Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Scottie and Madeleine’s visit to the forest of sequoia trees is one of Scottie’s last attempts to return to a healthy worldview. He tells Madeleine that the tree’s scientific name means “always green, ever living,” making explicit the idea that sequoia trees symbolize life in the film. However, the trees remind Madeleine of her own mortality. In response to this immense life force, she says, “I don’t like it, knowing I have to die.” The couple looks at the cross-section of a felled tree, which shows how old the tree was when it was chopped down and suggests that the tree would have gone on living forever had it not been for human intervention. Madeleine’s response to the trees is complex. She appears simultaneously to be afraid of dying and afraid to embrace life. Ultimately, she runs away from the forest, feeling alienated from life and wanting to die.
The color green appears frequently throughout the film, typically in association with eerie or uncanny images. For example, when Scottie first sees Madeleine in Ernie’s Restaurant, she stands out vividly from everyone else in the room because of her dramatic green stole, giving her a startling and somewhat unsettling appearance. In his apartment, as he becomes more withdrawn from the outside world and immersed in a dream world, Scottie wears a green sweater. Judy, who seems to be the ghost of Madeleine, first appears wearing a green dress. Her room is illuminated at night by the building’s green neon sign, and when she emerges into Scottie’s view as the fully transformed Madeleine, she is bathed in the green light, making her look even more like the specter of the dead Madeleine. Thus, while green sometimes symbolizes life, as in the sequoia forest, it also symbolizes the ghostly or uncanny. Both associations with the color green are traditional and can be seen in the earliest folktales. For example, because green can represent the spring and the rebirth of nature, it is also associated with the life after death embodied by ghosts and spirits, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.