Dir. Hitchcock’s Victims

Dir. Hitchcock’s Victims
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The film Vertigo was directed and produced in 1958 by Alfred Hitchcock. The film was adapted from a novel by the title D’entre les morts by written in 1954 by Pierre Ayraud and Pierre Boileau. The English translation of the book’s name is the Living and the Dead. There are a lot of similarities between the content of the book and the way the film was adapted. Most of the plot is similar in both the book and the film including the main female character’s hairstyle, necklace and gray dress. In the film however, there is a new character by the name Midge who loves the investigator secretly. Vertigo has several thematic elements but perhaps the most evident of all is obsession. While most of Hitchcock’s films feature women who are perpetrators, Vertigo features women as victims. This thematic element is used in the film to imply the vanity of man’s desires.
In order to best present the argument of this paper, it is important to first give a brief synopsis of the film so as to put the arguments in perspective. The word vertigo is defined as a feeling of loss of balance and whirling mostly associated with the fear of heights. The film stars ‘Scottie’, a former police detective who suffers from extreme fear of heights. His fear of heights led to the death of his partner in the police force because he could not save him. Scottie is hired by a friend to follow his wife Madeleine because the friend believes that she is possessed. Scottie ends up falling in love with Madeleine. Madeleine behaves like she is possessed by the suicidal spirit of her great grandmother. In one freak incident, she runs up the bell tower of a church and plunges herself to death as Scottie watches helpless to do anything because of his fear of heights. The death of Madeleine makes Scottie to breakdown. Then one day Scottie meets a woman who resembles Madeleine and asks her out. He later learns that this woman had been acting as Madeleine so as to disguise the murder of the real Madeleine. He takes her up to the tower where Madeleine supposedly jumped to her death. The fake Madeleine confesses her love to the confused Scottie and begs for his forgiveness. Scottie embraces her and just when the audience is thinking that the ending is happy, a nun rises from the church’s trapdoor and startles the fake Madeleine who steps back and falls to her death.
The women in this film are represented as victims of their male counterparts. The real Madeleine is the first victim as she is murdered by her own husband as the audience later learns. She is also a victim as no one knows that she is dead except her husband and the fake Madeleine. In the scene at the church where she apparently plunges to her death, her body is thrown down by her husband in a bid to show that she has committed suicide. The other scene that reinforces the real Madeleine as a victim is the scene where the court rules her death as suicide. This means that she never gets justice for her murder.
The other female victim in the film Vertigo is Midge, a woman who loves Scottie and was his former fiancée. Scottie is seen ignoring and neglecting her in numerous scenes of the film. She is a victim because even though Scottie consults her on issues in his life, he does not offer her his love. There is one scene for example where Scottie talks to Midge about his fear of heights and how he longs to get healed from it. Like the supportive woman that she is, she tells him that maybe it would be good for him if the events that led to that fear were relived. Midge is a victim of Scottie because in spite of the fact that they broke their engagement, Scottie insists on being part of her life, spending a lot of time in the apartment that belongs to both of them. This is very selfish as she is in love with him and he does not intend to return that love. In another scene, Midge is seen helping Scottie up the steps as he tries to get over his fear of heights. She is looking very concerned about him. In another scene where Midge and Scottie are discussing the portrait that Midge is working on, he remarks that she is jealous of Madeleine. This clearly shows that Midge had romantic interest in Scottie. In the same scene, Scottie walks away angry about the portrait and we see Midge destroying the portrait and throwing her paint brush something that shows that she was disappointed that Scottie did not choose her. Midge is a victim of Scottie who mostly feigns ignorance in the fact that she still loves as he takes advantage of her kindness for his own sake.
The other female victim and perhaps the biggest victim in the film is Judy, the woman who acts the fake Madeleine. The circumstances leading to her existence alone show that she is a victim of Gavin, the husband to the real Madeleine. Although Judy knew the truth from the beginning and actively participated in tricking Scottie, Gavin took advantage of her need for money to convince her to do it. This way she was a victim of circumstances, of a cold and calculating man. Judy is also a victim of herself. She ends up falling in love with the man she was hired to trick. She falls in love with Scottie so much that in one scene we see her writing a letter confessing her involvement but tears the letter and decides to keep acting the part because she is already in love with him. Judy could have walked away when she realized that Scottie was not in love with her but with the idea of Madeleine. Instead, we see her helplessly staying and playing Scottie’s games because she loved him. For example in one scene, Judy and Scottie go for dinner and Scottie ignores her because he is distracted by a woman who is dressed in a gray suit like Madeleine. Even after such happenings, Judy remains with Scottie; it is like she cannot help herself. The real woman, the victim knows that she is not truly loved but she stays. She is a slave to her own desires, a victim of herself.
Judy is also a victim of Scottie. She is a victim first and foremost because Scottie does not recognize her when he meets her after the death of the apparent death of the real Madeleine. In the scene where Scottie meets Judy, he follows her to her hotel room and does not recognize that she is the same woman as Madeleine all through the film until it is too late. Scottie treats Judy as an object to fulfill his twisted desires and obsessions. He is obsessed with his dead lover so much that he incarnates as Madeleine by changing how she looks. His obsession blinds him so much that he does not see that she is the same woman of his desires. Although Judy clearly loves Scottie he is obviously not in the same place as her, his only interest being Madeleine. Judy wants Scottie to like her as herself and not as Madeleine but Scottie victimizes her by taking her to all the places he visited with Madeleine. In one scene, he takes her to Ernie’s for dinner. Ernie’s is where he had first seen Madeleine. In another scene, we see Scottie taking Judy to all the places he had followed Madeleine. He takes her to the Palace of Fine Arts grounds and the water and pillars of Portals of the Past. Even as they walk around, Scottie shows little interest in Judy as a person. He simply relives his moments with Madeleine. This is seen in a scene where Judy looks at a couple that is kissing and tells Scottie that “You do not even want to touch me”
The way that Scottie dresses Judy as Madeleine victimizes Judy. Scottie takes Judy shopping for clothes and she is excited that he is showing her some personal interest. However, Scottie has other plans in mind; he intends to change Judy into his own fantasy of Madeleine. He forces her to wear a gray suit like one that Madeleine wore. In this scene, we see Judy fighting against the demands of Scottie because she wants him to get over his illusion. She tells him that “You want me to be dressed like her”. Scottie responds that “I know the kind of suit that would look well on you”. Scottie pleads with her to make him happy. Judy finally gives in to his demands and denies her own identity in order to fit the idealized version of the woman that Scottie wants. In another scene in Scottie’s apartment, we see Judy as the victim when she begs Scottie to love her for who she is. She pleads with him saying “Why are you doing this? What good will it do?” Scottie again manipulates her by telling her that the first few days have been the happiest for him in a year. In another scene, we see Judy attempting to kiss Scottie who does not quite kiss her but stares intently at her hair. He wonders if Judy should change it to blonde so it can be just like Madeleine’s. He tells her “the hair, we need to change your hair”. Judy asks him “If I let you change it, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?”. Scottie takes advantage of Judy’s obvious desperation and need to be loved to exploit and manipulate her for his own pleasure.
In another scene, we see Judy deliberately giving up her own identity so she can please Scottie. This scene is done in the beauty salon where Judy dies her hair blonde. We see her doing her nails and make up so that she looks exactly like Madeleine. At the same time, we see Scottie walking anxiously around her hotel room waiting to see his Madeleine, waiting for the victim of his twisted pleasure. In another scene, we see the newly made up Madeleine walking to her hotel room. We see her walking from the end of the corridor in the gray suit and her hair blonde. She stands waiting for Scottie to approve but he is obsessed with the way she has done her hair. Judy has worn her hair down but Madeleine wore hers up. He criticizes her hair saying “It should be back from your face and pinned at the neck. I told her that. I told you that.” Judy is angry with him but resigns to this final altering of her appearance, the final death of Judy. She goes to the bathroom to fix her hair so that she can match Scottie’s memory of his dead lover. In the following scene, we see Scottie pacing waiting for Judy to emerge as Madeleine. He looks doubtful, fearful and at the same time full of hope and yearning to make his dream real. The bathroom door opens slowly and Scottie turns and faces Judy. His eyes are full of emotion and wonder as he sees the reincarnation of his dead love. Scottie is taken back to a time when Madeleine emerged from his bedroom in his own apartment. This is the scene which best shows how Judy is victimized. In a bid to please him, she emerges from the door and walks towards Scotties in the same way that Madeleine would have. The fabricated woman assumes the expressions, actions and movements of Madeleine in order to make Scottie want her. The scene is dreamlike for Scottie, he envisions his lost love moving to him and they embrace and Judy surrenders to him. This is the extent to which Scottie victimizes Judy; he shows her that he cannot want her unless she is Madeleine and in desperation she becomes Madeleine so Scottie would love her.
In another scene we see that Judy has resigned to Madeleine’s identity. She tells Scottie that she has got her face on so he should not kiss her as he will mess it. She is dressed just like Madeleine would and has accepted her fate to live as the memory of Scottie’s dead love. it is here that Scottie notices that the locket worn by Judy is the same that Madeleine wore. He realizes that he had been tricked and that Madeleine and Judy are one and the same. Judy who is not aware that Scottie knows her real identity tells him that “Oh Scottie, I do have you now, don’t I?”. The disillusioned Scottie reacts coldly to her embrace. But this is not the end of the victimization of Judy. Scottie forces her to go back to the church where Madeleine died as a way to ‘be free of the past’. It is clear that Judy does not want to go up to the bell tower but Scottie forces her demanding that she “be Madeleine for a while” so that they can both be free. Always the victim, Judy is scared and refuses to go up the tower but Scottie pulls her up by force insisting that she looked just like Madeleine. Scottie manages to confront his fear of heights and makes it to the top where he confronts Judy telling her that he knew of her plot. He is very angry and pushes her around accusing her. Judy confesses her love to him. the two embrace and then a nun comes from the shadows and startles Judy who steps back and falls through the tower to her death. This is the climax of the victimization of Judy by Scottie; her death. Judy died a death that was not hers because Scottie insisted on reliving his time with Madeleine, because he insisted on taking her up the tower. She was a victim of a manipulating man.
One of the thematic elements that is very clear in the film Vertigo is obsession. This thematic element is used by the director to show the futility of physical appearances and human desires. Scottie fools himself into believing the illusions that gratify him romantically. Scottie becomes so obsessed with and caught up in this illusion that he goes to great lengths to turn his illusion to reality. Scottie makes Judy into a living and breathing Madeleine so she can fit his perfect picture. He is so completely obsessed with his picture perfect lost love that he does not realize that the woman he loves is still with him. Scottie believes that if Judy looks exactly like Madeleine, he will love her and they will be happy. When at last Judy looks, acts and feels like Madeleine, Scottie is elated. He experiences dreamlike gratification. But this moment of happiness and magic comes to an end quickly when he realizes that Madeleine and Judy are the same person. It is like the magic spell is broken as Scottie becomes very forceful towards Judy. Scottie becomes aware that Madeleine was a false fantasy and is at once repulsed by her. It is like the love he had felt for her has died with the realization that he was in love with a woman who does not exist. The futility of physical appearance is shown when after Scottie realizes that he cannot have Madeleine the woman he loves, he tries to make mold his own Madeleine in Judy. Madeleine is presented as an appearance that Scottie tries to penetrate. He sacrifices her on the altar of his fantasies only to be woken up rudely with the realization that Madeleine is just a façade. His dream is taken away from him so abruptly that he is forced to confront the futility of his desires as well as the impossibility of forcing happiness. One cannot help but feel that Scottie has been wasting a lot of time and effort. He has been spending a lot of time dreaming of a woman who never existed to begin with. He has also been going to great lengths to change the woman who he has always loved into the one he thought he loved. He is caught up in an impossible situation, one where he cannot win. He has been chasing the wind.
The thematic element of obsession is used to demonstrate how human beings just like Scottie chase those things that are self destructive as they think that they will make them happy. The obsessions of Scottie made him reject the love of Midge who offered more stability and reality. We can see that Midge is often available to listen to all of Scottie’s complaints and problems. She allows him to disrupt her life as she tries to make him alright. From the scenes where Midge and Scottie appear together, it is obvious that Midge is still in love with Scottie but he would rather be with Madeleine even when Midge demonstrates that she is just a fantasy. It is like he would rather not be with the woman who is available for him. He liked the mystery of unraveling Madeleine, of chasing her and gaining her. He forgoes what is readily offered to him for a façade. This is the tragedy of human kind. Very often we are faced with situations where although we know what is good for us, we choose what is obviously wrong for us just to fulfill some animal need deep inside of us.
It is Scottie’s obsession with the physical appearance of Madeleine that brings tragedy to him and Judy. Judy is trapped in this appearance that Scottie has created. She tries to plead with Scottie to move beyond Madeleine but he says that “It is too late”. Scottie’s obsessions ultimately lead to Judy dying. The church bell tolls after Judy falls to her death and there is a feeling of eternal damnation to the sound. Scottie emerges from the tower and looks down in horror at the body of Judy. At this point, we realize that he is cured of his fear of heights but is totally destroyed by his obsessions. His obsessions made him love and lose the same woman twice; he gets a double dose of tragedy. The viewer is left wondering if Scottie will join this woman in a suicidal jump or go mad like before. Scottie loses his love for real because he could not get past appearances or his twisted desires. He gains nothing by transforming Judy to look like Madeleine, in fact he loses everything. Judy dies just because she had to fulfill the desires of a deluded and obsessed man. The death of Judy marks the climax of the demonstration that appearances are futile and human desire is fleeting. Scottie makes this realization too late and the last words he tells Judy before she falls to her death is “It is too late”. The despair, hopelessness and utter misery in those words live the viewer with a feeling of endless weariness. It is like running towards a price only to realize that there was no price to begin with.
Works Cited
Cunningham, Douglas A. The San Francisco of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: Place, Pilgrimage, and Commemoration. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2012. Print.

Ben Dooley, ‘Psychoanalysis in Bringing up Baby and Vertigo’, Offscreen Journal, Volume 9, Issue 7, July 31, 2005

Boileau, Pierre, and Thomas Narcejac. The Living and the Dead. New York: Amereon House, 1990. Print.

Emanuel Berman, ‘Hitchcock’s Vertigo: the Collapse of a Rescue Phantasy’, epff3: Film and Psychoanalysis, 2000

Giorgio Biancorosso, ‘Beginning Credits and Beyond: Music and the Cinematic Imagination’, Echo, Volume 3 Issue 1 (Spring 2001)

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