Thursday, September 29, 2011

Closure is necessary to make sense of Vertigo

The phenomenon of closure is essential to understanding what is going on in Vertigo. Since each “panel” is on a separate page, the gutter is wide causing there to be a lot of things that could be happening between the images, making closure critical. Specifically, Vertigo uses “scene-to-scene” transitions to keep the stories moving along. Closure is necessary to follow the passage of time, assume things to gather information in the unseen parts of each frame, and determine the relationship between characters and events.

Ward relies on closure by the reader to recognize characters in each separate image as the same character we saw in a previous image. One of the first examples of this occurs with the first two pictures of the section called “1929” in part one, “The Girl.” We must use our knowledge from the previous images to deduce that the grown woman by the mirror is the same girl who was much younger in the preceding images. We can recognize her father with his large frame and moustache as well as her dark, wavy hair. We can identify that the family is still just the girl and her father. She bears no nametag; there are no words telling us that she is the same girl. Just like we trust that the world is round (McCloud, 61) we must trust ourselves to determine that this is the same girl. Eventually, we can verify that it is the same girl since she is playing the violin. Without closure, these two images would seem totally unrelated. One would be a woman standing in what is most likely her bedroom, while the other is an entirely different girl holding a hat near a man who is sitting on a chair. If closure did not allow us to realize it was the same girl, this confusion would continue throughout the entire book. Every image could be representing a different girl, a different elderly man, and a different boy.

Each of Ward’s woodblock pictures can only focus on a small area of the large scene that is necessary for the story to make sense. Take the picture of the girl’s father sitting in the audience at her graduation as an example. We see a man sitting in a chair with his hands placed on his lap. If we treated this image the way an infant would (as described by McCloud on page 62), we would assume that he was sitting in a white room surrounded by a few people. If we could not see the people around him, the stage, the walls of the school… they did not exist. Closure allows us to realize this is not the case – in fact, he is part of a very large crowd, surrounded by all kinds of noise not represented in the image as well as a crowd that extends far beyond the frame. This kind of closure is necessary time and time again throughout the book. In the picture of the girl lying by her father’s hospital bed, closure lets us know there is sadness in the room. There are no words. There are no tears. We recognize the position of her body and the location as those often associated with grief. In “An Elderly Gentleman,” the picture of the rioting crowd raises emotions not depicted through facial expressions or captions, but those stored in our minds from prior knowledge of events such as that.

Vertigo is split into three different parts, each focusing on a different character. The girl’s section is divided into sections of years, which is told to us by the title pages. We only know the month during which the scenes in “An Elderly Gentleman” are occurring, and “The Boy” gives us no indication of time. Closure is used in determining the passage of time throughout the book as each section is read. “The Girl” gives us a starting point by telling the year. These dates let us know that her story is occurring during the Great Depression. Next, we read “An Elderly Gentleman.” Identifying the same mood and similar events as those that were present in “The Girl,” we can conclude that this section is also occurring during the Great Depression. And lastly, “A Boy” provides us with no months or years to go off of, yet we have built up the knowledge necessary to assume that his part also occurs during the Depression.

The time that has passed between images is not uniform. There are other things going on in the world, and specifically in each snapshot of a scene, that we cannot see. Without closure by the reader, Vertigo would be a compilation of random pictures of hundreds of different people in different places at different times. The use of closure to recognize reoccurring characters, to fill in scenes, and to determine time and the passing of it allows us to stack the scenes occurring simultaneously and mentally organize them in a linear way that makes sense.


  1. Your discussion of individual moments of closure in the text is very good. The example of the father sitting in the auditorium is almost startling, which shows how well it works - the image of the girl as a child is another excellent example. So, you understand the idea very well, and you are showing how it works in the book very well indeed.

    And then what?

    Closure is important, closure is there, you're showing how closure works. For those of us who have read McCloud, there's probably something a little too obvious about simply claiming that closure is important here - unless we think McCloud is completely wrong, we should expect closure to be absolutely central to it.

    So push yourself farther, if you revise. I think and assume that you're saying that there is something *distinctive* to how closure works in Ward, as opposed to how it works in other comics (or maybe this closure is so weird/extreme, that it places it in a different category altogether). In any case, what do you want your fantastic, detailed examples to prove to me?

    I *think* you want to say something about the distinctive character of closure in this text as opposed to others. So say it!

  2. I was a little lost on the use of the word closure. You described many great examples that seem to be pretty distinct from each other but called them all closure. I thought maybe if you described HOW closure worked in each sense, it would have been better.