Everyone knows that appearances can be deceiving, right? Right, except it seems that our boy Scottie didn't get the memo. Vertigo tells the story of how Scottie's taken in by appearances—how he's fooled by Madeleine's beauty and her "beautiful phony trances." Scottie buys into a deceptive version of reality that leads to disaster.
Vertigo blurs the lines between objective and subjective reality. As Scottie gets deeper into his investigation of the mysterious Madeleine, he lives much of the film in a dream world. So do we, until we're snapped back to our senses by Judy's flashback and confession of the treachery. We now have to go back and re-evaluate our reality.
As the backdrop for the whole drama, San Francisco offers its own seductive and false reality. The city's beautiful scenery hides the murderous dealings that lead to Scottie's unraveling. The settings transport us from our present reality to the missions, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the redwood forests—all places that represent the haunted and haunting past. What seems to be a mysterious and otherworldly reality turns out to be just the cooked-up story of a wife-killer and his vulnerable but mercenary accomplice.
Questions About Versions of Reality
- What is is about Scottie that makes him get sucked into this dream reality of Madeleine and Carlotta?
- How does Hitchcock visually represent this dreamlike world?
- How does your experience of the film shift after the flashback revelation? Were you believing anything different up until that point?
- What's the irony in making Scottie a police detective?
Chew on This
In Vertigo, subjective rather than objective reality is what drives Scottie's character even though he's a police detective.
Hitchcock's most sustained reflection on the distortion of reality comes during the sequence showing Judy's makeover.