Charles Barr in his monograph dedicated to the study of Vertigo has stated that the central theme of the film is psychological obsession, concentrating in particular on Scottie as obsessed with the women in his life. As Barr states in his book, "This story of a man who develops a romantic obsession with the image of an enigmatic woman has commonly been seen, by his colleagues as well as by critics and biographers, as one that engaged Hitchcock in an especially profound way; and it has exerted a comparable fascination on many of its viewers. After first seeing it as a teenager in 1958, Donald Spoto had gone back for 26 more viewings by the time he wrote The Art of Alfred Hitchcock in 1976. In a 1996 magazine article, Geoffrey O'Brien cites other cases of 'permanent fascination' with Vertigo, and then casually reveals that he himself, starting at age 15, has seen it 'at least thirty times'."
Critics have interpreted Vertigo variously as "a tale of male aggression and visual control; as a map of female Oedipal trajectory; as a deconstruction of the male construction of femininity and of masculinity itself; as a stripping bare of the mechanisms of directorial, Hollywood studio and colonial oppression; and as a place where textual meanings play out in an infinite regress of self-reflexivity." Critic James F. Maxfield has suggested that Vertigo can be interpreted as a variant on the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890), and that the main narrative of the film is actually imagined by Scottie, whom we see dangling from a building at the end of the opening rooftop chase.