VERTIGO BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK

This entry was posted on March 14th, 2015

vertigo

By Jaime Grijalba

The main issue with discussing Vertigo in this day and age, with all the weight that has as the new “best movie of all time” since the latest Sight & Sound poll, is that maybe there’s not much else to say, specially from someone who already likes the film and considers that the before mentioned statement is not far from the truth. So, what can one truly add to this film, especially in the context of doppelgangers, doubles and other elements that have been contextualized and talked to death by people that are much more experienced, talented and overall more conscious of the qualities and messages of the film than I’ll ever be. So, I’ll try a different approach this time. Instead of focusing on the Madeleine/Judy conundrum, I’ll tackle the issue of James Stewart’s character, Scottie. Does he have a double? I ponder two possibilities:

  1. Scottie is actually prone to a mental breakdown like the one he gets when he sees the death of what he supposes is Madeleine at the top of the stairs in the tower because he doesn’t have self-assurance, because he doesn’t have a doppelganger that can take the blow for him, he doesn’t have another body that can suffer something for him, and that’s not because he doesn’t have one, but because the one he had is dead. The policeman that dies at the start of the film might as well have been his double, a faceless extra that dies because of his own mental disease, that he had under control until that situation happened. No one with a grave case of vertigo, as the one Scottie has, could’ve really gone up to that roof chasing down the criminal. So, we can say that when he sees himself confronted by his double, the vision of his world distorts, he sees himself, or a version of himself, and his mind knows it, and thus, manages to find a way to comprehensively get rid of that double image that his brain can’t comprehend: it triggers vertigo, a disease that if it had any pre-existence, would’ve been known beforehand and thus, would’ve prevented him from going up to the rooftop. The vertigo manages to make his hand slip and thus, kill his double, his doppelganger: then, when he finally is confronted by the death of ‘another’, he can’t put the burden behind, he is inherently disturbed, and thus, unlike Madeleine/Judy that remains mostly unaffected by the events that happened (at least on appearance), ends up in psychiatric ward.
  2. Midge seems the most obvious candidate to be Scottie’s double. She has always been mentioned in many ways as his sane mind, as if she was the only one that could’ve saved him from his own obsession, somehow. Her unrequited love even in face of despair, rebuttal and even rejection is somewhat heartwarming and crushingly real for a filmmaker that wasn’t that commonly connected with emotions like love or any emotion in general. Surely, his films were driven by sex and death, as being one of the most psychologically aware filmmakers out there, but at the same time, there isn’t something as harshly disheartening like the face of Midge as she sees him leaving through that door after another rejection, after seeing that anything that she could’ve done was done, and even after that, she is still alone and still without the love of Scottie, that she always wanted but never truly attained. In a way, she is the perfect fit for Scottie as she is everything that he is not, she is the sweetness of the harsh exterior of the character strongly and at the same time pale-facedly acted by James Stewart. She is the care, while he is the reckless. He prefers the rough life in the streets, he was a detective, someone with no time for the little beautiful things like the ones that Midge constantly seems to be working on. They are apart because they are the one perfect being divided in two bodies, they are two experiences of life that must be united for them to fully work. Alone, they are left to their own anxieties: the obsession over a dead body, and the sadness of never getting a cold body that rejects you.