Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Warning: An extreme amount of spoilers are listed below. Psycho-1960-Alfred Hitchcock


The scenes are already popping into your head. The shower scene. The fruit cellar. The music. The creepiest ending ever put to film.

In 1960 it seems that Hitch was at the top of his game. He had just come off a string of classics from Strangers On A Train, to Rear Window, to Vertigo, to North By Northwest. Everybody knew who Hitchcock was. Not only from his outstanding run of great films, but because of his television shows and celebrity status. So when Hitchcock released Psycho in 1960, everyone thought they knew what to expect, and they were wrong.

Psycho opens with Marion Crane and Sam Loomis in a hotel room. They are having a premarital affair and Marion is upset because she so wants Sam to marry her. As a foreshadowing device Hitchcock places Marion in white underclothes as she is currently an innocent. She has hopes and dreams of love and marriage. The only problem is Sam's lack of money due to his debt and alimony payments.

Marion leaves the hotel with one last thing to say, when Sam asks if they can walk out together she replies, "I'm late and you have to put your shoes on." If only she knew how late she was.

Back at the office(real estate) Marion is a secretary. She works with another secretary who cannot stop blabbering on about her husband and their marriage. Suddenly her boss walks in with a customer. Tom Cassidy is his name and he is laying down 40,000 dollars to buy his daughter and her fiance a new place.

At this point, marriage has become a running theme. What is it about marriage that all these people will go to such drastic measures for? Is it love? Lust? Societal expectations? Everyone is putting themselves at risk for it. When Mr. Cassidy gives Marion the money to deposit for him she is supposed to take it to the bank, but as I said marriage is making these people do crazy things. Marion decides to take the money and run away.

We see Marion next changing and packing. We understand she is no longer innocent as she is now wearing black underclothing. At her most vulnerable now she has allowed evil to seep into her and given in to temptation. She's trying to, as Mr. Cassidy earlier states, " out of unhappiness."

As Marion leaves her boss spots her at a stoplight but thinks little of it at the time. She is then talked to by a police officer who saw her asleep in her car on the side of the road. She acts suspiciously and gives him cause for concern. It seems almost as these are Marion's chances to turn back and not let this temptation take her over before it's too late. But Marion forges on, not knowing what lies ahead.

She takes her car to a used car dealership to trade it in for a different car as she fears the policeman will track her down. The policeman sees her there but says nothing, only watches. Once Marion gets the car and leaves in a hurry she can hear in her mind what she believes they are saying. Not only the policeman and car salesman, but her boss, Mr. Cassidy, her sister Lila, and Sam. This tool is later used by Norman Bates to a different degree.

Getting lost and tired Marion decides to stop at a little hotel called Bates Motel. Upon stopping there she is greeted by Norman Bates. A slightly shy, awkward fellow but seemingly nice as can be. He helps her with her bags and shows her her room. Something strange about the whole scene is Norman's inability to say the word bathroom. You can almost sense something isn't right about that bathroom, but the film goes on without another mention.

Norman offers to make Marion some dinner and hopes to have her come up to his place, but his mother doesn't approve. In fact, she is fuming with jealousy.
Because of his mother's lack of hospitality Norman decides to bring some food to Marion. He asks if it's alright that they eat in the office parlor of the hotel and she agrees. In this parlor we get, what I believe is the best scene of the film with some of the most heartbreaking dialogue ever said on celluloid.

Norman Bates: You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.
Marion Crane: Sometimes, we deliberately step into those traps.
Norman Bates: I was born into mine. I don't mind it anymore.
Marion Crane: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
Norman Bates: Oh, I do,but I say I don't.

There happens to be so much honesty and vulnerability in the words that Norman says here. It also happens to be one of the only times he can say a complete sentence without stuttering or stammering while talking to Marion. Continuing on with Norman's relationship with his mother Marion finds the things she said to him would be hurtful if said to her. Norman can only say little things like "A boy's best friend is his mother" or when talking about the untimely death of his mother's lover and says she has nothing left, Marion replies with "Well, At least she has you" to which Norman states, "A son is a poor substitute for a lover." What we sense through his facial reactions and the way in which he says this is that he wishes he could be that substitute, or in fact, that lover. It is the Freudian aspect within all of Hitchcock's films reaching it's ultimate climax.

After their parlor conversation Marion is convinced she has to do something to get out of the 'personal trap' she has placed herself into. Even before leaving the Parlor, when Norman asks her name she tells him Mrs. Crane, allowing herself to be truthful again. Heading back to her room where she has the money wrapped on the nightstand in a newspaper, she is figuring out how to pay back what she has spent. She is now ready to regain her innocence and shed herself of this temptation. To do so, in a religious sense, she must wash herself of her sin. So Marion, in a moment of total honesty, sheds all of her clothing and lets the shower water wash away her transgressions. In the midst of this, she is smiling and it's obvious that she is going to change herself for the better. What transpires next is something truly and incredibly shocking. No longer today is a viewer surprised by what happens because it is a part of pop culture, but still in the context of the film, it shocks you and leaves you with a knot in your stomach. While Marion showers and washes herself clean, she is murdered by what seems to be Norman's mother. Her sins have caught up with her and she no longer has the ability to go on. Marion reaches out with one last hope grabbing nothing but the shower curtain which gives out, causing her to fall over, dead.

As Marion was finally allowing herself her innocence she had it stolen as we watch the blood run down the drain. A slow dissolve from the drain to Marion's eye shows us to total emptiness that now encapsulates her soul. As she already told Sam "I'm late and you have to put your shoes on." She's too late and he's too far behind to help her.

With Marion's death we are left with no one to empathize with. We are only halfway through the film and the only other character with whom we have had a chance to spend any time with and feel anything for is Norman. What Hitchcock does here is total and complete brilliance. With Norman's total shock of the murderer and his clean up, we see a son cleaning up his mother's mess. But when Norman lays the shower curtain on the ground and moves Marion to lay her on it, he looks at his hands, he has gotten blood on them. Is Norman guilty? Is the blood really "on his hands", as the metaphor so profoundly states. At this point we don't know, but we feel for Norman as he cleans up the mess. He wraps Marion up in the shower curtain just as she wrapped her sin(the money) up in the newspaper.

Norman has to throw Marion and all her belongings and anything to prove the murderer into Marion's car trunk and push the car into a pond outside the motel. After pushing the car into the pond we get a feeling of doubt and fear as the car stops sinking for a few seconds. Is it going to sink all the way? We hope it does because we are now rooting for Norman, in a sense.

From there we go to Sam's work where a woman is reading the label of an extermination tool; ""Guaranteed to exterminate any insect in the world", but is it painless? Every death should be painless whether it be insect or human." Could this be a foreshadowing of Norman's ultimate surmise? He, or his mother, didn't allow for Marion's death to be painless, but rather painful. Why else would this bit of dialogue be so strategically placed here, just after Marion's death?

When Lila confronts Sam about whether or not he knows where Marion is, they are both approached by a Private Investigator named Arbogast. He is after her to retrieve the 40,000 dollars. He tells them how he's looking for Marion as well, and then we see him go on a search from motel to motel, finally reaching Bates Motel.
Arbogast shows up and without suspicion asks Norman about Marion to which he first denies until further evidence proves that she was in fact there. We then get a series of close ups on Arbogast and Norman showing the fear of Norman and the hope felt by Arbogast that something might be gained. When Norman let's it slip that "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother." This gives Arbogast the realization that to gain everything he needs from Bates he needs to speak with Norman's mother. Norman won't allow this so Arbogast leaves feeling dissatisfied. While Arbogast pulls away we see Norman standing against the hotel wall, his face in half light, half shadow. Could his mother be taking him over? When he told Marion that "Mother is not quite herself today" was he really meaning that she isn't at all herself, but actually him?

Arbogast decides he's going to return to talk to the mother. He goes into the Bates house and begins yelling for Mrs. Bates. No answer. He looks around to no avail, but heads up the stairs to go to her bedroom where he has seen her sitting by the window. Once Arbogast reaches the top of the stairs he is attacked and murdered.

After waiting for so long Sam decides to go to the Bates Motel to talk with Norman or Mrs. Bates and see if something is wrong. When he arrives he sees an old woman sitting in the window of her room, but she doesn't answer. He yells for Arbogast but again, no answer. We see Norman looking out at the pond as he had just pushed Arbogast's car out there. He looks over once he hears Sam, with his entire face now in shadow. The darker side of him has taken over.

When Sam finds nothing him and Lila go to the Deputy Sheriff who is of little help besides to inform them of Norman's mother's death. He lets them know she has been dead for 10 years now, she died with her lover, in bed. What he doesn't know at this time is at who's hands she died.

Feeling strange about the situation Sam and Lila decide to get a cabin for a night and look around to see if they can find anything incriminating. While Sam distracts Norman, Lila looks around the house for Mrs. Bates or some other type of evidence. She sees Mrs. Bates' room but no one in it. She then sees Norman's room which is still as a child's room with toys and a child's bed, that is unmade, as if it is still slept in.

In an earlier scene we see Norman hide his mother in the damp, cold cellar. This is just as he hides his victims in the damp, cold swamp.

When Norman figures out that she is in his house he knocks Sam out and runs to it. When Lila sees him she heads to the cellar and sees an old woman sitting there. She turns her around and screams at the sight of a skeleton. Norman runs down wearing a dress and wig, with a knife in hand only to be stopped at the last second by Sam. While all of this is happening a single light bulb swings back and forth through all the commotion showing the truth that has been revealed. We have finally been shown the light.

In a rather pointless but still interesting scene we are informed of Norman and his mother really being Norman in a split personality sense. Norman has, ever since her death, been half Norman half mother. We learn that he is no longer ever fully Norman, but is often fully mother. Even drifting in conversation from Norman to mother in sentence after sentence. This is heavily seen in the parlor scene with Marion and Norman.

Why I say this scene of exposition is rather pointless is because Hitchcock could have done without this scene and allowed the viewer to make up their own interpretation. While it is interesting to hear exactly what in the world just happened, I would have liked to be able to make that up for myself. I get the feeling this wasn't Hitch's decision but the studio's to which he conceded to in order to make such an outlandish film.

The final scene and monologue are greatly needed as they show the total and complete takeover of Norman by his mother personality.

Norma Bates: It's sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn't allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They'll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man... as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can't move a finger, and I won't. I'll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do... suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

A creepy thing during this scene is while Norman holds a blanket around him with both hands a third hand sits on his lap. Could this be the hand of his mother with which he isn't going to swat the fly? creepy indeed. Not to mention the shot where Norman looks directly into the camera with the skeleton being slightly dissolved into the background.

This, to me, is Hitchcock's masterpiece. Even with the exposition(which I could do without) I feel this is a perfect film. The innovation and style are 100% Hitchcock and no one else could pull it off, as evidenced by the following sequels.


FilmDr said...

Nice job, Deadpan. Psycho is my favorite film too. Did you know that the other secretary is Hitchcock's daughter? I have studied this film frame by frame, and I am always impressed with Hitchcock's use of lighting on someone's face, the many red herrings to get the viewer caught up in the money, and the way he uses mise en scene like the knives and the scythes in the hardware store to create a sense of menace. I thought that the woman talking about a painless death was a kind of sick joke right after Marion's demise. Hitchcock actually got Walt Disney upset with this film. That seems like reason enough to love it.

T.S. said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent write-up on one of the best around. Have you had a chance to check out the new 2-disc DVD they just released of Psycho? I've been told I'm going to get it for my birthday ... (Only a film geek would want Psycho for a birthday. Ha.)

Dead Pan said...

Filmdr---Glad to see we have similar taste.=)

I thought the secretary looked familiar as I had recently watched Dial H For Hitchcock(a documentary on his life in film) and some of the special features on each disc.

I didn't get the chance to go as in depth with Psycho as you have, and have only seen it a number of times actually but everytime I see it, it gets better. And regarding the joke, Hitchcock's films are filled with this sick and twisted subtle humor that I adore and while I did laugh when she said it, I wasn't sure if I was supposed too. heh

TS---Thank you kind sir. I haven't gotten my hands on the two disc, but as fate would have it I am definitely going to be telling everyone in my family that they need to buy Hitchcock films for any type of gift they may get for me. Especially since they just released Notorious and Rebecca and such.

Marcy said...

Rear Window was my favorite Hitchcock film....

Until I saw Psycho.

I was one of the very few who was still in the dark about the "twist" ending. I definitely epitomized Hitchcock's ideal audience for the film.

I agree--the exposition was unnecessary. I find it extremely out-of-place in an otherwise brilliant film. But I liked how the scene made everything more clear. Then again, it could've been done in a better fashion.

Shawn, this is a fantastic write-up--probably the best entry of your Hitchcock Marathon. This entry makes me want to re-watch Psycho again, just so I can notice the little things I didn't notice the first time around.

Dead Pan said...

Marcy---Thanks for the comment, and compliments. I wasn't in on the twist the first time I saw it either. But did you know about the lead character being murdered halfway through before hand?

Marcy said...

(spoilers) I knew two things about the film beforehand: Janet Leigh's character gets brutally murdered in the shower and Norman Bates is a villain.

But having knowledge of those two things still makes Psycho pretty darn enjoyable.