“Psycho” (1960) is a masterpiece that encompasses suspense, a major plot twist, incredible soundscape and camera use. It’s as if Alfred Hitchcock directed the viewer more than the actual actors. The way he slowly reveals bits of information and skilfully misdirects our attention can be compared to a magician performing his magic tricks to an unsuspecting crowd.
The opening of the film reveals the love interest between Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Following their dialogue and the events that follow can only mean that the plot has been set and the film will be all about the relationship between the two characters. This however is entirely untrue. In a major twist Hitchcock reveals the true story concerned with a psychopath that lives in the Bates Motel, the place where Marion decides to spend the night after stealing $40 000.
What follows is a remarkable and iconic scene, which made “Psycho” the masterpiece that it is from then on. When the Bates Motel owner Norman (Anthony Perkins) spies on Marion, the viewer is misdirected again, thinking that what is happening is a scene of voyeurism. Roger Ebert talks about the shower scene in “Psycho”: “Unlike modern horror films, "Psycho" never shows the knife striking flesh. There are no wounds. There is blood, but not gallons of it. Hitchcock shot in black and white because he felt the audience could not stand so much blood in colour. The slashing chords of Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack substitute for more grisly sound effects. The closing shots are not graphic but symbolic, as blood and water spin down the drain, and the camera cuts to a close-up, the same size, of Marion's unmoving eyeball. This remains the most effective slashing in movie history, suggesting that situation and artistry are more important than graphic details.” (Ebert, 1998) (Fig. – 2)
Another thing that really strikes is the use of the bird symbol over and over again throughout the film. Mark Monahan touches upon the subject: “The creatures are everywhere in Psycho, from the aerial shots, to Marion's surname, to the town where the action begins (Phoenix), to the hideous taxidermy looming on Norman's walls, and even his world-view.” (Monahan, 2014) We can only guess why a bird theme exists in the movie. It might be that Hitchcock is hinting at his next project “The Birds”, or as a symbol of the lack of freedom (caged/ stuffed birds), or perhaps the traditional meaning of a black bird, being that they do not give away their secrets easily, suggesting that the story will unfold with its own pace and only when the director chooses to. (Fig. – 3,4)
The only thing that stops the film from being perfect is the ending, when everything is explained to us, as if unable to fully grasp the occurrings on the screen. Bill Webber gives a plausible explanation: “In the frequently derided penultimate scene, when Sam asks the all-knowing psychiatrist "Why was he...dressed like that?," the practical necessity of supplying a prosaic explanation for Norman's madness is perhaps best understood by thinking of a typical 1960 moviegoer as John Gavin” (Weber, 2010)
In conclusion, “Psycho” is indeed a masterpiece, a real treat for any viewer absolutely sickened by recent films filled with cheap scares, unnecessary blood and gore. A movie that offers an intelligent way to indulge in the darker recesses of the mind of a mentally ill person.
Fig – 1 - Media1.myfolio.com, (2015). [online] Available at: http://media1.myfolio.com/users/jazzq/images/3ji0ffyw69.jpg [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].
Fig. – 2 - Blastr.com, (2015). [online] Available at: http://www.blastr.com/sites/blastr/files/styles/media_gallery_image/public/images/psycho-shower-scene.jpg [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].
Fig – 3,4 - Maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com, (2015). role of birds in psycho | What Next?. [online] Available at: https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com/tag/role-of-birds-in-psycho/ [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].
Ebert, R. (1998). Psycho Movie Review & Film Summary (1960) | Roger Ebert. [online] Rogerebert.com. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-psycho-1960 [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].
Monahan, M. (2014). Psycho, review - Telegraph. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11025424/Psycho-review.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].
Weber, B. (2010). Psycho | Film Review | Slant Magazine. [online] Slant Magazine. Available at: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/psycho [Accessed 22 Jan. 2015].