'They Had the Power and the Freedom': A Genealogy of Patriarchal Violence in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo

24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 16 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

The control of women is at the center of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, a misogyny of domination that is easily apparent. Less apparent in previous literature on Vertigo is the connection to a history of violence against women that threads through key scenes, where the expression "the freedom and the power" is spoken by the wife-murderer Gavin Elster, an authority on San Francisco history, and John "Scottie" Ferguson, who stalks and obsesses over what becomes three women: Madeleine Elster, Carlotta Valdez, and Judy Barton. The freedom and the power is something men once had, but they are slowly losing it, and there emerges the paranoia, the real vertigo. This phrase and its connotation, that of controlling women, connects both freedom and power to the mechanisms of patriarchy. One such mechanism in Vertigo is the deployment, in Foucaultian terms, of a myth: that Carlotta Valdez, thrown away by a rich man nearly 100 years ago, haunts Gavin Elster's wife Madeleine. This myth, the spurned woman, covers up the darker violence underneath, that of uxoricide. Foucault's repressive hypothesis, a deployment in discourse on the freedom and power of sexuality, can be mapped onto the myth of Carlotta Valdez and the killing of women that lies below its surface.

Suggested Citation

Steinmetz, John (Jay), 'They Had the Power and the Freedom': A Genealogy of Patriarchal Violence in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1902155

John (Jay) Steinmetz (Contact Author)

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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