Vertigo

Vertigo ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Watching a Hitchcock film is rather like going to a play: you're constantly reminded that everything is just pretend. Even if the experience is great, it never quite makes you realize that the same things can happen to you, that people like these can plausibly exist in real life. But Vertigo feels startlingly true, almost confessional, because it's clear that it's Hitchcock's most personal film, the one that came closest to revealing his inner turmoil.

Vertigo has a plot so convoluted that it's fully apparent that it's a mere set-up to get to the heart of the film: a chronicle of the protagonist Scottie's obsession. The film is also considerably sympathetic toward the two slighted women in Scottie's life: his friend Midge, and Judy, the woman he tries to mold into Madeline, the woman he has grown obsessed with.

Midge is bespectacled, bright, and funny. She's very much in love with Scottie, and has been for years, but he's indifferent to her. She reminds me inexorably of Hitchcock's own wife, Alma Reville, who often wore those large glasses and who was a highly intelligent woman, instrumental to Hitchcock's career, but who was often ignored by Hitchcock in favor of his films and blondes.

The blonde, then, is Hitchcock's dream woman: cold, indifferent, and vaguely terrifying in a schoolmarm way. It's impossible to understand what Scottie sees in Madeline, who seems like a pale, flat ghost compared to the other two women in Scottie's life, but it is this otherworldly woman that Scottie desires. Madeline is always viewed through Scottie's gaze: she is simply an object of desire, an embodiment of all his fantasies.

When Scottie loses her, he recedes into melancholia, and is only shaken out of it when he sees a woman who looks uncannily like Madeline. Judy is a lively brunette with the same features as Madeline, but with none of her coldness. Scottie does not love her for who she is, and forcibly begins to turn her into Madeline. He cannot understand that Madeline and Judy are the same woman, because he is unable to look past surfaces.

And here is where Hitchcock's relationship with cinema comes into play. Judy's transformation is eerily similar to Hitchcock's own manipulation of his actresses. Scottie picks out Judy's outfits, tells her how to do her hair and makeup, and although he knows exactly what he wants, he never once spares a thought for Judy. "It can't matter to you," he says, when she recoils upon realizing that he wants her to dye her hair blonde.

Judy is looked upon with sympathy throughout the film. She is not an object of desire, and therefore she is allowed to show emotion. She loves Scottie, and all she wants is for him to love her back. "If I change, will you love me?" she asks him, when she realizes that he will never love her for who she is. It's a heartbreaking moment, one that any girl can identify with. It's also a brilliant demonstration of the changes that women, particularly actresses, go through in order to allow others to consider them desirable.

Scottie cannot love any of these women. He only loves an untouchable image, a fantasy that even Madeline would have been unable to fulfill. Scottie isn't the victim here; he is in fact something like a villain, someone who cannot understand the pain he is inflicting upon the people around him.

Scottie is Hitchcock, and Vertigo is a piece of Hitchcock's soul put up for endless scrutiny. It was a brave move, and one that revealed him to be a slightly better human being than Scottie, because his protagonist never realized the harm he caused women, while Hitchcock was fully aware of what he was doing, as the film illustrates. Of course he continued to ignore his wife and lust after a fantasy anyway. Vertigo never tries to present solutions. It simply illustrates a situation, and asks us to care.

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