Vertigo begins with a chase on the rooftops where an unfortunate incident makes the lead character John Ferguson (James Stewart) realize he has a fear of heights. The movie then cuts to a conversation between John and Midge Wood (Barbara Geddes) about quite a lot of things. The conversation is insightful, almost laying out the entire character sketches of these two characters in front of the audience.
Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense, and for quite solid reasons as well, his plots are intriguing, but his characters are more intriguing. ‘Vertigo’ works like a Greek tragedy, where doom befalls on all its characters. What is the movie about ? John Ferguson has retired from the force owing to his acrophobia. He is then hired by a colleague of his college times, Galvin Elster, to observe his wife Judy Barton who has been acting weird lately.
The tone of Vertigo is similar to all of Hitchcock’s previous works. The plot materializes in the first twenty minutes, and then, the bleak tone sets in. Hitchcock always was fascinated with the supernatural, never just believing in it. Vertigo and Psycho are similar in that way. Both have a supernatural plot line that progresses from the time things start getting awry and as much as Hitchcock loves exploring that tone, he brings us face to face with stark reality in the end.
I love how Hitchcock draws the lines here. Seemingly unrelated plot points converge at regular intervals. The master’s control over the craft is at its best here. The progression of the plot is similar to its main theme – OBSESSION. A plot begins, progresses, and comes back to its inception and demolishes itself paving a path for a new plot line. This is a story that goes back to back in loops. The whole movie circles towards the same mysterious incident. In the beginning, it paves the path towards it and after it occurs, it brings us back to it repeatedly.
Stewart is brilliant here as Ferguson. The desperation is present on his face all along and produces a terrifying effect. Novak is unfortunately another pretty face lost in the intrigues of Hitchcock’s plot. Hitchcock, I think, would have been heavily criticized if he had been making movies now, with the cloud of feminism spreading all over the globe. Women are omnipresent in Hitchcock’s plot, but I don’t think he expects them to act, their only function is to look sexy. They provide the factor called ‘lust’ which is the driving force of all Hitchcockian plots. Men are obsessed with it and pursue it in his movies until it becomes the terrifying obsession due to which downfall befalls upon them. In fulfilling that purpose, Novak excels.
Vertigo is undoubtedly on of the most important movies ever made in the history of cinema. Every aspect of it was revolutionary. The costume design first of all ! The characters are as beautiful as they ever can be. And a lot of attention is given to these costumes for they are pivotal plot-turners as well.
Vertigo is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Although most of the attention that Robert Burks’ cinematography received is attributed to the dolly zoom, what I find fascinating is the beautiful convergence of natural and artificial lighting in the forest sequences. Hitchcock always considered a cinema was successful only if it had an effect on all the senses of its viewer. The graphics are in terms with that and produce a disturbing effect as well. But the main attraction is the score by Bernard Herrmann, which is actually the prime factor which brings about a vertigo effect for the viewer, because it irritatingly goes back and back and back in loops, just like the plot of the movie which is all centered around a single incident.
But, in the end, like all greats do once or twice, Hitchcock errs. For the first time, Alfred Hitchcock displays sympathy towards his female characters. They materialize not just as a theme in the plot, but as actual characters. And as folly comes, he seems to be struck by the grief of Novak’s character ad devotes the end to understand her as a person. This move is what proves to be collateral for the whole movie. Imagine you are watching a Formula One race, with cars moving at 300 km/hr and faster and suddenly, they start moving at snail’s pace. That is the dampening effect that this move produces. A movie called Few Good Men also did the same mistake, although it still held itself high. It reveals the prime plot twist almost twenty minutes before the climax, and from there the plot becomes increasingly predictable. While A Few Good Men, saved itself due to its unforgettable dialogues in the last twenty minutes (all credits to Aaron Sorkin for that), Vertigo becomes an increasingly dull affair, second by second, until it reaches into a climax any dimwit can predict. And a glorious movie paves the way for its downfall. How horribly disappointing !
Vertigo is one of the most important movies ever made, and so is Citizen Kane. That doesn’t make them great movies. Vertigo’s downfall can be explained in a single word that also happens to be the main theme of the movie itself – OBSESSION. Hitchcock lusts for his own creation here, and as it is so realistically depicted in all of his works, isn’t lust the only thing that can cause the downfall of even the mightiest ?
Rating :- 8.1 / 10
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