Vertigo Literary Elements

Vertigo Literary Elements


Alfred Hitchcock

Leading Actors/Actresses

James Stewart, Kim Novak

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones


Mystery, Romance, Thriller




National Film Preservation Registry, Silver Seashell at San Sebastián International Film Festival, Best Actor James Stewart, Inducted into OFTA Film Hall of Fame, Best Cinematography in a Foreign Film (Mejor Fotografía en Película Extranjera) Robert Burks

Date of Release

9 May 1958 (USA Premiere)


Paramount Pictures, Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

Setting and Context

1957, San Francisco

Narrator and Point of View


Tone and Mood

The tone of the film is dark and suspenseful, while still possessing a lightness in the mystery and oddity of Madeleine and Carlotta.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is John "Scottie" Ferguson, who is mentally broken due to an accident suffered on the police force but is still trying to save Madeleine's life, and in doing so facing some of his greatest fears. The primary antagonist would be Gavin Elster, the former college pal who chose to exploit Scottie's acrophobia in his plot to murder his wife, producing an able witness who was unable to save the victim out of fear.

Major Conflict

Scottie's major conflict lies in becoming obsessed with the woman whom he was tasked to follow, Madeleine Elster. He becomes so infatuated with her that when connecting with Judy, the actress, he begins trying to turn her into Madeleine, which breaks her heart.


Scottie is emotionally devastated and becomes nearly catatonic after witnessing the real Madeleine's death, believing that it was the woman he was falling for all along. He feels as though his acrophobia caused her death because he was unable to save her when she ran up the bell tower. Interestingly enough is that to some degree there are two climaxes, though both are comprised of the same event, that being Madeleine dying.


Almost the entire film is based upon foreshadowing, as much of the first half of the film mirrors events of the second half. Scottie's insistence that he can cure his vertigo, although Midge assures him he cannot, align with his insistence that he can cure Madeleine of her suicidal tendencies and tainted dreams. The scene where he is unable to stand even on a stepstool without becoming faint sets the scene for the death of Madeleine, as his acrophobia is what stops him from saving her. Many of his interactions with Madeleine mirror the interactions he has with Judy, representing not only Judy's role in the plot, but his inability to let go of the Madeleine that he thought he knew. Madeleine's many attempts at suicide foreshadow the fact that at one point, there will be an attempt where he cannot save her.


The scene where Scottie faints off of the step stool is both foreshadowing and an understatement of the effect his acrophobia will have later in the film, when he is unable to save Madeleine. It is a small sample of his acrophobia, showcasing it in a way which isn't dangerous to anyone.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Vertigo is most notable for the implied symmetry of the film, in that the first half mirrors the second, not only in events but also in camera shots. Many shots of Scottie and Madeleine are mirrored later on with Scottie and Judy, as well as shots regarding his vertigo being quite similar to each other. While not necessarily an innovation, it is an extremely compelling storytelling device.


While there aren't necessarily many overt allusions, there are allusions made using similar camera techniques and shot framing, which call to your mind previous moments of the film and allude to the events to come.


Scottie is arrogant in the fact that he believes he can conquer unbeatable foes, such as his acrophobia or Madeleine's bad dreams. This manifests as a paradox, in which he actively seeks out harmful things in a belief that he can beat them. He walks up the step stool in an attempt to conquer his acrophobia, which only serves to worsen and make him faint, and he wants to save Madeleine from her nightmare by bringing her to the site of it, which only results in her imminent death.


While not literary in nature, there is a definite parallelism which overarches the entirety of the film. The first half of the film is very similarly structured to the second half, allowing your brain to relate incidents in each half to each other, while not being too obtuse about the repetition of events.

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