Pause the music and the view and watch a soft horror engulf you. That is what it feels like to watch Madeline Elster (Kim Novak) pick the final petals off her bushel of flowers, before spreading her arms like a pathetic hawk and leaping off the pier in to San Francisco Bay. We are watching her from the viewpoint of Scotty (Jimmy Stewart), who stands at a good voyeurs distance until she jumps, at which point he runs to the water and leaps in himself, taking Madeline in his arms and swimming her to safety amidst the flower petals.
No love story has ever been more eerie, more twisted, than the love story told in this sequence in Vertigo (1958). It plays out the theme of picking flower petals to debate whether or not one is loved, before suddenly introducing suicide. With the backdrop of San Francisco’s slanted, ill-looking sunset—and with the accompaniment of Bernard Hermann’s panic attack orchestra, coming in as soon as Madeline hits the water—this scene is the closest dream-logic and the tragic love story have ever been connected in film. Everybody knows Hitchcock was a professional voyeurist. We’re well accustomed to being voyeurs by this point in the film. Nobody wants to mention that he was our finest sadist, and a fast tragedian. When Scotty rises out of the water and quickly walk back to his car, Madeline in his arms, we no longer identify with Scotty the voyeur. We’re now Madeline; swooned, disturbed, engulfed by something we love dearly that will possibly destroy us