Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock is recognized as a master of cinematography and an innovator of psychological thriller genre. His film Vertigo demonstrates the director’s approach of making an emotional impact on the viewers. The main character of the movie, Scottie Ferguson, is progressively exposed as mentally and emotionally unstable throughout the film. To achieve this effect, Hitchcock resorts to a whole range of cinematic techniques, which include imagery, camera movement, and music.
The director of the film discloses the hero’s emotional challenges in a number of ways. First of all, his personality is gradually transformed from the beginning till the end of the film. Ferguson, who is initially a sober, practical-minded police officer who has to resign because of acrophobia, becomes increasingly obsessed and inclined to irrational behavior. So, considering the final scene when Scottie suddenly decides to take Judy to San Juan Bautista, it is possible to trace the author’s approach to depicting his emotional breakdown.
The viewer is well prepared to Ferguson’s burst of rage by the tension that unfolds throughout the whole film, reaching its peak after Madeline’s would-be death. This is the point of final transformation of a confident man into a manipulated and haunted person who cannot control his feelings. The director uses repeated symbols and imagery, which progress by the final scene and prepare ground for the audience to see Ferguson’s emotional inconsistencies. The use of spirals, especially spiral staircases, culminates in the scene when he drags Judy upstairs.
The motif of height is dominating, and it supports the impression of Scottie’s instability. The work of camera expresses the irrational fear that Ferguson feels and his impulsive behavior. This is achieved by alternation of close-ups and zoom-outs in a quick manner. It is remarkable that by the end of the final scene, this effect ceases because Scottie gets rid of acrophobia. This is visible by means of camera work, which stops shaking and changing focus. This marks the end of Ferguson’s insecure obsessive phase and his switch into another one, which is his anger. Instead of demonstrating the figure of the character as if it was swallowed by the environment, the director now focuses on his face that expresses different shades of his rage. He stops being a marionette and now works actively, which camera work helps to see. The emotions at his face look intense and even exaggerated, which still emphasizes the symbolic rather than realistic world that the film exposes.
Another remarkable aspect about Hitchcock’s approach is skillful use of music to reveal the character’s feelings. The choice of soundtrack demonstrated how classical suspense of thrillers is created by means of sound in combination with imagery. This combination is absolutely essential throughout the film and accounts for the motif of insanity that runs through it. For example, at the point when Scottie thinks that Madeline is dead, he starts seeing nightmares that are quintessence of all imagery that the director uses. This utter concentration of symbols and images is supported by the music playing that contributes to the effect of madness and obsession. In the same way, this combination works in the final scene when Ferguson transfers from obsession to total devastation.
All in all, Hitchcock uses a classical number of techniques to reveal his character’s emotional state. They include creating suspense by means of music combined with the imagery and the use of symbols that signify the irrational state of mind that Ferguson has. This also includes the use of spirals that reveal his instability. Finally, the camera work, which shifts focus from the environment to the character and backwards, supports the overall effect. Quick alternation of close-ups and panning shots creates the atmosphere of insanity and insecurity as well.