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Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film ‘Vertigo’
is undoubtedly one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time. In the
film, Hitchcock explores the troubled psyche of the main character John “Scottie”
Ferguson. The films disorienting themes of illusion, disorientation, and dream
vs. reality evoke such feelings of in its audience. As a result, Vertigo
thrusts it’s audience into the themes and motifs of illusion, disorientation,
and suspense.

film begins with the wide-eyed gaze of a woman. As the camera zooms into the mysterious woman’s
pupil, a spiraling vortex emerges and the opening credit sequence unfolds. From
this opening sequence, Hitchcock is showing his audience they are entering into
an altered reality. This psychedelic title sequence is an invitation for the audience
to now view reality through another’s eyes, and answer for themselves if what
follows is reality or the consequences of a troubled mind. These
questions play through the entirety of the film as Hitchcock takes the audience
on a journey of mystery and personality

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theme of illusion is best seen within the visual motifs of the film. Hitchcock
composes various shots in front of mirrors or within the margins of frames (doorways,
archways, windows, etc.). As
Scottie follows Madeline, much of his investigation is conducted from inside
his car. His view is “obstructed” by the windshield, symbolizing the skewed
perception Scottie has of his subject.

Vertigo’s uses of color and filters
not only make the film visually compelling, but further the disorientation of
the audience. Most noticeable are the contrasting use of red and green
throughout the film. Madeline’s red
robe and Scottie’s green car are just a few examples of how Hitchcock utilizes
these colors throughout the film. Nowhere is this more evident than the
scene in which a ghostly green light radiates from the window and encircles
Judy as she completes her transformation into Madeline. A misty haze appears around her as she emerges, instilling a sense of oddity
all while also furthering the knowledge of Scottie’s inability to perceive clearly.

The spiral is yet another visual
motif seen throughout the film. We see the spiral featured in the film multiple
times; the opening credits, styled in Madeline’s hair, even the score seems to
spiral in the audience’s minds. Yet,
it’s the shot of the bell tower’s winding stairwell that is arguably the most
visually important of the film. While the stairwell showcases another spiral,
it is the ultimate metaphor for Scottie’s acrophobic condition and his gradual
descent into madness.

The final scene at the
bell tower is where the themes of disorientation and illusion come to meet as
Scottie must overcome his vertigo in order to find out the truth about Judy. When
a nun suddenly appears and startles her, Judy falls from the tower and
ultimately to her death, calling back to the chase scene at the opening of the

The film concludes as
Scottie emerges from the archway and watches Judy fall. It is my argument that
his emergence symbolizes freedom from his acrophobia and his illusions
projected onto Madeline/Judy. However, even though Scottie is cured of his
vertigo, he is broken in every other aspect. Clouded by his obsession,
Scottie’s failure to see reality and reason has destroyed him and his loved

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