Sunday, 25 January 2015

Story Telling Film Review - Psycho

Psycho is a 1960's film directed by Alfred Hitchcock featuring Anthony Perkines and Janet Leigh, the film is about a woman who takes money and flees into the desert, she is quickly killed by the insane owner of a motel and the film continues about the struggle to find her.

Psycho is proably the most famous of Hitchcock's films and a well known film in general even some 50 years after it's release. It continues to be a film with significant cultural value especially concerning the controversy it caused regarding the violence and nudity expressed in the film.

Hitchcocks use of psychological and Freudian sexual themes is common in his films, particularly in Psycho where the antagonist; Norman Bates, has a split personality being both himself and his dead mother.

Keith Uhlich of Time Out writes; "But he eventually illuminates her crisis of conscience: "We all go a little mad sometimes," the young man observes, inspiring Marion to renounce her kleptomania and take a cleansing shower. Then Mother shows up." (Uhlich, 2010) Uhlich's review highlights the psychological themes that Hitchock is famous for, even more so in the film Psycho which depicts the antagonist Norman Bates as suffering from a multiple personality disorder as he takes on the identity of his mother. The use of psychological themes is a key factor as it helps to twist the story, is only later in the film do we discover that Bates is actually his mother this shocks the audience both physically and mentally as the seemingly normal Norman Bates is transformed into something nightmarish.

Figure 1 - "Norma" Bates stabs Marion
The infamous "shower" scene depicts the murder of Marion Crane by Normans mother, the scene is famous because of its violence and nudity. During the 1960s films were censored to a much greater extent than they are in the modern period and as a result this scene was particularly controversial. To a modern audience who will have likely seen films with much greater violence and nudity the shower scene will probably not be as shocking nor realistic yet in the 1960's it was indeed a highly shocking moment and probably one of the most iconic scenes in cinema.

Norman's mother is another pivotal aspect of the film, it is mentioned in the ending of the film and in dialogue with Norman that she is abusive. Despite this the audience never physically sees her until the later stages of the film and only hears her voice, this maintains the illusion that she is living and is actively murdering people. Only later when the clues finally come out and when Norman attacks Marion's sister do we see that it is in fact Norman who is killing.

Delving into a analytical look at the film one could compare some of the characters to Freud's "Iceberg" theory about the conciouscness. Marion represents the impulsive and uncontrolled Id who steals the money on a moments notice to make her life better, while her sister Lila is the super-ego and strives to find out what happened to her sister representing the drive for justice and morals. Sam Loomis represents the mediating boyfriend who wants to find out what has happened to Marion but also strives to hold her accountable for her crimes. Although it is unlikely that Alfred Hitchcock would've crafted his characters in accordance with this idea it is interestin to ponder, especially given Hitchcock's use of psychological themes in his films.

Figure 2 - Close up of Marion driving

The camera focuses with close ups on both Norman and Marion (as in the above picture when she is driving), this helps the audience to see their emotional states, it helps the audience to sympathise with them.

Sympathy is an important aspect of Psycho as the audience identifies with several of the characters, the audience for instance identifies with Marion after learning of her struggle for a better life and her willingness to return the money she stole.  Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader states; " Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece blends a brutal manipulation of audience identification and an incredibly dense, allusive visual style to create the most morally unsettling film ever made." (Kehr, N/A). In agreement with Kehr's statement is the idea of manipulating the audience to sympathise with several characters, the audience also sympathises with Norman Bates (figure 3) who chaffes under the supposed stranglehold of a dominating, emmasculating mothe despite the fact that he is the antagonist. 

Figure 3 - Norman reels in horror

Prehaps what makes the film's story so believable is it's characters and their actions, Roger Ebert points out in his review; "The setup involves a theme that Hitchcock used again and again: The guilt of the ordinary person trapped in a criminal situation" (Ebert, 1998), the story is not the product of someone who dreams of a romantic story of crime, sex and horror with semi-realistic characters rather it is a relatively simple tale of a "normal" person who commits wrong and subsequently becomes entangled in a horrifying nightmare.

The characters come from backgrounds that the audience can relate too, for instance Marion works in an office while Norman works in a hotel, two professions that many people also share. When Marion is attacked by the seemingly normal Norman it throws into question how could this happen? How could a normal person become so violent and crazy. This however could also be the genius of Hitchock's film as Norman Bates states himself; "We all go a little mad sometimes".

Dave Kehr, N/A, [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25th January 2015]

David Uhlich, 2010, [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25th January 2015]

Roger Ebert, 1998 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25th January 2015]

Illustration List
Figure 1 - Alfred Hitchcock, 1960, psycho.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge.jpg [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20th January 2015]
Figure 2 - Alfred Hitchock, 1960, 0182.jpg [ONLINE] [Accessed 25th January 2015}

Figure 3 - Alfred Hitchock, 1960, Psycho.jpg [ONLINE] [Accessed 25th January 2015]

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Max :) Just remember to italicise your quotes...