Vertigo Movie Review

713 words | 3 page(s)

Alfred Hitchcock”s film Vertigo (1958) is one of the undisputed classics of cinema. Clearly, one of the reasons for its reputation is its use of motifs from psychology, translating psychological concepts into a cinematic context. As the psychologist Stanton Peele (2012) writes, Hitchcock”s masterpiece may be considered “the most psychological film of all time.” No where is this more apparent than in the almost surreal imagery of the climactic scene, where Scottie stares down from the church tower. Hitchcock manages to capture with his innovative use of cinema not only Scottie”s phobia, but the underlying psychological basis of this phobia, whereby phobia is shown as a distortion of psychic reality.

One of the ways in which Hitchcock accomplishes this is by combining Scottie”s fear of heights with the ambiguity of the plot. As Heine describes this moment, Scottie does not know in this moment if “he is being saved or betrayed by one of two maddeningly attractive women, both played by Kim Novak.” (61) In this account, we can quickly see how Hitchcock layers various forms of psychological delusion one upon the other. Firstly, Scottie possesses his vertigo phobia. Secondly, he does not which of the two women is in the church tower as he experiences vertigo. Thirdly, he does not know if the woman is there to rescue him or to ultimately harm him.

puzzles puzzles
Your 20% discount here.

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
"Vertigo Movie Review".

Order Now
Promocode: custom20

The initial phobia is thus combined with other phobias, showing how the psychic reality of Scottie is twisted in numerous ways. This distortion is so extensive that Scottie is disoriented in the aforementioned ways. Arguably, Hitchcock captures precisely this theme with the imagery of the spiral staircase in the church tower. On the one hand, the spiral staircase clearly bears a resonance with the spiraling feeling of vertigo and the fear of heights. On the other hand, it also shows the twisted narratives that now comprise Scottie”s distraught psychic state. Scottie is psychically isolated from the world and Hitchcock emphasizes this with the imagery of Scottie alone on the church tower facing his fate.

All of Hitchcock”s cinematic decisions aim to emphasize precisely this psychic distress. The colors of the film in this scene, for example, evoke dark, almost surreal elements, reminiscent perhaps of Van Gogh”s swirling “Starry Night.” There is a certain impressionism to this scene. That is, the viewer is not seeing a real landscape and environment, but rather the world through Scottie”s psychic perilous state. This is therefore a wholly subjective account of the reality around Scottie, but this is in line with Hitchcock”s commitment to making a truly psychological film. Namely, in so far as psychological stress, although perhaps the result of exterior causes, ultimately is rooted in the individual subject, it makes sense for Hitchcock”s aesthetic decisions in this scene to be controlled by how we can imagine Scottie would view his surroundings.

The setting itself underscores precisely this point, taking on a horrific element. The location of the church tower is perhaps a clear psychological reference. For example, the church is a symbol of authority which corresponds to psychological theories of traumatic incidents related to authority figures, such as the father. All of Scottie”s psychic traumas culminate at this height of the church tower. Vertigo here takes on another meaning, indicating the dizzying experience at being disoriented before one”s entire life.

Hitchcock”s film is thus impressively constituted by his philosophical and psychological commitments. The climactic scene becomes the accumulation of all the psychological distress in the film. In this regard, the scene in all its facets aims to capture precisely this motif. If attention to detail is crucial to making a successful film, this detail must also be informed by precise imagery and symbolism that re-emphasizes the film”s central narrative. Hitchcock precisely accomplishes this, as he brings the viewer into the subjective perspective of the psychologically distraught. Vertigo is deeply psychological not because it is an objective account of psychology, but because it takes the subjective perspective of one affected by such disorders.

  • Heine, Steven. White Collar Zen. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Peele, Stanton. “Alfred Hitchock”s Vertigo: The Most Psychological Film of All Time.”
    Psychology Today, September 16, 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2014 at

puzzles puzzles
Attract Only the Top Grades

Have a team of vetted experts take you to the top, with professionally written papers in every area of study.

Order Now