Often things begin as a fake, inauthentic, artificial, but you get caught into your own game. And that is the true tragedy of Vertigo. It’s a story about two people who, each in his or her own way, get caught into their own game of appearances. For both of them, for Madeleine and for Scottie, appearances win over reality. What is the story of Vertigo? It’s a story about a retired policeman who has a pathological fear of heights because of an incident in his career, and then an old friend hires him to follow his beautiful wife, played by Kim Novak.- Slavoj Zizek, "A Pervert's Guide to Cinema"
The wife mysteriously possessed by the ghost of a past deceased Spanish beauty, Carlotta Valdes. The two fall in love. The wife kills herself. The first part of Vertigo, with Madeleine’s suicide, is not as shattering as it could have been, because it’s really a terrifying loss, but in this very loss, the ideal survives. The idea of the fatal woman possesses you totally. What, ultimately, this image, fascinating image of the fatal woman stands for is death. The fascination of beauty is always the veil which covers up a nightmare. Like the idea of a fascinating creature, but if you come too close to her, you see shit, decay, you see worms crawling everywhere.
The ultimate abyss is not a physical abyss, but the abyss of the depth of another person. It’s what philosophers describe as the night of the world. Like when you see another person, into his or her eyes, you see the abyss. That’s the true spiral which is drawing us in.
Scottie alone, broken down, cannot forget her, wanders around the city looking for a woman, a similar woman, something like the deceased woman, discovers an ordinary, rather vulgar, common girl. The douement of the story, of course,is along the lines of the Marx Brothers’ joke, This man is an idiot. “The newly found woman looks like Madeleine, acts like Madeleine, the fatal beauty. We discover she is Madeleine. What we learn is that Scottie’s friend, who hired Scottie, also hired this woman, Judy, to impersonate Madeleine in a devilish plot to kill the real Madeleine, his wife, and get her fortune.
We could just see a lot of each other.
Cause I remind you of her? It’s not very complimentary.
The profile shot in Vertigo is perhaps the key shot of the entire film. We have there Madeleine’s, or rather Judy’s, identity in all its tragic tension. It provides the dark background for the fascinating other profile of Madeleine in Ernie’s restaurant. Scottie is too ashamed, afraid to look at her directly. It is as if what he sees is the stuff of his dreams, more real in a way for him than the reality of the woman behind his back.
That’s not very complimentary, either.
I just want to be with you as much as I can, Judy.
When we see a face, it’s basically always the half of it. A subject is a partial something, a face, something we see. Behind it, there is a void, a nothingness. And of course, we spontaneously tend to fill in that nothingness with our fantasies about the wealth of human personality, and so on. To see what is lacking in reality, to see it as that, there you see subjectivity. To confront subjectivity meansto confront femininity. Woman is the subject. Masculinity is a fake. Masculinity is an escape from the most radical, nightmarish dimension of subjectivity.
I’m trying to buy you a suit.
But I love the second one she wore.
And this one, it’s beautiful.
No, no. They’re none of them right.
I think I know the suit you mean.
We had it some time ago.
Let me go and see.
We may still have that model. Thank you.
You’re looking for the suit that she wore, for me.
I know the kind of suitthat would look well on you.
No, I won’t do it!
Judy.It can’t make that much differenceto you.
I just want to see what…
No, I don’t want any clothes.I don’t want anything.
Here we are.-Yes, that’s it. When Judy, refashioned as Madeleine, steps out of the door, it’s like fantasy realised. And, of course, we have a perfect name for fantasy realised. It’s called “nightmare”. Fantasy realised. What does this mean? Of course, it is always sustained by an extreme violence. The violence in this case of Scottie’s brutal refashioning of Judy, a real, common girl, into Madeleine. It’s truly a process of mortification, which also is the mortification of woman’s desire.
It is as if in order to have her, to desire her, to have sexual intercourse with her, with the woman, Scottie has to mortify her, to change her into a dead woman. It’s as if, again, for the male libidinal economy, to paraphrase a well-known old saying, the only good woman is a dead woman. Scottie is not really fascinated by her, but by the entire scene, the staging. He is looking around, checking up, are the fantasmatic co-ordinates really here? At that point when the reality fully fits fantasy, Scottie is finally able to realise the long-postponed sexual intercourse. So the result of this violence is a perfect co-ordination between fantasy and reality. A kind of direct short-circuit.