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Gabbard, G.O. (1998). Vertigo: Female Objectification, Male Desire, and Object Loss. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(2):161-167.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(2):161-167

Vertigo: Female Objectification, Male Desire, and Object Loss

Glen O. Gabbard, M.D.

In Hitchcock's exploration of obsessive love in Vertigo, three themes are interwoven: female objectification, male desire, and object loss. In a 1975 essay that has been extraordinarily influential in academic film criticism, Mulvey observed that Scottie (James Stewart) typifies the active “gaze” of the male spectator for whom the patriarchal film industry (embedded in a patriarchal society) manufactures movies. This male spectator fetishizes female beauty as a way of defending against the anxiety brought about by the spectacle of woman as representing “lack” or castration. Hence the abyss Scottie looks into at the opening of the film, in Mulvey's view, symbolizes that lack, and he thus must fethishistically try to recreate the ideal phallic woman throughout the narrative of the film. His vertigo, then, can be seen as symbolizing this confrontation with the abyss of the feminine.

To be sure, the manner in which Hitchcock's camera lingers on Kim Novak as Madeleine lends a good deal of support to the Mulvey perspective that female beauty must be objectified and fetishized for the male audience member.

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