Movies: A Thematic Analysis of 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 to enhance the film\'s
psychological effects for an audience that is forced to recognise its own
neurosis and psychological inadequacies as it is compelled to identify, for
varying lengths of time, with the contrasting personalities of the film\'s main
characters. Hitchcock conveys an intensifying theme in Psycho, that bases itself
on the unending subconscious battle between good and evil that exists in
everyone through the audience\'s subjective participation and implicit character
parallels.
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 behaviour 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
visualise 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 recognise 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 behaviour 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 recognisable, albeit unusual behaviour, that the
audience embraces