The use of colours in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

Vertigo, the undisputed masterpiece of Hitchcock cinema, has many elements worthy of a careful analysis, elements that would not do anything but confirm the genius of the British filmmaker. There are many aspects of this perfectly-structured movie that have been discussed in the years, by critics and fans, but today we want to raise attention just to one of them. One of the elements that has always aroused particular attention on the movie’s admirers: how the colours are adopted in the film.

There is a video on Youtube that has been shared a lot in the last few months. It has been created by Society of Geeks, a channel that often produces interesting insights on many different topics. You can find it below, explaining well how every scene of the Hitchcock film has a choice of colours closely linked to the meanings and the feelings that it wants to convey, and how each color represents something precise.

Vertigo - A Look at Color in Film

By entering the specific, the video starts where the film begins. Scottie (James Stewart) is a detective who quit because of a trauma he suffered: he had to witness the death of a colleague who, in the intent to save him, lost his life by falling from a great height. Following this event, Scottie decided to leave the police and also developed a strong sensibility towards heights. The first color that accompanies this first initial sequence is a very gloomy blue that does nothing but give the idea of a profound instability, a deep sadness related to the initial event.

When Hitchcock introduces Midge, the protagonist’s friend, we notice the parallelism between two warm colors: The woman is dressed in yellow and everything she touches has the same color, while Scottie is always surrounded by red. You notice it at the 1:40 minute of the video.

The protagonist decides to meet the request of his friend, Gavin, who asks him to follow his wife because she is obsessed with her past. Madeleine, Gavin’s, is surrounded by green, probably the color that remains most impressed in the memory of the viewer. The protagonist drives a green car and, while visiting a cemetery, the screen is dominated by green, enveloping the scene in a dreamlike atmosphere. The woman proves to be a victim of strange obsessions: she identifies herself with the grandmother Carlotta who, abandoned by her daughter’s lover, committed suicide at twenty-six, the same age as Madeleine. From the minute 2:30 onwards, the green controls all images related to death.


After reaching the museum in order to admire the portrait of Ava, Madeleine goes on a walk at the Golden Bridge, where she unexpectedly tries suicide. Promptly rescued by Scottie, she is conducted at his apartment. Even here, the conversation is dominated by the green, the colour that represents the woman: we can in fact deduce the mutual love of the two just noticing the green sweater that Scottie wears and Madeleine’s red robe. The colours are oriented to the evolution and development of the characters, whose changes are also indicated by the chromatic variations that surround them. This is done according to a precise aesthetic choice, where red and green are protagonists.

Scottie fails to avoid the suicide of the beloved Madeleine precisely because of his fear for great heights, and in the famous dream sequence, Hitchcock makes this chromatic contrast explicit: if red is the color of obsession, love and the vertigo that the protagonist suffers, green is the spectral color of the distortion of reality. All this is accompanied by another chromatic sequence that oscillates between blue and yellow: both are used for scenes in which a real element is narrated. It is the most famous scene of the movie. Wonderful. Especially if you think it was made in 1958.

Scottie falls into depression, feeling guilty for not having saved Madeleine. He ends up on a year of psychiatric cures, and once he’s out he notices Judy, a brunette waitress, somehow looking like his beloved Madeleine. After courting her, he manages to convince her to dress, to make up, to dye her hair exactly like Madeleine. Emblematic is the famous scene in which the Judy’s profile presents a green background: this fully represents the perfect parallel wanted by Scottie: he’s trying to transform a living woman in a dead one. Once the transformation is complete, we can see Judy transformed into Madeleine’s ghost. This is how the video ends: with the word “necrophilia”, to describe the descent of the protagonist in the world of the dead.

It is obviously only one of the perspectives that makes Vertigo so fascinating. Whether you already know the movie or not, we will not make here any reference to the beautifully dark end. Even in order to invite you to enjoy the movie on the screen, as conceived originally by Alfred Hitchcock, whose works keep being unrepeatable in the history of the seventh art.


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