The titular vertigo, experienced by Scottie in moments when he is ascending any kind of height, is a sort of motif throughout the film. The opening scene shows him experiencing an extreme fear of heights while on a case. Then, when he stands on a tall stool in Midge's apartment, hoping to overcome his fear, he accidentally catches a glimpse of the street below and falls from the stool. Then, in the moment when Madeleine climbs the stairs of the bell tower, Scottie cannot follow her because he is experiencing vertigo. Vertigo is a motivic representation of Scottie's weakness, a haunting reminder of his limitations as a detective.
Flowers and Hair (Symbol)
When Scottie first starts following Gavin's wife Madeleine, he has been told that she is suffering from delusions and an obsessive identification with the past. She seems to believe herself to be some type of contemporary manifestation of a fallen woman from San Francisco history, Carlotta Valdes. At the museum, Scottie notices that Madeleine is staring at a painting of Carlotta Valdes, in which Carlotta is holding a bouquet of flowers and has her hair curled in a particular way. He notices that Madeleine is holding an identical bouquet and has her hair done in the exact same way, two accessories that represent her attachment to Carlotta and her strange delusional interest in Carlotta's biography.
Midge, Scottie's old friend and former fiancée, has a day job working for a brassiere company, and at one point Scottie notices a strapless brassiere that she has displayed near her work station. He cannot identify the object, even though it is clearly a piece of women's lingerie. The brassiere is a symbol of Scottie's confusion about female sexuality and more private routines, a confusion that will be brought to bear when he tries to remake Judy in Madeleine's image and becomes obsessive about women's clothing and styling to a comically specific degree. The brassiere also represents Midge as she exists in the eyes of Scottie, the fact that she is pragmatic and technical, like the construction of a brassiere, rather than more mysterious and erotic, like Madeleine. Midge lays bare her intentions, rather than keeping them shrouded in mystery, which ultimately proves to be a turnoff for Scottie.
The trees in Muir Woods (Symbol)
One day, Madeleine and Scottie visit Muir Woods, and look at the giant, primordial trees there. The trees represent the endurance of nature, and the fact that human beings are inevitably outlived by their natural surroundings. Madeleine, in her haunted daze, sees the trees as horrible reminders of her inconsequentiality and they serve as an inspiration for another suicidal daydream.
Green is a color that recurs throughout the film at key moments and is closely associated with Madeleine. When Scottie first sees her at the restaurant, she is wearing a brilliant shade of green, and it is in this moment that he first becomes smitten with her. Then later, when he meets Judy Barton, she is wearing a green dress, though it is much less elegant than anything Madeleine would wear. Furthermore, Judy's hotel room is illuminated by a neon green light that is just outside her window, which often turns the entire room green. While it is ambiguous what the color green explicitly represents in the film, it seems to suggest some connection between the world of the living and the dead.
Vertigo Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Vertigo is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.