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Fabe, M. (2009). Mourning Vertigo. Am. Imago, 66(3):343-367.

(2009). American Imago, 66(3):343-367

Mourning Vertigo

Marilyn Fabe

This paper sheds light on the psychological underpinnings of the enduring popularity of Vertigo location tours, and, more generally, on what people may be hoping to find or experience by visiting the literal remains of filmed fantasies. Those who desire to return to the places where Vertigo was filmed, it is argued, replicate the actions of its hero in the second half of the film. Scottie embarks on a futile quest to restore an unreal woman, an empty façade, an illusion created by Gavin Elster, trying to make a fictional image “real.” Madeleine resembles what is described by Christian Metz as an “imaginary signifier” that is infinitely desirable but never possessible. Vertigo's convoluted plot plays out and replays a perverse scenario that brilliantly depicts the experience of melancholia, as theorized by Giorgio Agamben as a state in which “the libido stages a simulation where what cannot be lost because it has never been possessed appears as lost” (1979, 20). Scottie's behavior is likened to that of a child who has suffered an insecure attachment to a “dead” (depressed and therefore inattentive) mother and, as a result, never develops the capacity to love truly or mourn successfully. By leaving the viewer in a painful state of unresolved suspense about Scottie's fate at the end of the film, Hitchcock reveals his inability to resolve his own issues around fear of loss and aggression toward desirable women. Those who seek out the locations of Vertigo continue Scottie's doomed quest to make a fantasy real, to diminish the gap between representation and reality, and thereby cling to an illusory means by which to overcome loss.

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