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Vertigo (1958), #53 out of 100

January 6, 2012

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In Hitchcock’s thrillers, even though the characters may have internal conflict that drives them to action, he usually emphasizes the much larger and more devastating external conflicts. Perhaps inspired by a lonely upbringing in a hostile state, Hitchcock’s themes of voyeurism, wrongful persecution, and a cruel society ruling against hapless individuals are generally celebrated in his films as thrilling, yet harrowing, adventures. Even “identity”, as much an internal concept as you can get, is addressed as something mistaken by others, rather than a character putting himself on trial. There are only really a couple of stories Hitchcock directed that address something almost entirely from the inside of the character, not dictated by unforeseen forces but instead by the lead’s emotions. Vertigo, even with the outer afflictions that cause it, is the biggest case of a character in a Hitchcock movie having to deal with their own ugliness and desperation.

Played by the normally pleasant and emphatic James Stewart, the lead detective “Scottie”, haunted by a fear of heights due to a traumatic near-death experience, is called onto a private case that further confronts him with his own fears concerning intimacy and, worse yet, obsession, inspired by an enigmatic woman played by Kim Novak, the subject of his investigation. While there are moments of heightened action like in any usual Hitchcock thriller, most of the power of the film comes from its more haunting yet subdued moments of characters at their own devices, not driven by chases or action but by emotion. Compellingly reflective of a human nature that may become too easy to relate to, these feelings are the most direct in the film because they reach out and grab hold of our own faults and darknesses too. Even when a villainous force can be pointed out in the murky shadows of what unravels, there’s a devastating understanding throughout of how difficult it is for a man to come to terms with the responsibility his own demons have on his life.

From → Top 100

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