Judy in her hotel room. When she arrives, Scottie is disappointed that her was not pulled back like he had requested. He asks Judy to go into the bathroom to complete the look that he so desires. When she comes out, the camera gives her a quick zoom of Scottie's face in order to immortalize his look of awe. Standing before him in the green light is his recreation of Madeline.

One interesting piece of symbolism to note during this scene is the constant use of green. In color psychology, the color green represents life. In the case of Vertigo, the green that illuminates Judy's body as she walks out of the bathroom represents the life that Scottie is breathing back into the image of Madeline. The scene in question can be viewed below at the six minute and forty second mark:

After embracing in a deep kiss, the scene transforms to a different time in which Scottie and Judy are getting ready to go out to dinner. As Judy is finishing freshening up, she asks Scottie to help her put on her necklace. Scottie agrees, and is about to walk away to sit back down when a look of shock comes across is face. When he looks at the necklace, he realizes that it's the same one being worn by Carlotta in the painting hung in the museum.

With an emotionless look on his face, Scottie realizes that he's been conned. He tells Judy, who he now realizes is Madeline, that he wants to get out of town for dinner. As they're driving, Judy asks Scottie where they are headed. Scottie pauses and says, "One last thing I have to do, and then I'll be rid of the past". Judy and Scottie arrive at none other than the church with the iconic bell tower. Madeline asks Scottie why they've come to this spot, and Scottie tells Judy that in order to complete his image, he needs to fix one last important part of the past. He takes Judy out of the car and explains to her the scenario that occurred before Madeline killed herself. He tells her that Madeline made a promise to never walk away from him before she ran to the tower. He tells her that he chased after her as fast as he could, but could not reach her as she ran up the bell tower. Scottie starts to pull Judy up the bell tower with him, indicating that the only way that he can truly finish his image of Madeline is if he's able to save her. Judy attempts to resist, but Scottie forces her up to walk up the tower. As Judy starts to give in near the end, Scottie finally looks at her and starts to call her by Madeline. Scottie tells Madeline that he realized it was her when she put the necklace on. Scottie then becomes enraged at Madeline and tells her that he knows that the body that Galvin threw off the balcony was actually a woman named Ester. Scottie asks Madeline if she knew that the was the perfect guinea pig for Galvin's little ploy, and at the same time, realizes that he has finally beaten his vertigo by making it all the way to the top of the bell tower. At the top, Madeline tries to explain to Scottie that she's always loved him and wants to be with him. She tells him that she tore up the farewell letter that she was writing in the apartment because she wanted to be with him. They embrace, but before they can get back down, and a dark shadow appears before them. Thinking that a ghost has manifested in front of her, Madeline screams and falls off the balcony. The shadow is revealed to be a sister of the church, who begins to ring the bell at the sight of Madeline's untimely death. The movie finally ends with Scottie looking down at Madeline's body with shock and grief upon his face.

II. Symbolism and Themes of Vertigo

A. The Love Delusion and Midge as the Objective Reality

In Vertigo, Scottie becomes a flawless representation of a human conflict that many of fallen to: temptation. In the case of the film, the temptation manifests itself as the desire to secretly be a woman that has already expressed her vows of eternal matrimony to another woman. The primary issue that arrives from this taboo, however, is how fall Scottie is willing to see it play out. Even after the apparent suicide of Madeline, Scottie refuses to accept the true nature of reality. He becomes so obsessed with Madeline's character, that he mentally crafts a world in which he has the ability to control and manipulate others to fit his distorted viewed.

The aforementioned flaws in Scottie's psychology is where his good friend, Midge, comes into play. From an objective analysis, Midge is more than a human being. She can also be viewed as a physical manifestation of the reality that Scottie has pulled himself away from (Higham, 11). Mitch is Scottie's antithesis. Throughout the early and middle stages of the film, Mitch constantly tries to show Scottie that she is the only woman in his life with a believable sense of feelings for him, and tries desperately to pull him away from a girl that she knows is using his love as a form of manipulation (Higham, 11).

Another interesting thing to take note of in regards to Midge representation of objective reality is her sudden disappearance near the end of the movie. After Scottie is checked in to the hospital for serve depression, Mitch comes across the doctor that is treating him and gives him some interesting information. She tells him that not only was Scottie in love with Madeline (who is still alive), but she feels that he still is. From that point on, Midge is no where to be seen. She never makes another appearance when Scottie makes contact with Judy. This is very symbolic, because it showcases the fact that, having surrendered to the reality that he has crafted in his mind, Scottie no longer wants to accept the fact that he cannot have his dear Madeline back. It is because of this situation that Midge, the only woman who could have shared real feelings with Scottie, realizes that she is no longer useful, and, like the real reality that Scottie no longer wants, simply vanishes into thin air (Higham, 11).

B. Masculine Domination: A Feminist Criticism of Vertigo

From the gender perspective, Vertigo can be seen as a promotion of the masculine identity. The way that Scottie views Judy as his own personal doll that he can direct in any fashion that he chooses gives precedent to the idea that woman are viewed in the movie as second class citizens with no free will. A the following feminist criticism aimed to do just that.

From the feminist standpoint, Hitchcock's thriller masterpiece further objectifies women as the personal tools of men. In her book, The Women Who Knew Too Much, author and feminist philosopher Tania Modleski states that movies like Vertigo do two things: outlines how men's fascination with women leads to the oppression of women, and how men seek to identify with women and become feminized themselves (Linderman, 52). Though the latter of the two conclusions may be difficult to understand, a close inspection of Scottie's relationship with Judy outlines the point perfectly. When Scottie becomes obsessed with bringing Madeline back from the dead through Judy, he unconsciously becomes a female. The way he buys clothes, shoes, and the right make-up for Judy is criticized by feminists like Modleski as a dramatization of the common stereotype that girls only care about their external image (Linderman, 53).

The viewpoint of seeing the male gender as becoming a co equal of the female structure is also brilliantly outlined during the end of the movie, when Scottie confronts Madeline at the top of the bell tower. Scottie looks at her and says, "He made you over just like I made you over. He trained you, rehearsed you...I was the set-up, I was the made-to-order witness" (Linderman, 60). The "he" is referring to Galvin, who, like Scottie, becomes a girl as well, and Madeline as his own personal Barbie doll that he can play with in the way that he wants.

C. Death and Rebirth: The Constant Use of Tunnels

Throughout Vertigo, viewers may be led to believe that Hitchcock may some sort of cinematic fetish for tunnels. There are many points throughout the film in which tunnels or tunnel vision is used by the movie's colorful cast of characters. For example, the tunnel vision that Scottie's vertigo causes when he's chasing after Madeline in the church. We now give a close inspection into the nature of these tunnels, and what they may mean in the symbolic sense.

In the film, the Hitchcockian use of tunnels becomes a reflection of the nature of death (Zizek & Miller, 105). In the forest scene, for example, Madeline tells Scottie that she constantly has a dream in which she is walking down a tunnel with a light at the end. Major Hitchcock authorities such as Zizek associate such symbolism with psychotherapist and analytical symbolism, where tunnels are commonly correlated with death and rebirth (Zizek & Miller, 105).

During the end of Vertigo, there is one scene in particular that, though careful dissection, outlines the correlation between tunnels and death, and rebirth more than any other. In one of the final scenes of the movie, Judy (Madeline), who has now been transformed into Madeline, is walking down the hallway of the Hotel Empire toward Scottie's room. There are two key elements to take note of. The first is the fact that Judy is walking toward Scottie, and not away from him. This direction becomes the reversal of death, which is commonly signified in research that reports people walking away from someone and toward an object like light. The second factor to take note of is the green light that is hitting Judy through the hallway windows. Earlier, it was stated that green light represents life and rebirth. Thus, by having Kovack's character walk toward Scottie in a tunnel filled with green light, Hitchcock is giving illumination to the idea Scottie has broken the flow of death, and has been able to resurrect his lost love by using Judy's body as his personal canvas .

D. Vertigo and Mythology

One of the most surprising and unique aspects of Hitchcock's Vertigo is its deep connection to Mythology. One example is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea. In the story, Pygmalion is a sculptor that creates statue of what he sees as the ideal woman (Law, 340). After finishing the statue, Aphrodite, who begins to show sympathy toward Pygmalion for failing to find true love, brings the statue to life (Law, 340).
n Vertigo,the characters Pygmalion and Galatea are represented in Scottie and Judy. After losing his beloved Madeline, Scottie, who comes across Judy at the Hotel Empire, begins the process of transforming her into his own Galatea. To see to the perfection of his molding process, Scottie looks for everything that can help him sculpt Judy in the shape of his perfect love. He purchases the same gray dress and shoes that adorned Madeline during most of journeys with each other, and even has her dye her hair the same shade of blonde.

Below is a picture of Pygmalion and Galatea:


Another piece of mythological suspense in Vertigo parallels to the story of Hamlet. It has been known for quite some time that Alfred Hitchcock was a massive fan of Shakespeare (Vest, 1). In fact, it was difficult for anyone to sit done with Hitchcock and hear Shakespeare come up on multiple occasions (Vest, 1). With this in mind, it is no surprise that Vertigo is filled with themes from one of the playwright's most famous works.

The most dominant parallel between Vertigo and Hamlet exists between Madeline and the character Ophelia. For example, when Madeline is floating in the San Francisco Bay, her pose, which displays her body completed stretched out and surrounded by the flowers that she threw into the water prior to her suicide attempt, is a symbolic statement to Ophelia's prose Millais's painting of Ophelia in the stream (Vest, 2). The picture in question can be viewed below:


There is also the nature of Madeline's scarf, which many experts have testified as being reminiscent of the trailing madness that travels with Ophelia in the lithographs graphs created by individuals such as Valmont (Vest, 2).

Another connection between Vertigo and Hamlet is the nature of human madness. In the film, Madeline feels as though she is being controlled by the spirit of her great and mad grandmother, Carlotta. This is illuminated upon by the constant scenes that show Madeline sitting in front of her grandmother's picture in the museum in an almost trance like nature.

In Shakespeare's most famous play, Ophelia displays the same sense of madness for her ancestors as well. During her funeral stream, Ophelia makes the following remark: "I've fallen into lakes out of rowboats...I even fell into the river trying to jump from one stone to another" (Vest, 2). All of this, Vest states, plays into Ophelia's deep reflections of those that are bound to her in the graveyard, a position that is very similar to the dominance that Carlotta's picture and memories have upon Madeline's mind (Vest, 2).

Other examples are much more subdued and harder to spot. The constant portrayal of carriages and buggies at the mission settlement in the movie are believed to be representations of the parting reference that Ophelia gives to a coach (Vest, 3). The skewed displays of Scottie's face is his lucid dreams mark excellent parallels to Ophelia's detailed remarks about the disturbed appearance of Hamlet's face in Act II (Vest 3).

III. Zizek: The Master of Hitchcock

In philosophical circles, no other individual has become more embodied with Hitchcock then Zizek. Using the psychoanalytical theory of Lacan, Zizek has become famous for dissecting various elements of pop culture. In the cinematic realm, Hitchcock has become one of his trademark experiments. Below is a video outlining his analysis of Hitchcock's Vertigo, and how the film's display of raw human flaws is a tribute to Lacan's journey into the deepest and darkest parts of the human mind.

Reference Page:

Higham, Charles. "Hitchcock's World." Film Quarterly 16.2 (1963): pp. 3-16. Web. 15 April 2011.

Law, Helen. "The Name of Galatea in the Pygmalion Myth." The Classical Journal 27.5 (1932): pp. 337-342. Web. 14 April

Linderman, Deborah. "The Mise-en-Abime in Hitchcock's "Vertigo."" Cinema Journal 30.4 (1991): pp. 51-74. Web. 15 April

Miller, Richard & Zizek, Slavoj. "Hitchcock." October 38 (1986): pp. 99-111. Web. 15 April 2011.

Vest, James. "Reflections of Ophelia (And of "Hamlet") in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." The Journal of the Midwest Modern
Language Association 22.1 (1989): pp. 1-9. Web. 14 April 2011.