Monday, July 16, 2012
Vertigo's "Happy Ending"
Does Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo end happily? Richard Brody thinks so. He says that Vertigo’s “happy ending, of health restored and crime punished, resembles an aridly monastic renunciation” (“Vertigo,” "Goings On About Town," The New Yorker, May 28, 2012). New York Magazine thinks otherwise. It says, “New Yorker film writer Richard Brody boldly but delusionally states that Hitchcock’s Vertigo has a happy ending” (“The Approval Matrix: Week of June 11, 2012,” New York Magazine, June 3, 2012). In “‘Vertigo’: The Search For A Cure” (“The Front Row,” newyorker.com, June 7, 2012), Brody replies that he was using “happy ending” ironically (“So, please allow me my irony of suggesting that the movie has a truly happy ending: the revelation of unhappy truth”). Why irony? Is Brody now saying he meant the opposite of what he said? Recall Samuel Johnson’s definition of irony: “A mode of speech of which the meaning is contrary to the words” (quoted in D. J. Enright’s The Alluring Problem, 1986). Vertigo’s dark last scene shows Scottie (James Stewart) standing on the ledge at the top of the Mission San Juan Bautista bell tower where, only moments before, he witnessed his beloved Judy (Kim Novak) plunge to her death. He’s conquered his acrophobia, but he’s lost (for the second time!) the woman he loves. Standing on the precipice, looking down, Scottie is caught in a sad equilibrium. It could be a scene in an Edward Hopper – a vision of a chill, ominous world, noir to its bare bones.