Saturday, 4 March 2017

Film Review - Psycho

Psycho is a film created in 1960 by director Alfred Hitchcock. The story follows a woman as she steals money from a wealthy customer at her work and leaves with the intent on going to her boyfriend. She finds herself staying in the Bates Hotel and murdered there in an unexpected turn of events.

Figure 1, Movie Poster

In Psycho Hitchcock plays with the way we watch films as we would usually expect to see the main character at the start and follow them until the end. In psycho however we are introduced to Marion at the beginning and thus led to believe that we will follow her throughout the entire film. On Marions journey she stops at the Bates Motel and this is when we meet Norman Bates. The way Norman is introduced, through a conversation with Marion after she overhears Norman's mother shouting at him, is key in helping the audience recognise him as important. 'Hitchcock's care with the scenes and dialog persuades us that Norman and Marion will be players for the rest of the film.' (Ebert, 1998). This is then abruptly challenged when Hitchcock kills her off not long after and only a third of the way through the film, leaving the audience confused as to who they should be watching. That's when we return to Norman Bates, a character the audience immediately recognises as the next protagonist, or perhaps in fact the true protagonist, of the film. 'Hitchcock is insidiously substituting protagonists. Marion is dead, but now (not consciously but in a deeper place) we identify with Norman--not because we could stab someone, but because, if we did, we would be consumed by fear and guilt, as he is.' (Ebert, 1998).

Figure 2, The parlour
Birds are used in the film as a prop to show the conflict in Norman as they loom over him in the parlour at the back of the motel. The stuffed birds there seem to be 'poised to swoop down and capture them as prey.' (Ebert, 1998). The birds are there and give the impression of something watching, perhaps implying the watching gaze of Normans mother. 'The creatures are everywhere in Psycho, from the aerial shots, to Marion's surname, to the town where the action begins (Phoenix), to the hideous taxidermy looming on Norman's walls, and even his world-view.' (Monahan, 2015).

Figure 3, Marion's eye
The conflict in Norman is what comes to a head two thirds of the way through the film in the form of both Marion and the detectives murder. The shower scene, which showed no stabbing and very little blood, was a shock and remained unnerving as the camera panned slowly into Marions eye. This scene however 'is very nearly matched for shock value by the later dispatching of Detective Arbogast as he explores the motel on Marion's trail.' (Monohan, 2015). The detective is shown to be murdered however the assailant is hardly seen. The camera, which had been following the detective up the stairs, is placed in a birds-eye-view of the top of the stairs while a figure is shown darting through to push the detective back down.

Normans conflict is later explained in the last third of the film, as the psychologist is called in to detail what's wrong with him. Hitchcock's decision to have the psychologist explain the film is one that many have brought into question citing that he 'marred the ending of a masterpiece with a sequence that is grotesquely out of place.' (Ebert, 1998) as it is 'an anticlimax taken almost to the point of parody.' (Ebert, 1998). However there is some merit to the explanation as it can have 'a profound place in the schema: the doctor can diagnose and explain a phenomenon that he’s seemingly powerless to foresee or cure. There’s no redemptive ending, no love story that conquers all, no promise that such ills won’t be repeated.' (Brody, 2012).

Image List:

Figure 1, Movie Poster

Figure 2, The parlour -

Figure 3, Marion's eye -

Brody, Richard, 'The Greatness of "psycho"' (2012) -

Ebert, Roger, Psycho (1998) -

Monahan, Mark, Psycho, Review (2015) -

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