“Vertigo” / “That Obscure Object of Desire”

In my writing, I am constantly comparing and contrasting films. I love to read films through other films, and I feel a great joy when I can make a connection between two works. It is for this reason that I think double bills are great. You can program two similar films back-to-back and earn a huge mileage in discussion from watching both. With that being said, “Double Bill” will be a new feature on my blog where I recommend two films that I think would make a great double bill.

Alfred Hitchock’s “Vertigo (1958)” and Luis Bunuel’s “That Obscure Object of Desire (1977),” two films which are about an older male’s desire for a younger woman. Of course, both play out differently. “Vertigo” is a surreal film where the protagonist attempts to make his fantasy a reality and gets caught up in a bigger scheme. “That Obscure Object of Desire” is about an older male who entertains a group of fellow passengers with the story about his tumultuous relationship with a flamenco dancer.

I picked these two films to go together because of how differently they each handle the acquisition of their protagonist’s desire. In “Vertigo,” Scottie (James Stewart) is successful in making Madeleine (Kim Novak) into the living specter of his dead lover, Judy. He forces Madeleine to adorn the same clothing as Judy and to style her hair just as similarly. Scottie is able to make his fantasy come true, but it comes at a great cost, which I won’t talk about because of spoilers but for those who have seen the film, it will be obvious what I’m referring to.

“That Obscure Object of Desire” is very different, because Mathieu (Fernando Rey) is never able to attain what he truly wants. His lover, Conchita (Carole Bouquet) has two personalities, which are polar opposites. There’s the regular Conchita who adores Fernando; she praises him, kisses him, and only wants to love him. Then there’s her alter-ego played by Angela Molina. The Molina version of Conchita berates Mathieu, cheats on him, and ultimately wants nothing to do with him. Bunuel switches the actresses out on the fly, resulting in Conchita becoming a whirlwind of a personality, which Mathieu doesn’t know how to handle. When Molina spurns him, he swears to never have anything to do with her again but draws himself back to her when he meets Conchita.

Like “Vertigo,” “That Obscure Object of Desire” uses the role of two women in exploring a man’s desire. The key difference, however, is that while Madeleine may become Judy, thus fulfilling Scottie’s fantasy, Molina never becomes Conchita. Physically, they are indeed one person, but the distinct personality of Molina ultimately prevents Mathieu from fulfilling his desire.

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