Vertigo is rated number 1 on the “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time” surpassing Citizen Kane for the top spot. However, its place is highly debated especially with the newer generations of film viewers. Why is it number 1, and why is it so heavily disputed?
Vertigo is not his most exciting or suspenseful film, in my opinion that title is reserved for Psycho (it nearly had me jumping out of my seat at points). In Vertigo scenes often drag on for longer than necessary and the pace of it all is too slow, but it is content heavy filled with tragic relationships that beckon to be examined further. Roger Ebert in his 1996 article delves deeper into the twisted relationships in the film, illuminating points that I had not picked up on when I first viewed the film. I think that Vertigo was receipted so well because of the haunting dynamics between the two leads played Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. Ebert analyzes the calamitous love story between Scottie and “Madeleine” identifying the clear issues they both face. Judy realizes that “Scottie is indifferent to her as a person and sees her as an object” that he is ultimately trying to mold into the lover that he lost. Judy lets Scottie change everything about her because she is so hopelessly in love with him, even though he could only ever love her as Madeleine. Both acknowledge that what they are doing is morally wrong, however, each goes along with it out of their own desire to be in love. The relationship is eating away at both of them.
Ebert also goes as far as to say Scottie portrays Hitchcock and how he used, feared and tried to control women. Scottie falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman, the “quintessential Hitchcock woman.” However, when he can’t have her Scottie finds another woman as a surrogate and attempts to “mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair” until she fits the image of the woman he is hopelessly in love with. One of the most important points Ebert makes is “He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.” Judy goes along with this even though it truly pains her because she loves him, and in that the film becomes equally about her and her pain, her loss and the trap she’s fallen into. This leads to Judy being one of the most sympathetic female characters in all of his films; we can identify with her plight and feels sorry for the situation she has fallen into.
All things considered this film makes a profound statement on the dynamics of a relationship, and is much more than a well-crafted murder and dramatic plot twist. While it may not have been the most entertaining film, I think it made profound statements on the human condition and how far an individual will go for love, and for that I can justify it for the number 1 slot.