Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho


Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has been commended for forming
the archetypical basis of all horror films that followed
its 1960 release. The mass appeal that Psycho has
maintained for over three decades can undoubtedly be
attributed to its universality. In Psycho, Hitchcock allows
the audience to become a subjective character within the
plot. This enhance the film's psychological effects as the
audience is forced to recognize its own neurosis and
psychological inadequacies by identifying, for varying
lengths of time, with the contrasting personalities of the
film's main characters. Hitchcock conveys an intensifying
theme in Psycho. It is based on the unending subconscious
battle between good and evil that exists in everyone. 
 Psycho begins with a view of a city that is arbitrarily
identified along with an exact date and time. The camera,
seemingly at random, chooses first one of the many
buildings and then one of the many windows to explore
before the audience is introduced to Marion and Sam.
Hitchcock's use of random selection creates a sense of
normalcy for the audience. The fact that the city and room
were arbitrarily identified impresses upon the audience
that their own lives could randomly be applied to the
events that are about to follow. In the opening sequence of
Psycho, Hitchcock succeeds in capturing the audience's
initial senses of awareness and suspicion while allowing it
to identify with Marion's helpless situation. The
audience's sympathy toward Marion is heightened with the
introduction of Cassidy whose crude boasting encourages the
audience's dislike of his character. Cassidy's blatant
statement that all unhappiness can be bought away with
money, provokes the audience to form a justification for
Marion's theft of his forty thousand dollars. 
As Marion begins her journey, the audience is drawn farther
into the depths of what is disturbingly abnormal behavior
although it is compelled to identify and sympathize with
her actions. It is with Marion's character that Hitchcock
first introduces the notion of a split personality to the
audience. Throughout the first part of the film, Marion's
reflection is often noted in several mirrors and windows.
Hitchcock is therefore able to create a voyeuristic
sensation within the audience as it can visualize the
effects of any situation through Marion's conscious mind.
In the car dealership, for example, Marion enters the
secluded bathroom in order to have privacy while counting
her money. Hitchcock, however, with upper camera angles and
the convenient placing of a mirror is able to convey the
sense of an ever lingering conscious mind that makes
privacy impossible. Hitchcock brings the audience into the
bathroom with Marion and allows it to struggle with its own
values and beliefs while Marion makes her own decision and
continues with her journey. 
The split personality motif reaches the height of its
foreshadowing power as Marion battles both sides of her
conscience while driving on an ominous and seemingly
endless road toward the Bates Motel. Marion wrestles with
the voices of those that her crime and disappearance has
affected while the audience is compelled to recognize as to
why it can so easily identify with Marion despite her
wrongful actions. As Marion's journey comes to an end at
the Bates Motel, Hitchcock has successfully made the
audience a direct participant within the plot. The
suspicion and animosity that Marion feels while at the
motel is felt by the audience. 
As Marion shudders while hearing Norman's mother yell at
him, the audience's suspicions are heightened as Hitchcock
has, at this point, made Marion the vital link between the
audience and the plot. The initial confrontation between
Marion and Norman Bates is used by Hitchcock to subtly and
slowly sway the audience's sympathy from Marion to Norman.
Hitchcock compels the audience to identify with the quiet
and shy character whose devotion to his invalid mother has
cost him his own identity. After Marion and Norman finish
dining, Hitchcock has secured the audience's empathy for
Norman and the audience is made to question its previous
relationship with Marion whose criminal behavior does not
compare to Norman's seemingly honest and respectable
lifestyle. The audience is reassured, however, when Marion,
upon returning to her room, decides to return the money and
face the consequences of her actions. 
Upon the introduction of Norman, Hitchcock introduces the
first of several character parallels within Psycho. The
clash between Marion and Norman, although not apparent to
the audience until the end of the film, is one of neurosis
versus psychosis. The compulsive and obsessive actions that
drove Marion to steal the money is recognizable, albeit
unusual behavior, that the audience embraces as its
sympathy is primarily directed towards her character. The
terror that Hitchcock conveys to the audience manifests
itself once the audience learns that it empathized with a
psychotic person to a greater extent than with a rational
one when its sympathy is shifted to Norman. 
The shift from the normal to the abnormal is not apparent
to the audience in the parlor scene but the audience is
later forced to disturbingly reexamine its own conscience
and character judgment abilities to discover why Norman's
predicament seemed more worthy of its sympathy than
Marion's. During the infamous shower scene, Hitchcock
conveys a sense of cleansing for the audience. Hitchcock
has reassured the audience of Marion's credibility and
introduced Norman as a wholesome character. The audience's
newly discovered security is destroyed when Marion is
murdered. Even more disturbing for the audience, however,
is that the scene is shot not through Marion's eyes, but
those of the killer. The audience, now in a vulnerable
state looks to Norman to replace Marion as its main focus
in its subjective role. 
After Marion's murder, the audience's role in the film
takes a different approach. Hitchcock provokes the audience
to utilize the film's other characters in order to solve
the mystery of Marion's death yet he still successfully
maintains the sympathetic bond between Norman and the
audience. Interestingly, Hitchcock plays on the audience's
obsession with the stolen money as the audience knows that
it had been sunk yet clings to the fact that Marion's death
may have been a result of her crime with the introduction
of Sam, Lila, and Arbogast. Hitchcock uses Arbogast's
character to arouse suspicion within the audience.
Arbogast's murder is not as intense as Marion's because the
audience had not developed any type of subjective bond with
his character. Arbogast's primary motivation, however, was
to recover the stolen money which similarly compels the
audience to take an interest in his quest. Despite the fact
that Arbogast interrupts Norman's seemingly innocent
existence, the audience does not perceive him as an
annoyance as they had the interrogative policeman who had
hindered Marion's journey. 
When Sam and Lila venture to the Bates Motel to investigate
both Marion's and Arbogast's disappearances, Hitchcock
presents the audience with more character parallels. As
Lila begins to explore Norman's home, Hitchcock
conveniently places Sam and Norman in the parlor where
Marion had dined with Norman before she had been murdered.
As the two men face each other, the audience is able to see
their contrasting personalities in relation to Marion. Sam,
who had legitimately gained Marion's affection is poised
and respectable in comparison to Norman, whose timid nature
and sexual repression is reflected in the scenes of Lila's
exploration of his bedroom. The conflict that arises
between Sam and Norman reflects the fact that Sam had what
Norman wanted but was unable to attain due to his psychotic
Psycho concludes by providing a blatant explanation for
Norman's psychotic tendencies. The audience, although it
had received a valid explanation for Norman's actions, is
left terrified and confused by the last scene of Norman and
the manifestation of his split personality. Faced with this
spectacle, Hitchcock forces the audience to examine its
conscious self in relation to the events that it had just
subjectively played a role in. The fear that Psycho creates
for the audience does not arise from the brutality of the
murders but from the subconscious identification with the
film's characters who all reflect one side of a collective
character. Hitchcock enforces the idea that all the basic
emotions and sentiments derived from the film can be felt
by anyone as the unending battle between good and evil
exists in all aspects of life. 
The effective use of character parallels and the creation
of the audience's subjective role in the plot allows
Hitchcock to entice terror and convey a lingering sense of
anxiety within the audience through a progressively
intensifying theme. Hitchcock's brilliance as a director
has consolidated Psycho's place among the most reputable
and profound horror films ever made.


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