The film Vertigo explores the intricacies of the line between fantasy and reality through the lack of reality in the film. The entire film is built around characters attempting to create illusions in order manipulate the other characters, but also, the film displays the mysterious allure the dead may exert on the living. The twist here, however, is in Vertigo the deathly object of desire is fully incarnated in the figure of a character, Madeleine, who is supposedly possessed by Carlotta Valdes; a woman whose picture hangs in the San Francisco art museum. The ghostlike Madeleine brings to life the youthful image of Carlotta giving the character a sense of timelessness, a mask-like immortality. In comes Scottie Ferguson (also known as John by close friends), a detective who was forced to retire because of his severe fear of heights, is asked a favor by an old friend, Gavin Elster, to come out of retirement to follow his wife, Madeleine, to find out what exactly is going on. Ultimately Scottie reluctantly agrees. After following Madeleine a few times and saving her life from an apparent suicide once, he begins to grow a strange fascination and love for his friend’s wife, all the way up until (and considerably after) her untimely suicide. Ultimately Madeleine becomes a fetish object for Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) as shown through the way he reacts when he loses her. In a desperate attempt to get back the woman he loves, he reconstructs her image in the body of one Judy Barton (Kim Novak) from Salina, Kansas, who, of course, turns out to have been Madeleine after all. Essentially having one actor depict so many different characters throughout the film naturally results in a whirlwind of uncertainty and difficulty for the audience in establishing what is real from what is not; in a sense almost giving the audience a feeling of vertigo. Alfred Hitchcock’s use of twisted character profiles and confusing double names emphasizes the sense of artificiality in the film. However, it’s the visual themes, such as mirrors which also make a huge contribution to the illusion and ultimately gives the audience a way of depicting what’s reality and what’s not in the movie, which will be explained in greater detail throughout this essay.
One of the main visual aids Hitchcock chooses to employ to highlight the difference between the reality and fantasy worlds in the film is through his use of mirrors. This device is most prominent in the necklace scene, after Judy has completed her transformation into Madeleine. The scene takes place in Judy’s apartment, which shows almost no personality and is quite devoid of color, emitting only tones of grey and an eerie green. John sits off to the corner seemingly happy, reading a newspaper, knowing that through his tireless efforts he has seemingly been able to recreate the image of the ideal woman, Madeleine, his fetish through Judy. His happiness gives almost an eerie sickness to go along with the tone of the apartment. He has been so infatuated with recreating the character of Madeleine that he has changed the look of a completely different woman (at the time it’s what John is meant to believe) and seems almost psychotic to think that the recreation of her will substitute for his loss of the actual thing, essentially his recreation is just a mirror of the real thing. Finally Judy exits the bathroom wearing a long figure flattering black dress, her hair bleached blonde, like Madeleine, and pinned back, like Madeleine, for the liking of John. When she exits the bathroom they begin discussing dinner plans for the evening and oddly enough Judy picks Ernie’s, the very first place John saw Madeleine. John then makes a remark about how much Judy must really like that place and in a way it seems as though as Judy (who the audience knows was really Madeleine to begin with) is also trying to mirror John and Madeleine’s relationship from...
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