Thematic Analysis of Psycho

Arts- Movies
A Thematic Analysis of Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho
Alfred Hitchcocks 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 films 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 films 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 audiences 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. Hitchcocks 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 audiences initial senses of awareness and suspicion while allowing it to identify with Marions helpless situation. The audiences sympathy toward Marion is heightened with the introduction of Cassidy whose crude boasting encourages the audiences dislike of his character. Cassidys blatant statement that all unhappiness can be bought away with money, provokes the audience to form a justification for Marions 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.

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It is with Marions character that Hitchcock first introduces the notion of a split personality to the audience. Throughout the first part of the film, Marions 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 Marions 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 Marions 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 Normans mother yell at him, the audiences 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 audiences 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 audiences empathy for Norman and the audience is made to question its previous relationship with Marion whose criminal behaviour does not compare to Normans 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 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 empathised with a psychotic person to a greater extent than with 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 parlour scene but the audience is later forced to disturbingly reexamine its own conscience and character judgment abilities to discover why Normans predicament seemed more worthy of its sympathy than Marions.

During the infamous shower scene, Hitchcock conveys a sense of cleansing for the audience. Hitchcock has reassured the audience of Marions credibility and introduced Norman as a wholesome character. The audiences newly discovered security is destroyed when Marion is murdered. Even more disturbing for the audience, however, is that the scene is shot not through Marions 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 Marions murder, the audiences role in the film takes a different approach. Hitchcock provokes the audience to utilise the films other characters in order to solve the mystery of Marions death yet he still successfully maintains the sympathetic bond between Norman and the audience. Interestingly, Hitchcock plays on the audiences obsession with the stolen money as the audience knows that it had been sunk yet clings to the fact that Marions death may have been a result of her crime with the introduction of Sam, Lila, and Arbogast.

Hitchcock uses Arbogasts character to arouse suspicion within the audience. Arbogasts murder is not as intense as Marions because the audience had not developed any type of subjective bond with his character. Arbogasts 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 Normans seemingly innocent existence the audience does not perceive him as an annoyance as they had the interrogative policeman who had hindered Marions journey.

When Sam and Lila venture to the Bates Motel to investigate both Marions and Arbogasts disappearances, Hitchcock presents the audience with more character parallels. As Lila begins to explore Normans home, Hitchcock conveniently places Sam and Norman in the parlour 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 Marions affection is poised and respectable in comparison to Norman, whose timid nature and sexual repression is reflected in the scenes of Lilas 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 nature.
Psycho concludes by providing a blatant explanation for Normans psychotic tendencies. The audience, although it had received a valid explanation for Normans 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 films 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 audiences subjective role in the plot allows Hitchcock to entice terror and a convey a lingering sense of anxiety within the audience through a progressively intensifying theme. Hitchcocks brilliance as a director has consolidated Psychos place among the most reputable and profound horror films ever made.

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