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Written by Timothy Sexton
From the opening credits to the bun in Madeleine’s hair to the vertiginously weird perspective of the staircase up the bell tower to the plot mechanism in which Scottie is sucked into swirling vortex of lies and deceptions, the spiral is the film’s dominant imagery. Practically everywhere one looks in the film one can find a swirling shape one sort or another. The opening scene where Scottie’s police pal who falls to death is one: the splayed shape of the corpse below is a swirl. The spiraling signals dizziness which makes a metaphor of the film’s title into the underlying emotional tenor of the narrative.
Sudden Appearance and Disappearances
An important bit of imagery that leads to the ultimate climax of the novel being its most fervent and fetid example begins right at the beginning. Scottie is reaching upward from his precarious spot hanging from the room of a building to grab an arm for safety. Then suddenly that arm and the man connected to it disappears from Scottie’s view as he falls to his death. Madeleine is standing by San Francisco Bay and then suddenly she disappears into the Bay. Shortly thereafter, Madeleine is in Scottie’s living room while he is in the bedroom on the phone; when he comes out she’s no longer there. Very shortly thereafter, Midge suddenly appears in her car outside Scottie’s home as he stands outside looking for the recently departed Madeleine and then just as suddenly she is gone. All this leads to the weirdly sudden appearance of a nun and the immediately consequence of Judy disappearing for good.
Red and Green
The colors red and green play a significant role in the construction of the imagery for Vertigo, although to what exact purpose is up for some argument. Madeleine manages to stick out in a room filled with well-dressed restaurant patrons precisely because she is the only one wearing green in a room overcome by red. Midge—the nice girl—wears a red sweater when she makes the mistake of showing Scottie her version of herself in the painting at the museum. The opening credits are literally swamped in red and when Judy makes her transformation back into Madeleine the screen is swamped in green. The imagery clearly is intended to mean something or may just be an ironic “red” herring.
Windows are another dominant image peppered throughout the film. Scottie is shown looking out windows several times and even in his weird nightmare he is shown with Carlotta standing against a window. Of course, it is through a “window” that Scottie witnesses the lowest point of his life: the body of Madeline falling to her death. The very first time we see Scottie after that nightmare and the mental breakdown it represents, he is seated in front of a window listening with a blank stare to Midge who—it should be noted—is wearing neither green nor red although a dozen red roes are displayed on top of a dresser.
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