Scottie: Are We Really Supposed to be Cheering for this Obsessive Creep?


So yeah, although I do enjoy the movie overall, I still can’t get over how Scottie behaved during the second half of the movie. Please note that this will be probably just end up being a nonsensical rant more than anything else, so if there are some parts that don’t make much sense, that I haven’t explain very well, or are just flat out random, please bear with me.

During the first half of the movie, I was fine with Scottie. With how his friend Gavin hired him to be his private investigator to watch over his wife Madeline, him spying and following her around can be excused since he’s technically doing his job. After Madeline’s “death” however, that’s when I got quite freaked out by him.

Let’s check off the reasons for that shall we? Seeing Madeline through practically every women he meets? Check. Goes to Judy uninvited because she looks similar to Madeline who he now obsesses over? Check. Forces her to wear the same style of clothing/hair that Madeline wore despite her protests? Check. Takes her back to the place where Madeline’s “death” took place in order TO USE HER AS A TOOL TO MAKE HIMSELF FEEL BETTER? FRICKING CHECK.

What really upsets me about this more than anything else is that this is supposed to be the good guy, the character we’re supposed to be rooting for to succeed in his mission. That scares me a lot as males at the time who grew up watching this film at the time will think that the creepy, obsessive behavior is acceptable, that this makes them strong, desirable men that women would want to do everything, even change themselves for! It wouldn’t matter much if it was just a normal film, but this isn’t the case. Vertigo is one of Hitchcock’s most famous films, so with the impact it had, of course more and more people check it out in the following years, so this movie had been watched by a large audience.

I know that several people apparently do defend what he does as being justifed, and I do in a sense get that Scottie was tricked by his friend Gavin just so that he can use Madeline’s death to cover up murdering his wife and that Madeline did decide to go along with his demands anyways because she loves him, but that’s about the most that I can deal with. The main problem I have here is that he shouldn’t have a reason to bother to continue with the mystery after Madeline’s supposed suicide.

But he’s a detective, it’s his job/instincts!

Well, it is in name, but he seems fairly reluctant for the role in the movie’s plot. For the first half, he retired from the police force after the incident that killed his fellow officer and caused his vertigo. With the earlier investigation, he didn’t want to do it in the first place when Gavin asked him to. Scottie even suggested for Gavin to bring Madeline to a psychiatrist or a doctor to deal with her issue.
During the second half of the movie. He’s been held in a sanatorium (I think?) for about a year during which it is assumed that he was unable to do work due to his depression, or at the very least not be going around investigating again like he did before.
In both of these cases, this proves that after traumatic events, he stops investigating entirely, albeit for different reasons. So this whole “detective thing” going on with Judy? That ain’t a detective doing his job, that’s an obsessive, manipulative creeper who seems to need the existence of Madeline (or a woman like Madeline) in order for him to function and be happy again. (I dunno why, but doesn’t that seem like a strange role reversal in a way that stereotypes want us to believe that women need a man to complete their lives? Hmm….)

Scottie subconsciously knew that Madeline wasn’t truly dead!

Although it’s possible, it’s never been confirmed and the chances are slim, so that’s not very solid as an excuse.

Well, Madeline went along with Scottie’s demands out of love!

Yes and no. Yes, it’s clear that she does love him and does want to play along to have a chance to be with him. However, I feel like there’s this one thing that we’ve all overlooked; she was most likely used by Gavin as a pawn, not the one most likely to come up with the cover up/plan (unless there was something that I missed). Remember that this is still the late 1950’s so it’s automatic to understand that Gavin was the one in control and was using Madeline as a means to his own end of killing his wife. Just like how Scottie used Madeline as a means to his own end of “moving on from the past” and getting over his vertigo. She fell into the hands of one controlling man to another, so she in part had less control of the situation than some would argue.

I knew there were some other points, but these were just the ones that I can formulate in my head at the moment.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that if this is the character that men back at the time are supposed to relate to and aspire to become, no wonder that in our more free society, there’s still some patriarchal aspects that remain due to the older generations continuing to enforce those views through various forms of power, whether it be through government, media, and simply people within our own lives.

3 thoughts on “Scottie: Are We Really Supposed to be Cheering for this Obsessive Creep?

  1. I totally agree. One of the things that confused me most about the movie is the problem of protagonist, antagoinst, foil, etc. I honestly don’t know who’s who. I feel like it’s almost a switch; in the first half, Scottie is our main man, but the audience is persuaded to shift their perspective in the second half, relating more with Judy as the victim.

    As for his creepiness, I have little defense. The only thing I can offer is a fantastic amount of trauma has befallen our detective, perhaps enough to incite delusions and curved perceptions of what’s right and wrong, in terms of both morality and social acceptability. If this is true, however, he should still be in asylum. Especially during this era, where very extended stays (some spanning dozens of years) were almost commonplace within the psychiatric industry, if his manic depression and obsessive personality disorder (my professional diag, because I’ve totally been to med school) were had this sort of magnitude, he likely would not’ve been released.

    • Vanessa Giesbrecht

      Wow, I forgot about that bit about the nature of psychiatric wards having extremely tight security, so that was a good find! I mean, although his condition is not the worst compared to other possible patients, they still wouldn’t just let him go out on his merry little way unsupervised. If he were allowed to go outside, it would most likely be only within close distance of the institution and with a staff member supervising him at all times.

  2. I have to say I find his behaviour creepy and disturbing as well. And I actually think it’s possible to read the film as suggesting that he is, indeed, acting badly. I do think the film invites us to sympathize with Judy when he keeps going further and further to change her (okay, maybe it’s just my own sympathy, but it’s quite a strong feeling that the film evokes). He is clearly disturbed still when he meets her, and I don’t think we are to take him as someone to look up to at that point. One thing that supports this interpretation is that towards the end, when Scottie and Judy are up on the tower, Scottie says to her that “He [Gavin] made you over just like I made you over.” Clearly Gavin is a villain, and here Scottie is connecting himself to a villain (and I think the audience is invited to do so as well). Further, Scottie’s control over Judy is something that ends badly for her and for him, really, one could argue, by the end of the film. Though we don’t see what happens afterwards in the original version of the film (without the deleted scene), one can imagine that having ended up involved in the deaths of two women, he is not going to be in a good space mentally and emotionally.

    I am not convinced the Scottie is presented in the film as a typical strong protagonist. He is not “in charge” for the first half of the film, directing the action, guiding events, etc. He is in fact being manipulated by Gavin and Judy. And as if to make up for that, he manipulates Judy. But even then it’s his obsession with Madeleine that is driving him more than anything–an obsession he is not really in control of.

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