Psycho is a black and white thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock during the 1960’s in which the leading lady Marion steals a large sum of money from her work and during her escape, comes upon a motel with a lonely manager of the motel, Norman, and gets murdered in an iconic way in the shower. An investigator is sent in search of Marion when she fails to make contact with her family or workplace and after the theft. After the investigator speaks to Norman, the motel manager, he tries to seek out the mysterious mentally ill mother Norman keeps mentioning, but instead ends up getting murdered, at which point Marion’s sister decides to investigate for herself and drives down to the motel with Marion’s former boyfriend.
Figure 1. Norman offers Marion Dinner. (1960)
As the film was shot in 1960, it was at the time unthinkable to show real violence or nudity in the cinema so Hitchcock had to get creative with Marion’s nude murder scene and made it more into a collage of details happening rather than a shot showing anything precise. As Jenkins states: “It offers perfect case studies of suspense, paranoia and montage for lazy film-studies tutors.” (Jenkins, 2010:3) which demonstrates the suspense and combination with collage work that occurred in this or other scenes. It also touches upon the paranoia Marion experiences while driving away with the money and being pursued by police for a prolonged length of time. This might show how much emphasis Hitchcock put into controlling the emotions over the audience, as many close up shots concentrate on the characters uneasiness or even nervousness and madness. These close ups really do help to emphasise the emotions and atmosphere Hitchcock is trying to convey.
Figure 2. Norman’s subtle madness. (1960)
One of the special characteristics of the film is the ever changing sympathies towards the main characters, an example of this is when the audience is made to follow the main antagonist himself, the audience is fooled into believing the murderer is a twisted low level accomplice following the guidance of his mother.
Harris states: “Although the remainder of the film beyond the shower scene involves the resolution of the events set into motion by Marion Crane’s theft of the money, in reality, what Hitchcock is doing is further exploring the psyche of Norman Bates.” (Harris, N.A.:3). Harris is referring to the shift in emphasis of the film from the leading lady to the killer. The start of the movie is completely focused on Marion’s point of view, but after her murder the emphasis and focus is pushed onto the killer. This is an effective way of evolving the plot as well as suddenly shifting the mood and atmosphere of the movie.
Madness is a key element of this film as it seems to define almost the entire existence of the murderer who is lost in his Oedipus-esque mother complex which eventually leads him to murder his victims, dressed up in his mothers attire in an attempt to impersonate her after killing her and her lover because in his delude state of thinking, no one but him should have her affections.
Hitchcock also during the film tries to get the audience to understand Norman. As Uhlich states: “"We all go a little mad sometimes," the young man observes, inspiring Marion to renounce her kleptomania and take a cleansing shower.” (Uhlich, 2010:3) it almost seems that Norman tries to find an ounce of madness in everyone perhaps to rectify his feelings and behaviour and make himself at least seem more normal while Marion fails to feel alarmed after him claiming to live alone and then speaking of his ill mother who lives upstairs in the manor. The audience is perhaps then more alarmed and shocked to find this strange individual becoming far more dangerous than first anticipated.
Figure 3. Marion in Car. (1960)
Psycho has a spectacular ways to portray uneasiness in characters, one example being the widely spread medium of music which is masterfully used to emphasise growing paranoia as Marion flees in her car and also foretells the horror of the shower scene when it’s about to happen in the famous piece of cutting strings which grow faster and faster and louder and louder right up to the key moment where the high notes become low, the suspense is lifted and deed is done.
The second medium is the camera, which every now and then goes on a wander and presents the audience details the characters are not aware of themselves or it angles in an unusual position, for example the scene where Marion’s boyfriend interrogates Norman and even though Norman’s face betrays no emotion, the camera is on a close up from below on his Adams apple and chin line which nervously bounce up and down in tact with the sweets he is chewing which might indicate his genius in venting his negative emotions around him as well as his almost odd lack of disregard for the questions he is being asked. Norman only starts eating a sweet after it is clear that he is going to be interrogated, after all.
Altogether, Psycho is a production that touches upon the topic of mental illnesses and masterfully plays with sound, camera and plot to shock its audience with scenes of murder but also uses frequent change of sympathies towards the characters to rapidly evolve the story and build suspense. It manipulates the audience by using the media available at that time while trying to conform to the taboos of nudity and violence to deliver a film that was unlike anything audiences had seen before.
“Hitchcock even didn't use his trademark technique of building suspense and instead simply shocked the audience with totally unexpected plot twists, and depictions of violence and sexual innuendo that was very daring for its time.” (Antulov, 1999:3)
Figure 1. Hitchcock, A. (1960) Norman offers Marion Dinner. [Psycho Still] Available from: https://fogsmoviereviews.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/pyscho33561.jpg (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Figure 2. Hitchcock, A. (1960) Norman’s subtle madness. [Psycho Still] Available from: http://www.leticiaqueiroz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/psycho-anthony-perkins-as-norman-bates.jpg (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Figure 3. Hitchcock, A. (1960) Marion in Car. [Psycho Still] Available from: http://www.jasonbovberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Psycho3.jpg (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Antulov, Dragan. (1999) available from: http://www.imdb.com/reviews/221/22159.html (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Harris, Will. (N.A.) available from: http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/reviews_1960/psycho.htm (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Jenkins, David. (2010) available from: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/psycho (accessed: 25/01/2015)
Uhlich, Keith. (2010) available from: http://www.timeout.com/us/film/psycho (accessed: 25/01/2015)