Although Citizen Kane is undeniably one of the greatest movies of all time, I can understand how critics and scholars can rank Vertigo as number one on the “50 Greatest Films of All Time” list. After 50 years of Citizen Kane enjoying the spotlight, it was finally replaced by the honorable Vertigo. Many film-fanatics of this generation do not consider Vertigo one of Hitchcock’s most influential films, but I would have to disagree. Although the movie may have some more adult-centered themes that may not appeal to younger audiences, I can completely see how older generations are able to relate with the concepts portrayed in Vertigo. The film relies heavy on the idea of loss, which only someone who has experienced loss can understand. However, some critics do not agree with the idea of dominance that is portrayed throughout the film. Laura Mulvey, for example, is one of those critics. As a strong feminist, Mulvey believes that the voyeurism depicted throughout the film is symbolic of male objectification of women. Although this appears to be true in this particular film, I disagree with her belief that men are the only ones guilty of objectification. Both men and women can be found guilty of objective voyeurism, and although Vertigo was admittedly centered around male dominance, men are not the only ones capable of objectification.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt encompasses many Freudian, as well as other psychological theories. One of the most prominent theories throughout the film was that of the Electra Complex. This theory is similar to the Oedipal Complex, except it is used when referring to the female psyche instead of the male. In the film, young Charlie and Uncle Charlie both have an unnatural interest with one another, which insinuates an uncomfortable sense of incest throughout the entirety of the film:
The relationship between young Charlie and Uncle Charlie grows exceedingly inappropriate throughout entirety of the film, especially in their physical contact with one another. The two characters always seem to be touching or in some sort of embrace throughout the film, which is undoubtedly inappropriate for an uncle/niece relationship, and makes the audience feel uncomfortable while watching. The two characters also obtain many similarities with one another, making their relationship all the more unnatural. For example, from the very beginning of the film, we see young Charlie and Uncle Charlie doing the exact same thing – laying in bed, with some sort of apparent sickness or apathy to what is happening around them:
This opening to the film can also be connected to the Electra Complex, because it can be loosely implied that the characters are “in bed with one another.”
In fact, one of the theories of James McLaughlin’s essay in A Hitchcock Reader is that both Charlies are so similar that they have a sort of telepathic connection with one another. McLaughlin writes that “[Charlie’s] uncle ‘heard’ her, that there is a kind of mental telepathy between them. She wanted him to come and, miraculously, he came” (147). This theory directly relates to the theory of the Electra Complex, and would prove the two character’s immoral infatuation with one another to indeed be true.
The staircase is a prevalent motif in many of the Hitchcock films, and has already been introduced greatly throughout The Lodger as well as Blackmail. In The Lodger, we first see the use of the staircase when the lodger shows up to the hotel, and we see shots of him suspiciously ascending up the stairs in his dark and threatening attire:
Hitchcock uses the staircase to represent the different levels of the human psyche. In The Lodger, the staircase is used to represent how the suspicious and slightly frightening lodger is really a “hero in disguise” who is trying to avenge the death of his sister, who was brutally murdered. On the surface, the lodger is ironically mistaken to be the murderer, but in reality is just trying to right a terrible wrong that had been done to his family, thus explaining his higher moral standard which is represented by his ascension up the staircase.
Additionally, staircases are used widely throughout Blackmail as well. In fact, the winding staircase scene that is so imperative to the plot of Blackmail is one of the most expensive sets that Hitchcock ever produced:
In Blackmail, these seemingly unending stairs serve as a sort of foreshadowing toward to chaotic journey that Alice is about to endure. They also represent the sick psyche of Crewe, who appears to be a gentleman on the surface, but is the villain of the story once we see the true motives of his mind. The twists and turns of the staircase may also represent the twisted views and expectations he has for the women who visit his studio. The real journey of the story develops after Alice escapes from Crewe’s studio and descends down the staircase one last time, thus representing her escape from Crewe’s twisted mind as well as the chaos that is about to follow her throughout the rest of the plot of the movie.
-Elizabeth Stone, FSEM, Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense