Hitchcock's "Vertigo": the collapse of a rescue fantasy

Int J Psychoanal. 1997 Oct:78 ( Pt 5):975-96.


The author presents an interpretation of Hitchcock's 'Vertigo', focusing on the way in which its protagonist's drama resonates with the analyst's struggle with deep unconscious identifications, with the impossibility of maintaining detached objectivity or guaranteeing one's role as a reparative good object and with the dangers of grandiosity, omniscience and illusory control. The protagonist's 'countertransference love' crystallises around a rescue fantasy in which he is Orpheus striving to bring Eurydice back from Hades, or a Knight determined to behead an obscure Dragon endangering Beauty. Initially these key roles are sharply differentiated, through splitting and disavowal, which deprive the participants of their conflictual three-dimensionality. Eventually, however, the valiant Knight turns out to be as helpless and lonely as his Beauty, and in the final scene as ruthless and lethal as the Dragon. This interpretation is compared to numerous other views of the film offered in the literature. The survey and comparison of the various views leads to fundamental issues in the psychoanalytic study of art. Interpretations can be seen as unavoidably coloured by the (counter)transference of viewers. It is suggested that a film has no hidden true meaning, and a new individual significance emerges in the transitional space opened up by each viewer's encounter with the emotional universe of the film. A defensive emphasis on the pathology of artists and their work may alienate us from art, and blind us to ways in which we could learn from it personally and professionally.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drama*
  • Humans
  • Medicine in the Arts*
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation*