Alfred Hitchcock directed and released Psycho, an American horror-thriller film in 1960. Before its release, Americans had not witnessed disturbing film images. Notably, a combination of violence and sexuality was not common during the 1960s. Alfred’s film broke the rules of Hollywood films, and although much controversy surrounded its release, people filled theatres to witness it. Researchers have analyzed to explain some scenes to the audience. Nevertheless, the following articles denote most of the ideas and techniques in the film to help the audience understand why the film was disturbing to the American culture.
Kendrick (2010) analyses the film, mainly how the visual effects, as well as narrative, affected the film industry and the society. He utilizes various theories to analyze the film’s visuals and semantics. The Priming Effects Model examines how someone evaluates new stimuli (Psycho) using previous experiences (Kendrick, 2010). When Alfred created a plot twist in the film, he violated the traditional film narrative because of the audience at this time. Although the film had a poor construction, the audience could relate the strange events to their experiences or stories they have heard about.
It was among the first films to depict a character as vulnerable. Hollywood films portrayed their characters as beautiful, invincible, and glamorous. In contrast, the main character in this film was murdered brutally. The audience during this time was not prepared to watch a shower murder before the first hour of the film. Most of the viewers considered the scene as the most bloody and gruesome aspect ever witnessed. Apparently, during the murder scene, audiences had to run across the theatre in horror.
Kendrick (2010) explores the concept, “The artist must trust us, the reader, and viewers to acknowledge…our necessary complicity in artistic illusion.” Therefore, Alfred embraced this idea and created an illusion that made the audience forget that they were watching a film. The film incredibly suspends disbelief. Although the movie occurred as a shock to the culture, the first half of it conforms to the traditional character behavior and film conventions. The other half comprises of unexpected and extreme acts and film conventions that shock the audience. However, Alfred lures and adjusts the audience to the film convention.
According to Sandis (2009), the film is an allegory of seeing in the figurative sense of understanding and a dramatization of the necessity for the interpreter to mistake a sign for a dignified presence. Essentially, the audience consumed and misinterpreted the acts depicted in the film. Also, the resolutions and the outcomes of the decisions made by the characters are as expected in the film. For instance, the storyline revolves around Marion, a woman who commits a financial crime by stealing from her employer. She derives her motivation from the need to settle down, begin a family with Sam, and attain financial freedom. Marion develops an individual odyssey terror when she interacts with a young disturbed hotel proprietor. It is evident that her personal desires outbalance her moral side and superego, forcing her to make the decisions she did. Throughout the film, psychoanalysis tries to patch the limited parts together to improve the viewer’s understanding of the entire film.
Hitchcock had a chief mastery of human psychology according to Freud when directing the film. Although he did not take the subconscious seriously, the plot of Psycho film is full of psychoanalytic terms and actions. Psycho provides many details that coincide directly with the film’s motifs and themes. The crisscrossing patterns that are mirror-like depict the protagonists’ split schizophrenic personality. Alfred’s initial use of the staccato chords hints detachment of an engaged character. The screech of the violins represents the birds that appear later in the film. Therefore, most of Alfred’s recurring images significantly represent the Freudian dream interpretation. Right when the film starts, it is clear that no ordinary stories lie ahead, rather, the music and visuals in the intro keep increasing the anxiety of the audience
In certain ways, the film depicts the Freudian element. It helps the viewers to understand that at times they give false visual information on who they are. Also, some of the stories they heard during childhood visually represent their character traits is not often the case. Therefore, immoral crimes tend to occur when personal development fails to reach the expected level. For instance, Freud mostly associates repressed memories with sexuality, case in point, the primal scene, where a child sees his parents having sex and then represses the scene’s memory. In the film, Bate murders his lover and mother after witnessing them in bed. Freud argues that a person who encountered a traumatic event is likely to relive the event in dreams, action, or memory (Sandis, 2009). Such people tend to predispose themselves to situations that are likely to yield traumatic experiences.
Initially, the audience witnesses a repressed memory of a traumatic incident, which causes guilt transfer. In turn, this creates a strong sense of identification with the victim and partial loss of “the self.” For instance, Bates take his mother’s identity. Also, after the death of Norman and Marion, Norman transforms into two different characters. The film reveals Norman as his “mother” as she attempts to kill again. The disguise is later stripped away. His “self” dies completely, and his mother’s self comes to life as depicted through her hysterically laughing face, which was resurrected by the light.
Instead of being a whodunit, the film significantly satisfies the emotional audience needs. The film is honest and even shows a shot of Bates swinging hips while climbing up the stairs. Although the scene is not long, it is just sufficient for a keen viewer to understand the movie’s intention. The film intended to show the feminine nature of this character. However, the audience remains cheated with the idea that the voice of his mother is not Anthony Perkin’s voice but rather a recording of female and male voices. Nevertheless, for Alfred, it is something that makes the film interesting.
As the film ends, the psychiatrist says that he decked out when reality came close, and the illusion encountered a threat. He claims that he would go home, sit in the chair, and speak in her voice. This implies that he was mostly Norman’s mother and not Norman. According to Freud, the conscious mind represses traumatic events that occur during childhood (Sandis, 2009). Nevertheless, the subconscious holds these adverse memories, and act as a way of obtaining psychoses and neuroses. The main aim of psychoanalysis, therefore, is to recuperate the repressed memories to make it easier for a person to deal with them in the conscious mind.
Although the audience receives a conclusion on Norman’s decisions and actions, it remains confused and terrified due to the last scene where he manifests his split personality. In another scene, Norman removes a painting and then reveals a spyhole, and at this point, the audience gets a glimpse into his secret world. When undressing, the audience can see him develop sexual and masculine feelings towards Marion. Alfred then compels the viewers to reflect on their conscious “self” based on the events of the film. The film, therefore, creates fear among the audience by identifying the subconscious self of the characters as well as the brutality of the murders.
In summary, the film Psycho has a complex set of themes and ideas. It is among the most influential films in America as it transformed film storylines. Alfred Hitchcock introduces a new way of suspending disbelief. The director effectively uses the viewers’ subjective role and character apparels as a way of enticing terror and conveying a sense of anxiety within the audience. The film mirrors Freud’s argument on the unconscious as it depicts a normal woman who has a desire that compels her to commit a financial crime. Moreover, it follows up the life of a man thought to be harmless, but because of his developmental issues, allows his unconscious self to take control of the conscious.
Kendrick, J. (2010). Disturbing New Pathways: Psycho and Priming of the Audience. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 2-9. Retrieved from http://files.meetup.com/3956862/psycho1.pdf
Sandis, C. (2009). Hitchcock’s Conscious Use of Freud’s Unconscious. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 56-81.