Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1958, Théâtre du Temple


Scottie, a former police officer, has been commissioned to keep an eye on Madeleine, a young woman haunted by the memory of a relative’s suicide. Walking through San Francisco Madeleine’s trail leads Scottie from place to place, particularly places which may contain secrets about the history of the city, such as a cemetery, a museum and a book shop. Secrets and hidden stories are the subject of this sequence, as Madeleine has probably lost her memory after attempting to drown herself. Scottie takes her to a redwood forest on the outskirts of the city. It’s a place she says she’s never been to before, yet she seems to remember it. Hitchcock created this space from two real places, according to supplementary information about the film. He’s constructed the one, imaginary space out of two real spaces to build a filmic, metaphorical space. We can’t see the horizon, only glimmers of light and colour through the middle of the trees. It is a place of darkness and mystery, representing the unconscious mind. Appearing to be in a hypnotic state, Madeleine is asked to give voice to her repressed memories, as if in a psychoanalysis session. The truth is brought about by going to a precise location where things happened.  This sets up the approach that will guide the film until its conclusion. Scottie will have to go back to the cloisters and up the spire so that the puzzle can be solved, and to allow his vertigo to disappear – even if that puts Madeleine in danger of falling to her death. As the shots move through the different axes and points of view, Scottie believes that Madeleine has disappeared for a moment, Madeleine, the elusive figure who he struggles to understand. It is both psychoanalysis and metaphysics in action, seen by the relationship between bodies and space, seen through a mix of shot types. The characters are sometimes tiny in the shot, faced with something that is much larger than them, such as the centuries past, whilst a close up pans along the tree’s circles precisely defining the space, followed by a close up of Madeleine’s own, thin hand, testifying to insubstantiality of her existence. In this way, the place and the memories that it holds create the presence of existential doubt in the character’s minds.