Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo is considered one of the great films of all time, even though on release it was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Jimmie Stewart and Kim Novak play the protagonists. Because many of the scenes were filmed throughout San Francisco (for locations click here), it is a fun film to watch before attending the Conference.
I will not explain the plot because I do not want to spoil the film for someone who has not seen it. For a plot summary, click here or here.
These words are descriptive of aspects of the human psychic and other themes explored in Vertigo: love and romance, passion, illusion, masks, trauma, obsession, pathology, fear, guilt, lust, control, power, and death. Merriam Webster defines “vertigo” as “a sensation of motion in which the individual or the individual’s surroundings seem to whirl dizzily by”; “a dizzy confused state of mind.”
When watching Vertigo, look for the following symbolism:
Colors. The film repeats the colors red, green, and yellow. Watch particularly for the colors of garments and also of lighting, doors, flowers, and even the color of a car or an eye. Red can signify danger and fear or romance and desire. In Vertigo, it also signifies fantasy. Green can signify life, ghostliness (a type of life after death), and envy (green with envy); the Sequoia forest shown in the picture is, ever living, ever green. Although yellow can signify different things in different contexts, think about whether, in Vertigo, yellow (the color of the sun) signifies happiness or reality. Glimmering white light can signify an angelic figure. Cycling colors can signify the past repeating itself (recurrence).
Flowers. Beauty and perfection. Destruction of a flower can signify destruction of beauty and perfection.
Portals. Portals are gateways to a different place, and sometimes are used to signify a gateway to another time. An image of pillars at the entrance of a bridge can be used to depict a portal.
Spirals. Spirals can signify recurrence and illusion. In Vertigo, made more patent by swirling the spiral, a spiral can also signify lack of balance and dizziness causing dissociation and loss of sense of self and identity, maybe even leading to a mental breakdown. The Urban Dictionary’s definition of “downward spiral” is particularly apt: “This term describes a depressive state where the person experiencing the downward spiral is getting more and more depressed, perhaps due to causes unknown. It is called a downward spiral because there is no way to stop it, its just going to get worse and worse… until the person crashes, and maybe finds their way back to happiness.”
Tunnels and corridors. Tunnels and corridors can signify a passage toward the light or toward destruction or death. An alley is a type of corridor.
Gene Ebert regards one of the scenes in Vertigo as the greatest single shot in all of Hitchcock’s films. Watch for it. Ebert explains the scene: “The great scene takes place in a hotel room, lit by a neon sign. Judy has arrived, not looking enough like Madeleine to satisfy Scottie, who wants her in the ‘same’ dress, with the ‘same’ hair. His eyes burn with zealous fixation. Judy realizes that Scottie is indifferent to her as a person and sees her as an object. Because she loves him, she accepts this. She locks herself into the bathroom, does the makeover, opens the door and walks toward Scottie out of a haunting green fog that is apparently explained by the neon sign, but is in fact a dreamlike effect. As Hitchcock cuts back and forth between Novak’s face (showing such pain, such sorrow, such a will to please) and Stewart’s (in a rapture of lust and gratified control), we feel hearts being torn apart.” (You can find the Ebert article here).
I hope you enjoy the film.