“We stood there and I kissed her for the last time, and she said, ‘If you lose me you'll know that I loved you and wanted to keep on loving you.’ And I said, ‘I won't lose you.’ But I did.”
So speaks Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) about Madeline Elster (Kim Novak) in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo, a tale of failure, regret, and obsession. In the story, Scottie Ferguson, a retired police officer, ends up engaged in a mystery and falls in love with the center of that mystery, a beautiful, enigmatic woman named Madeline.
But when Ferguson fails to save Madeline from death, Ferguson refuses to make his peace with his history. Ferguson makes an idol of the past, attempting to impose his will on history by reversing time through artifice and imagination.
Vertigo continually blurs the line between imagination and reality, often entering into the subjective points of view occupied by the characters. The story itself returns to images and events time and time again, revising their significance as the story develops and shifts. The film’s climactic moment comes as a definitive revision, shattering illusion altogether. Ferguson's attempts to live in the past are in vain; the narrative of his life cannot be overcome through something as fragile and faulty as fantasy.
Hitchcock’s direction is remarkably precise, even by his own standard, and we are treated to one breathtaking image after another of an especially dreamy, hazy San Francisco. The dramatic leads, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, deliver two very haunting performances, bringing humanity to grand melodrama. Bernard Herrmann’s score, with its achingly mournful, passionate love theme, underlines the story’s events with a suitable sense of dread; Herrmann’s score makes it clear from the main title that no happy ending lies in store.