University of Manitoba Canada
Title: "Theatres Rational and Irrational in Vertigo"
My paper will give further consideration to the numerous and contradictory functions of overt and hidden theatre in the world of Vertigo. Gavin Elster's literal seduction/murder plot in the film has much to do, of course, with coaching, training, and intricate staging of a performance. But theatre extends well past Elster's domain, and has everything to do with the film's--and Scottie's-- simultaneous desire to resolve and surrender completely to obsession. The starting point of my analysis is Scottie's first trip to the Mission with Madeleine, where he is convinced he can disclose to Madeleine a rational theatre equivalent for the murky, disquieting promptings of her dream life. He leads her to the carriage house where he shows her a variety of props that offer crude, even comic literalizations of the dream images that confound her. Scottie becomes a theatrical director himself, restaging the narrative that Madeleine has shared with him as evidence of Carlotta's demonic grip on her consciousness. "You see, there's an answer for everything," he triumphantly concludes, unaware at that moment that he is as enamoured with the mysterious force driving Madeleine to trance, memory loss, and the brink of destruction as he is with Madeleine herself. It is the power that "possesses" her that augments his own obsession with her. To reduce the mystery by making rational theatre out of it threatens his own need to stay haunted and spellbound. Madeleine replies to his staging with a final delirious theatrical turn of her own, making the harmless, explicable props that Scottie has revealed to her an avenue to irrational self-destruction. Between Gavin Elster's plan and Scottie's theatrical demonstration Hitchcock suddenly conjures up forces that cannot be controlled, disentangled, or laid to rest. Madeleine remembers her assigned role, and fulfils it step by step, but also makes it something ungovernable, and "loses" herself in the act of performing her character's ending. I shall go on to explore other scenes of staging and their double-edged effect--including Midge's portrait scene, Scottie's game with Midge's chair, and the final re-enactment of the murder scene in the tower.