Hitchcock’s Vertigo has received mixed reviews ever since it debuted in 1958. As time went on, Truffaut’s ideas toward Hitchcock gained more popularity, and today, the film has near-universal praise. The British Film Institute even deposed Citizen Kane, placing Vertigo at the top of the greatest films. Roger Ebert gushes over the film, calling it “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made.” I completely agree with Mr. Ebert here, yet I have reservations about placing Vertigo as high as the British Film Institute has.
Ebert points particularly to the final scenes of the film as an extremely emotional tug in favor of both Stewart’s character and of Novak’s. Deeper than that, Ebert points to the emotional and psychological conflicts present within Stewart’s character as parallel to Hitchcock’s own psyche. Ebert also praises the nightmare sequence, as a manifestation of Hitchcock’s own fears and desires transformed into this story.
I agree with Ebert in this aspect. On both the superficial layer and under the film’s skin, there is something very haunting about Vertigo. As in a nightmare, things are not laid out nicely from start to finish, with clear-cut friends and foes. The fight between ideals and reality within our own minds is carried out to its most horrible conclusion in this work. However, there is something fundamentally lacking.
For its great achievements, I cannot give Vertigo the same prestige the British Film Institute has. Though it may be one of Hitchcock’s more probing and brave films, there are others that triumph greater in terms of writing, acting, and technicality. Perhaps Psycho or Strangers on a Train should win out over Vertigo. Regardless, the meandering stretches of inaction do not create a sense of suspense for me. Instead, I feel a great sense of wandering malaise where there should be suspense and dread. Perhaps I am alone in this interpretation, yet many of the original reviews of the film had a similar perspective. For every brilliant scene there seems to be a lulling counterpart where I lose focus. When I watch it, I cannot help but feel that there should be something more inside this film, that it should pack a greater punch. In any case, this film is truly one of Hitchcock’s greatest, but perhaps not the greatest. Certainly it does not stand above every great film ever created.