Life and Death in Vertigo

Just wanna go on a spiel about the themes of life and death in Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ –

LIFE:

So, there is an awful lot of green in the film. Let me explore the symbols in ‘Vertigo’ that represent life and mortality to an extent…

TREES! (More importantly, sequoia trees!)

So Scottie and Madeleine go to a forest filled with sequoia trees – sequoia stands for ‘always green, ever living’. Isn’t that just fitting? The tree’s scientific name explicitly symbolizes life in the film. However, for Madeleine, it represents her life/her mortality. The two come across the cross-section of a tree, and she tells Scottie where/when she was born, and where/when she died. Weird. Despite being surrounded by nature, all the more of a reason to embrace life in its entirety, Madeleine reacts differently. She gives a complex response. It seems as if she’s drowning from being surrounded by life. She is simultaneously afraid of living and afraid of dying. She even says she does not like knowing she has to die. Pretty haunting, huh?

GREEN!

Yes, green can represent nature (and with that being said, nature can mean life), but in ‘Vertigo’, the colour green has always made me feel uneasy. It reminds me of deception, or at least something associated to being eerie, uncanny, or disturbing. I can see how green is meant to represent Madeleine. When Scottie first sees her, she stands out from everyone else in the red dining room with her dramatic and vividly green gown. She’s a breath of fresh air, she’s unsettling, yet mesmerizing to look at. Moreover, when Scottie first meets Judy, she’s also in a green dress. ┬áHer hotel room is illuminated by the building’s green neon sign. How convenient. One of the most well shot scenes in the film is when Judy walks out of the bathroom, having fully transformed into Madeleine. She looks ghostly, bathed in green light and green fog. It’s ghostly. It’s uncanny. It’s as if she’s come back from the dead (especially with the green fog sort of dissolving itself and creating this halo effect around Judy). And I suppose the colour green is fitting here since Judy’s body is now a vessel for Scottie to fill with his ‘lost Lenore’.

DEATH:

Only writing a super short comment about death because I want to tie this with the paragraph just above!

I feel like when Judy finally accepts Scottie’s yearning to mold Judy in Madeleine’s image, the action in itself, is a sort of death. She chooses to let herself go and let Scottie dictate her as a way to earn Scottie’s love and affection. She even says she doesn’t care about herself anymore. I think losing yourself in wanting to be loved as much as you love someone else is a sort of death. At least I think of it in that way.

One thought on “Life and Death in Vertigo

  1. Christina Hendricks

    I found the first and last points here the most interesting because they went beyond what we discussed in class. I didn’t know that sequoia means “ever living,” and the significance you draw from that here is very thought-provoking. Of course, I suppose it makes sense given the character she is supposed to be playing that she would focus on death in this scene, but it is ironic given that she as a character dies but then she goes on living as a person, and further, she gets turned back into that character who then comes back to life. So in a way, Madeleine doesn’t die but keeps on living. Until, I guess, she dies again at the very end though.

    And yes, I hadn’t thought about Judy going through a kind of death when she gets turned into Madeleine but that makes a lot of sense. For Madeleine to come back to life, Judy has to die.

    Now that I think about it, Madeleine dies several times:
    * the real Madeleine is killed by Gavin
    * Judy/Madeleine dies when the real Madeleine is thrown off the tower
    * Judy/Madeleine dies when Judy goes back to being Judy
    * Judy/Madeleine dies when Judy goes off the tower at the end

    Complicated!

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