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Taylor Swift's new song evokes 2 iconic movies in both style and content

The lyrics video for “Look What You Made Me Do” references both Gone Girl and Vertigo.

Taylor Swift, Kim Novak in Vertigo, and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Taylor Swift, Kim Novak in Vertigo, and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movies of the week for August 27 through September 2 are Gone Girl (2014), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play; and Vertigo (1958), which is also available to digitally rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play.

Taylor Swift began this week by wiping her social media slate clean — deleting old posts and even profile pictures — and ended it by releasing the lyric video for her new track, “Look What You Made Me Do,” with the full music video to premiere at the VMAs on Sunday night. (It’s no accident that Katy Perry is hosting.)

People seem evenly split into two camps over “Look What You Made Me Do”: It’s either interesting or it’s deeply unpleasant. (I confess I’m not feeling it.) But no matter what camp you fall into, the song’s lyric video is worth a look:

The lettering and blocky, graphic artwork is a clear reference to the work of Saul Bass, the iconic minimalist artist whose famous movie title sequences include Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, as well as the title sequence and poster for Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo, the latter of which is heavily evoked in the Swift video. In Vertigo, a husband enlists a woman in his plot to murder his own wife and make it look like suicide — and that woman becomes trapped in a toxic romance with a far more dangerous man.

The allusion to Bass and his work with Hitchcock is a terrific fit for “Look What You Made Me Do,” a song predicated on the idea that Swift has finally had enough and is striking back. She’s got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined: “I don’t like your perfect crime / how you laugh when you lie,” she sings.

Sound familiar? Yeah. In both visually evoking Bass’s work for Hitchcock and singing later in the song about how she “got smarter,” “got harder,” and “rose up from the dead,” Swift is channeling Amy Dunne, the vengeful protagonist of Gone Girl.

When David Fincher’s Gone Girl hit theaters in 2014, the comparisons to Hitchcock were natural. The story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a couple whose marriage is loaded with twisted secrets and psychological traumas that lead it spectacularly awry, seemed like something Hitch would have tackled — not to mention that Gone Girl employs a similar icy detachment in both its style of filmmaking and its female protagonist.

As Amy goes through careful stagings and impersonations to finesse her revenge against her husband, it’s also hard not to think of Vertigo. The two have very different plots, but they draw on many of the same elements for a similarly dastardly plan. In both movies there are impersonations and mistaken identities, dangerous trysts and faked deaths, and hovering over all of it is a potent sense of dread and twisted psychological suspense.

Saul Bass’s poster for Vertigo
Saul Bass’s poster for Vertigo.

In “Look What You Made Me Do” and its lyric video, Swift is evoking them all, killing off her social media profiles so she can “rise up from the dead” and exact her revenge on — well, on a lot of people, it seems: Kanye and Kim, Katy Perry, and whoever else is on her list.

The bloody, noir-like video nods to Vertigo and the lyrics hint at Gone Girl, but the song draws on a trope that’s much bigger than any of them: the formerly innocent woman who’s made herself smarter and stronger than her enemies, and is about to reemerge with a knife. (That Taylor Swift, Vertigo’s Kim Novak, and Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike all play convincingly icy blondes is not coincidental.)

Whether this totally works is up for grabs — the very line “look what you made me do” is queasily evocative of a line that abusers are known to use on their victims in order to turn around the blame for their actions. Then again, part of the reason Amy Dunne is a controversial figure is that it’s not easy to see where the line between victim and villain runs through her persona.

So maybe “Look What You Made Me Do” is too muddled to really parse. But its references seem pretty clear: If you’re trying to figure out what Swift has up her sleeve next, these movies may provide a hint.

Watch the trailer for Vertigo:

And watch the trailer for Gone Girl: