Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film, Vertigo, was ranked as the “Greatest Film of All Time” by the British Film Institute in 2012; the question becomes, then, does this movie deserve its dizzyingly high position on this list? I believe that it does.
Vertigo is an unusually good film, even for Hitchcock. The characters in particular are excellent; few people are who they seem to be, and fewer still survive through the entirety of the plot. One rather atypical feature of this film was the lack of emphasis on the murderer; the plot is primarily driven by the interactions between Scottie and Madeline/Judy, while Gavin appears only twice and is never really developed. This, I believe, is intended to focus the audience on the love angle of the film, in a reversal of the typical Hitchcock formula of “MacGuffin, killer, romance.” Nobody expected that from Hitchcock at the time, and first-time viewers of Vertigo will find it very different to his other classics such as Psycho and The Birds. Hitchcock, however, proves that he can play both Cupid and the Master of Suspense at once, managing to maintain the romantic plot even through twisting deceptions, mental breakdowns, and eventually murder and possibly suicide.
The cinematography of Vertigo is, at least for me, the most memorable aspect of the film. The theme of voyeurism, already a common Hitchcock element, is accentuated by the use of the camera as Scottie’s eyes; the audience is Scottie, and we see exactly what he does. Only twice does the camera break from the protagonist. In Judy’s flashback the camera goes where Scottie cannot, making the audience more powerful than the protagonist. The audience does not object; we desire to see more of Judy’s inner thoughts, as if we were observing a rat in a laboratory. Soon afterwards, Judy dies, right as Scottie overcomes his acrophobia. He gets what he wants, but only at the cost of his love’s life. Similarly, we get what we want (the truth of the mystery), and by doing so we kill Judy. The shot of Scottie looking down at Judy’s body brings everything back together: the suspense, the mystery, and the romance are all over and done with. We do not know what happens to Scottie, and if we did then I believe the film would not be worthy of its position on the British Film Institute’s list. The genius of Vertigo is that it does not require additional closure; the audience is not supposed to be comforted by a definite ending. All together, Vertigo is, without question, the greatest film ever made.