In Alfred Hitchcock’s great film Vertigo (1958), Jimmy Stewart plays a police detective haunted by his memory of falling from a rooftop while chasing a criminal. Unable to get past his fear of heights, Stewart can no longer work for the police force. An old college friend hires Stewart as a private detective to follow his wife, who appears to be haunted by the conviction that she is the resurrection of a beautiful young woman who had died a century before. She has a compulsion to kill herself, to die at the same age as that young woman. She does kill herself, jumping off a tower. Stewart is unable to prevent her from jumping because of his debilitating fear of heights. Then, when he sees a woman on the street who reminds him of the woman he couldn’t save, he tries to arrange something that is essentially a re-enactment of the moment in which he failed to save the first woman. Except this time, he thinks, he will save her. She will not jump. As those who know this film are aware, I’m leaving certain things out and I am not mentioning a very surprising plot twist. I do this so as not to ruin the movie for those who have not seen it. But here’s my point: we’re in this movie.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson,” a man is haunted by the perpetual reappearance of someone who looks exactly like him. The double, who has the same name, prevents him from doing what he wants to do. Frustrated and violently enraged, the man stabs the perpetually reappearing double. Having done so, he sees a broken mirror at his feet and finds a note asking him to observe how thoroughly he has murdered himself. We’re in this story.
There are three pennant races going on here. In one, we are a half-game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in a battle for first place in the NL East. In the other, we are a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in a battle for the National League Wild Card.
In the third, we are haunted by a phantom who looks like ourselves, or perhaps like someone or something we’ve seen before. We’re haunted by a trauma, by a terrifying event in the past, by a deadly demon demanding to be resurrected. We are haunted by a need for the past event to be re-enacted, for it to come out right this time. This is an obsession, a dark fear that breathes on our neck and wakes us at night. We have to save her this time. We have to conquer our own terror. We can’t kill the double. We have to make it go away. It is not just the Phillies and Brewers that are chasing us. It’s something out of Hitchcock and Poe. It is something in ourselves that will kill us if it can.