Last night I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for the very first time. I’m not sure why it took me so long, I certainly don’t have ignorance to pin on. The reasons might have been plain disinterest as well as a spoiled sort of prejudice against black and white films. I don’t regret it however because the person I am today is able to take a lot more from the experience of watching Psycho than the thrill of the suspense it provides. I found myself studying and dissecting each scene’s framing, lighting, character movement, music and storytelling choices. I understand better now and agree with the sentiment that Hitchcock is indeed the Master of Suspense.
I was not aware of the movie’s plot although thanks to pop culture I knew that there would be a scene in a bathroom where a woman is violently (obviously) stabbed to death in the shower. The Simpson’s, Pee Wee Herman, That 70’s Show, Police Academy, Looney Toons: Back In Action are just a few examples that I can name off the top of my head that have parodied or referenced Psycho. It’s theme music and that scene in which Marion Crane meets her unfortunate demise being the film’s most recognised and popular elements.
South Park Episode: City Sushi & Psycho Visual Comparison
In season 15 of the animated satire series South Park, a long established Asian character Tuong Lu Kim is discovered to be in fact a Caucasian man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dr Janus is a child psychiatrist who also has several alternate personas with the most dominant persona being Mr Kim, the apparent owner of the local Chinese restaurant. For years Janus has effectively convinced the people of South Park that he is indeed the Chinese “Tuong Lu Kim” by squinting his eyes and speaking in a stereotypical Chinese accent. The end of the episode visually and narratively echoes the same scene in Psycho almost entirely, even up to the point where the faces of Mr Kim and Norman Bates are overlaid with the ghostly images of Dr Janus and Mrs Bates. In both stories this is to signify to the viewer that the alternate personality has completely taken over and dominated the original persona.
Psycho (1960) Original Ending Scene
As mentioned earlier, this was my first viewing of Psycho and tried hard to keep an open mind about what will or might happen in the film. As most other human beings I often seek out to guess the plot of a mystery film before I have seen it thoroughly. But this time I followed Marion Crane’s journey all the way up to her shocking death in the first half hour of the film. Stephen King said, “People remember the first time they experienced Janet Leigh, and no remake or sequel can top that moment when the curtain is pulled back and the knife starts to do its work.” On that I agree with him wholeheartedly, Janet Leigh’s character death was as unexpected as it was abrupt. Even prior knowledge of what would happen didn’t prepare me for the experience of watching the film itself. All parts of me were imploring Marion to move and to just ‘not’ be dead even as I continued to watch Norman calmly and methodically dispose of her lifeless body. Now that the character that I’ve attached myself to as protagonist has become a victim I reverted back to my habit of over analysing and second guessing the rest of the film.
By the end of the film I was quite buzzed about all the different narrative and psychological tropes that I recognised like the abusive mother and child relationship which led to Norman developing a split personality disorder. His fear, love and hatred of his mother that led the memory of her to take up permanent residence in his psyche. I was never bought over as a child by Disney movies that seem to give the message to children that no matter how much abuse or trauma they may encounter as a child they must remain a happy and hopeful symbol in a film where only a villain is allowed to experienced an emotional hangup. People are terribly fragile, their minds even more so. And what happens to them while growing up will definitely have consequences in their future. Some will become adults who are driven to kill by some terrible urge within them and there are those who simply want to bring suffering to another. There is a theory written about the differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. The general consensus is that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are products of their environment. Parental absence or abuse being the main reason for sociopathic behaviour. When engaging in criminal activity psychopaths tend to be more calculated and careful not to implicate themselves, sociopaths on the other hand are impulsive. Their behaviour rising into an uncontrollable onset of rage with little regard for the risks or consequences of their actions.
In accordance with this theory, Norman Bates in Psycho could be assumed to be exhibiting more sociopathic behaviours rather than psychopathic but the lines between them are blurred. As an only child raised in a stifled environment by a controlling, cruel and overbearing mother his dependency and attachment to her grew to the point that when she finally decided to get married and get a life of her own he killed her and her husband in rage. Unable to deal with what he had done and her absence, he created a persona of his mother in his mind to the point that it become separate entity that could take him over for certain periods of time.
Slavoj Zizek On Norman Bate’s House
Slavoj Zizek gave a brief but interesting analysis of Psycho, he focused on how the visual representation of Norman’s subjective mind the film is presented through the three levels of his mother’s house. The ground floor being his ego; the normal, rational and earnest Norman Bates who runs the motel. Up the stairs to the first floor where his mother’s bedroom is the super ego; the judgemental and overbearing part of his mind that projects itself as the image and voice of his mother. And down into the cellar in which he carries her body from the first floor represents the id. The id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives. His act of keeping Mother in the cellar can be seen as a metaphor for his attempt to hide super ego into his id; attempting to use the representation of the over controlling and judgemental part of himself to control his wild, violent and impulsive nature. From what I understand from Zizek’s statement he states that the super ego and the id are tied close together and that when the super ego feels threatened (when ‘Mother’ see’s Normal becoming attracted to another woman) the id will consume and take control over Norman. He is driven to kill the threat to his super ego.
Wow, ok this is becoming a very long entry. I feel that I should point out that I’m merely summarising and reflecting about these theories and I do not know enough of criminal psychology to express myself accurately and succinctly. I have a bit of an interest in researching crime murder, criminal psychology and forensic science. I would not call it a passion as I think my interest stems from a need to understand and accept the fact that people with violent mental disturbances and homicidal tendencies exist which is what this reflection is based around.