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Greek and Roman Mythology

The Roman myth of Pygmalion and Galatea is also a clear influence on Vertigo. The sculptor Pygmalion (Scottie in the film) uses his art to create a sculpture of the perfect woman (Vertigo’s Madeleine) and then tragically falls in love with his creation. George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which was later adapted into the musical My Fair Lady, also echoes here, particularly in the scenes in which Scottie, as a Pygmalion Professor Higgins, attempts to transform Judy, his Eliza Doolittle, into a proper lady, but without any of the comic effects of the play.

Scottie can also be seen as Tristan, the ill-fated lover of the medieval legend Tristan and Isolde, who marries a second woman named Isolde when the true Isolde of his passions weds another. That legend ends with the death of Tristan and the suicide of his beloved, just as Vertigo ends with Judy/Madeleine’s accidental death and Scottie’s living “death” in the wake of tragedy.

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