Vertigo (6/10) Midge Wood Analysis

Probably Scottie’s true best match, or the closest thing he ever had to one, though sadly he never knew it. Even Judy I don’t think deserves that title, considering she (like Scottie himself) fell in love with an idealized version of someone, and arguably only stays with him in the end out of guilt, fear and pity. The unspoken tragedy of Vertigo is how Scottie threw away the best person in his life for the pursuit of an impossible ideal. If Madeleine is the unattainable fantasy every guy has experienced at least once in their life, Midge is the classic “girl next door” trope, the Betty to Madeleine’s Veronica. She’s the person whom every guy and girl has left heartbroken without realizing.

Midge is a very interesting character despite only being written into the script late in production. Her inclusion examines another facet men’s treatment of women, using them as they please and then tossing them aside. Her conflicting influence battles Gavin’s, just as their colors (yellow and blue) contrast. We’ve established that every major character represents a dynamic in traditional male/female romantic relationships. Scottie and Judy are their respective sexes, Madeleine is the idealized fantasy of sex we all aspire to possess and Gavin is the one who’s decided to turn his back on it all and be free. Within this framing, Midge is the person who desperately wanted love but never got it, the involuntary celibate. (Though perhaps she was better off for it.)

She keeps the world of Vertigo grounded in reality and humor while Scottie becomes absorbed with melodrama and fantasy. When she leaves and we are trapped with Scottie’s obsession, there’s a huge shift in tone; the anchor to normalcy is gone and our protagonist plunges headlong into the dreamworld with no one to help him.

Midge’s last words are an acknowledgment that Scottie loves Madeleine and will never feel the same about her. Then she does what Scottie never had the strength to: she realizes her infatuation is unhealthy, puts it behind, and moves on with her life. She chooses to do what Scottie and Judy couldn’t and survives as a result.

A Dutiful Partner

Midge appears only in 4 scenes, more or less equal to her antithesis, Gavin. Like him, her influence battles over the fate of Scottie, with Gavin pulling him into a fantasy and Midge trying to snap him out of it. We see her asking Scottie questions and taking a genuine interest in his life unlike all the other characters who mislead and dictate information to him. Midge supports Scottie’s career aspirations even as he doubts himself. And while she disbelieves the possibility of Scottie losing his acrophobia, she still dutifully provides a stool for him to try. In her next appearance, Midge eagerly helps Scottie in the investigation—she wants to share in this exciting new part of his life. Next, she tries to make him dinner and give him a present. And finally, she’s the only one who visits Scottie in the hospital, when he needed support the most during his breakdown. It’s a repeated pattern of love that Midge shows him, a series of supportive, wifely functions.

Scottie specifically calls Midge “motherly” in their first scene, and she gives herself that title when she visits in the hospital. That seems to explain why they’re not together, because Scottie thinks of her more like family or a protector than anything erotic. (It must be like the female equivalent of having a crush compare you to her little brother.) There’s only one detail we get about her backstory, that she used to be engaged to Scottie but called off the engagement. Obviously Midge regrets letting him go now and tries to win him back. But this leaves us wondering what the full story is behind that detail. Possibly she knew or sensed Scottie wasn’t totally into it and didn’t want to have a sham marriage. This would further put her at odds with Gavin, who possibly entered into a loveless marriage to suit his own egotistical needs. Or alternatively, Midge may have thought she could do better, realized she couldn’t and now is suffering her own medicine. This would mirror her to Judy, who also gets her just desserts after torturing Scottie with a fantasy which he then forces her to live out. Either way seems to fit the story and theme of destructive relationships well, but I think the former scenario fits Midge’s character more, and makes her more sympathetic.

Unappreciated Talent

Midge is obviously very artistic. She has a lot of books in her apartment (no one else does that we can see), she listens to classical music, knows how to draw and is familiar with the intellectuals in town including Pop Leibel. There’s a fitting irony that she admires great music and the female form, yet is unable to embody. It almost seems like Midge is forcing the qualities that come naturally to Madeleine when she blares Mozart and leaves a bra out in the open, while Madeleine is naturally surrounded by Bernard Herrmann’s score and naturally sashays about in a silk red robe.

While Midge doesn’t leave the film until after the hospital, Scottie is done with her after she draws herself over Carlotta’s portrait. It was a deeply misguided attempt at a romantic gesture even if Scottie hadn’t already fallen for Madeleine. But as wrongheaded as her actions were, Midge’s intent was pure. She wanted to show Scottie that she too could be the kind of ethereal mystery woman Carlotta/Madeleine was to him. Of course it comes off as phony, and Scottie himself can’t even see it as a sincerely intended gesture. He seems to think she was trying to be funny, proving that at the end of the day Scottie really didn’t understand Midge as a person, nor did he make any effort to. Contrast how he speaks to Midge, practically ordering her around in some scenes, obviously holding her at arms’ distance in others, with his tenderness and doting towards Madeleine. It’s more proof that Scottie (and men in general) are pretty two-faced and hurtful with women they’re attracted to versus those they aren’t. Of course women are often guilty of the same thing and the film will explore this as well.

Anyway, the point of this section is that Midge is incredibly versatile and had a lot to offer someone. She flawlessly recreated a classic portrait on her own, draws, has good taste and is connected. She probably could have attracted any number of decent guys, but like Scottie himself she doomed herself to heartbreak by insisting on pursuing the exact wrong person for her.

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