Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Hence, not only is Judy three degrees from the truth since she appears as Madelyn, she stands four degrees from the truth when she imitates Carlotta. Susceptible to the imitations presented by Judy and Elster, Scottie’s rational capacity diminishes in wake of his new desires. Plato states, “As if in a meadow of bad grass, where they crop and graze in many different places every day, until little by little, they unwittingly accumulate a large evil in their souls” (Republic, 401c).
Before the characters are introduced, Hitchcock presents a swirl in the eye of Kim Novak (Judy) during the opening credits as if she was brainwashing the audience. In short, those animals who feed on the grass are slowly becoming influenced by evil. By simple reasoning, Hitchcock, before the story is even told, reveals Judy’s role as being a manipulator, or more colloquially, a brainwasher. While trying to unravel the bizarreness of “Elster’s wife,” Scottie surrounds himself with the images of Madelyn and Carlotta and falls under Judy’s manipulation.
After saving Judy when she intentionally falls into the San Francisco Bay, Scottie takes her to his home, undresses her, and keeps her warm throughout the night. At this point, Scottie feels sexual desires for Judy’s imitation. While apologizing to Scottie for falling into the bay, Judy states, “The whole thing must have been so horrible for you. ” Scottie follows and says, “No, no. I enjoyed it” (Vertigo). Ironically, Scottie first tries to piece together the mystery confronted to him by Elster using his intelligence as a private investigator.
After being manipulated by the false truth Judy portrays through her imitations, he loses his rational capacity to think and cannot realize the truth before Elster’s real wife dies; he has unwittingly eaten the bad grass, been corrupted by Judy’s multiple images, and is now in the cave. In the allegory of the cave, the dwellers remain in shear fascination of the shadows projected on the wall. Likewise, Scottie has symbolically entered Judy’s cave and is overwhelmed at the imitations she projects. While inside, having lost the rational capacity to think on his own, Scottie can only believe what he sees.
Plato concurs, “Then the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artifacts” (Republic, 515c). His imprisonment in the cave of Madelyn’s image is further exposed when Elster and Judy commit their crime and kill the real Madelyn. Taken over by love of his Madelyn, Scottie cannot crack the case and follow Judy up the stairwell in the tower. Serving as imitations of the truth, Judy and Elster both know Scottie cannot climb a high staircase due to his acrophobia and vertigo.
Plato states, “And something looks crooked when seen in water and straight when seen out of it, while something else looks both concave and convex because our eyes are deceived by its colors, and every other similar sort of confusion is clearly present in our soul. And it is because they exploit this weakness in our nature” (Republic, 602cd). In order to get away with the crime, as imitations of the truth, Elster and Judy exploit Scottie’s weakness of vertigo. While in the cave, Plato notes that a philosopher king must rescue a single dweller; similarly, Hitchcock portrays Scottie leaving and seeing the light in the conclusion of Vertigo.
Before Scottie finally leaves the cave, he is still overwhelmed by Judy’s imitation. Even after Madelyn dies, Scottie cannot accept the loss of his image and must enter a mental institute in order to heal himself. Furthermore, Hitchcock exemplifies Scottie’s love for Madelyn’s image when he must dress Judy up to appear just like Madelyn in the second half of the movie. Judy confirms Scottie’s desire to change her and exclaims, “You want me to be dressed like her! ” (Vertigo). After Judy conforms to Scottie’s particular image of Madelyn, she mistakenly puts on the necklace of Carlotta.
Immediately, Scottie recognizes the necklace and is frightened by the truth. He decides to take Judy to the same tower where Madelyn died, and says, “I just have one more thing to do. Then, I’ll be free of the past” (Vertigo). Plato posits that when a prisoner of the cave is released from his chains and is open to the true forms, he longs to go back to his shadow world for he cannot bear the light. He states, “If someone compelled him to look at the light itself, wouldn’t his eyes hurt, and wouldn’t he turn around and flee towards the things he’s able to see, believing that they’re really clearer than the ones he’s being shown?
” (Republic, 515e). Since Scottie is subject to the truth, he refuses to look at it and goes back to “the things he’s able to see,” which is the tower where he saw Madelyn die. While dragging Judy up the stairs, he unveils Elster’s plot and Judy’s role as an imitator. Scottie states, “You were the copy. You were the counterfeit” (Vertigo). In the process of discovering the truth, Scottie overcomes his weakness of vertigo. Therefore, he has conquered his irrational desires and is able to triumph over his vertigo. Since Scottie now knows that Judy is only a copy of Madelyn, she can no longer remain in Plato’s city.
Therefore, Hitchcock sends Judy to her death, falling out of existence. The gates to Plato’s city will never be open for imitators, since he understands how destructive imitations can be to a citizen’s soul. Hitchcock mirrors this understanding in Vertigo. Scottie, throughout the movie, comes close to discovering the truth about Judy, but he can never completely free himself from his entrapment of Judy’s imitations. Madelyn’s image presented itself to Scottie and then feasted upon his appetitive needs and desires.
Controlled by Judy’s imitations, Scottie found himself in a cave staring into a wall of false truths. He did not mind the life he was leading in the cave, much like the cave dwellers in the Republic. However, in order for every citizen to lead a completely true and just life, he must witness the truth. Scottie found his light in the form of Judy’s mistake. Hence, Hitchcock remains a Platonist in Vertigo; he purposefully displays Judy as an imitator and allows her to corrupt Scottie’s soul through the use of her imitations, which Plato most fears for his denizen.