Our culture has some slightly misguided ideas about abusive relationships.
Make no mistake, there are countless abusive relationships and marriages out there – millions and millions.
But if you watch TV and movies, you might think that abusers plan their abuse – that most abusers are master manipulators, strategic gas-lighters, and diabolical sociopaths.
If only that were true. If abusers were actually mustache-twirling villains, it would be easy to spot them and avoid them.
But many abusive men are regular guys; they are decent at life but horrible at relationships. The damage, the unhappiness, the insecurity that cause abuse are hidden below the surface.
Alfred Hitchcock is an overrated director, but “Vertigo” is his best film. It took guts to explore the dark and uncomfortable topic of emotional abuse. And it took serious artistic vision to cast Jimmy Stewart – Mr. Smith, George Baily – as an abuser.
“Vertigo”’s plot is contrived and far-fetched. A rich friend hires detective Scotty Ferguson (Stewart) to follow his wife and unravel a supernatural mystery. The rich guy’s wife, Madeleine, is possessed by the spirit of a tormented Spanish woman who committed suicide at age 26.
Scotty falls in love with Madeleine, even as he watches helplessly as history repeats itself.
Things go from weird to disturbingly weird in the final act. Scotty finds a shopgirl named Judy who looks like his departed love. He talks Judy into going out with him. Then he pressures her into changing her hair and dressing like Madeleine.
“Vertigo” is a must-see classic because of Hitchcock’s honest exploration of emotional abuse.
The way Scotty bullies and manipulates Judy is ugly and uncomfortable to watch. But he never views himself as an abuser or a bad guy. In Scotty’s entitled mind, he is inspired by love and fulfillment.
I have nothing but admiration for Jimmy Stewart. He pulled a Leonardo DiCaprio – using his wholesome heartthrob image to make his dark characters even more troubling.
In “Vertigo,” Hitchcock asks the upsetting question: if Jimmy Stewart can be an obsessive, troubled abuser, who’s to say that your man can’t be, too?
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