Vertigo : The Controversy over Dominance

Although I am uncertain of whether or not Vertigo deserves to be given the honor of being the best film in movie history, it is certainly a film that deserves recognition. Hitchcock’s use of camera techniques and dream sequences allows the audience to truly feel as if they are part of the film. Few movies draw as much suspense and audience interaction as Vertigo does which deserves reward. I do not think Mulvey is justified in her criticisms against Vertigo. For example, Mulvey states how Vertigo is a prime example of male dominance in cinema using the idea of the division between looking and being looked at. Much of Vertigo involves Stewart/Scottie following and observing Novak/Judy without her apparent knowledge or consent. Mulvey believes that that the person being looked at is the passive, weaker figure (women) and the person looking is the dominant, stronger figure (men). She implies that an imbalance of power between men and women is shown in the movie. Although Mulvey ignores how Stewart/Scottie is duped by Novak/Judy and Helmore/Elster through almost the entire film. Mulvey disregards how Novak/Judy is fully aware of Stewart/Scottie watching her and how Novak/Judy is using that to her advantage. Novak/Judy is able to fool Stewart/Scottie into thinking that she is Madeleine Elster possessed by Carlotta Valdes, is able to lead Stewart/Scottie into a rooftop chase where she knows Stewart/Scottie’s acrophobia will prevent him from following her to the top of the tower, and she and Helmore/Elster are able to throw the real Madeleine Elster off the top of the bell tower making Stewart/Scottie believe that he had just witnessed Novak/Judy’s suicide. Stewart/Scottie does not discover until almost the end of the film that Novak/Judy and Helmore/Elster knew of his acrophobia and used that to make him be a witness to the fake suicide of Madeleine Elster so that Helmore/Elster could murder his wife without placing suspicion onto himself. Thus, Stewart/Scottie is not the powerful figure in the film, Novak/Judy is. Mulvey fails to remark on how Stewart/Scottie is virtually unhappy throughout almost the entire film and is even forced to temporarily enter an asylum as a result of Novak/Judy’s actions. I believe that it is unfair for for Mulvey to suggest that Vertigo is a film that portrays male dominance when Stewart/Scottie frequently suffers at the hands of Novak/Judy throughout the film.

Keane, Marian. “A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey Hitchcock, and Vertigo.” A Hitchcock Reader. Eds. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009:234-249

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *