“Psycho” Film Analysis

Alfred Hitcock won the global acclaim as one of the most unusual, intriguing, and provocative film directors. Hitchcock was known under the name “master of suspense,” and his horror film Psycho produced in 1960 became a genuine breakthrough in the film industry of those times. Before Psycho, the public consumed puppet-like horror monster films in the gothic style, while Psycho showed a new verge of human horror – the human psychopathy (Collins, Collins, & Radner, 2012). Besides his original ideas and an abrupt change of the horror genre, Hitchcock was famous for his witty and eloquent mise-en-scene arrangement; an attentive viewer could find out much more than was shown or said in particular film parts. One of the most notable expressions of Hitchcock’s directing talent may be traced through his skilled use and arrangement of scenes’ mise-en-scene in Psycho as well. This paper is dedicated to the scene of Norman Bates’ encounter with Marion Crane, a newcomer to his hotel.

As Lewis (2013) described it, a close scene reading allows the viewer to understand very much about Norman. For instance, Hitchcock intentionally made the make-up and hair of Norman look most unremarkable, which makes it easy to mistake him for a normal, ordinary person. Unfortunately, this peculiarity played to the advantage of Norman, since an odd, crazy, or even untidy appearance might have scared Marion off and she could leave the hotel, but that never happened. Another creative technique of showcasing Norman was half-lighting his face and keeping another half in the shadow, which implies his dual nature and his criminal, psychopathic inclinations hiding behind normal, even dull appearance.

Other elements of the scene are highly eloquent in terms of describing the nature of Norman’s abnormality and even its roots. His behavior and gestures, a set of mannerisms he displays, as well as the way of tucking his hand between his legs – all these hints suggest a feminine conduct of a momma’s boy he really was. Moreover, his manner of clothing also gives much additional information about his character; as Prince (2004) indicated in the analysis of Norman’s apparel, wearing a sports jacket without a tie, having an open collar – all these elements of style suggested arrested or delayed psychological development of Norman at some point of reaching maturity. For the culture of the 1960s, it was quite unacceptable for a hotel owner to be dressed like that, so Norman’s form of dressing implied the informal atmosphere and non-serious attitude to his duties of a hotel owner and actual administrator.

Finally, it is noteworthy to analyze the repeated inclusion of a clear shadow of Norman Bates in various scenes, including the discussed one, on the walls. This effect was achieved with the help of low-key, high-contrast lighting to show Norman’s dual nature and dark side of his personality visually. That dual nature accompanies him everywhere and is an integral part of him no matter how politely and appealingly he behaves at the moment (Bellour, 2000). A final interesting element of the scene worth mentioning is the way in which Norman unconsciously (or consciously, but not-noticeably for Marion) manipulates the taxidermic crane on his wardrobe. This act of “eating like a bird” is highly symbolic, since the puppet of the crane has the same name that Marion Crane does, which implies the rise of Norman’s plan to assume control over a human being similarly easily as he did with the stuffed bird.

As the presented mise-en-scene analysis suggests, Hitchcock was indeed a master of film production and his Psycho is remarkable in numerous ways, walking down into history as one of the world’s best films ever made. Careful watching of the scenes meticulously crafted by Hitchcock may reveal much about characters and further events. Hence, Psycho is worth not only close watching as a piece of horror film art, but also as a multi-layer, diverse, and data-rich composition offering much more for viewers seeking deeper layers of meaning.

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