*This post contains spoilers about the film*
Overall Rating: 4.2/5 stars
The Psychopath: 4.5/5
Norman Bates is undoubtedly the anti-hero of the film, for one of his identities is pure; the other, malicious. Norman’s greatest accomplishment is his manipulation Marion, Detective Arbogast, Sam, Lila, and the audience into thinking that Mrs. Bates is still alive and that she is the murderer. However, Norman himself, in his psychotic state, wholeheartedly believes that his alive mother killed Marion, Detective Arbogast, and the women before, so can Norman be congratulated for conning as many people as hid did if his Norman identity was tricked as well? Nevertheless, Norman easily manipulates the characters in the film as well as the audience into believing that Norman is the innocent, dutiful son who is only doing his best to clean up the mistakes his ill mother makes.
Norman’s personality is quite unique and odd; however, the way in which his quirkiness is presented makes the audience find him attractive and eases the audience into Norman’s manipulation. During Norman and Marion’s first encounter, it’s obvious that Norman is a little off, for he always pauses a second before replying in conversation, as if he is double checking in his mind if what he’s about to say sounds normal – something a normal person would never do. However, Norman’s flaws are covered up by his physical attractiveness, helpfulness, and charming smile, that allow him to lure Marion into the back parlor. The entire interaction between Norman and Marion seems awkward, but Norman’s innocence radiates through any doubts Marion and the audience have about him.
Furthermore, the Norman persuades the audience into pitying the young man, as he reacts to finding Marion’s corpse. Once Norman discovers that “his mother” killed Marion, Norman rushes down the steps from his house to the motel, as is he’s trying to save Marion, which confirms Norman’s innocence in the matter, as he’s trying to help Marion – not kill her. When Norman sees Marion’s dead body, his entire body freezes and he turns away from the bathroom where Marion lies, covering his mouth with his hand.
Obviously, Norman is distraught and appalled by what “his mother” has done to Marion, but being the loving and dutiful son he is, Norman overcomes his disgust of the dead body and gathers Marion, along with all her belonging, and disposes of them in a lake. The audience pities Norman for having to clean up after his psychotic mother, and even sympathizes with him during the scene at the lake. As Norman pushes the car with Marion’s body and things into the lake, the car partially sinks, but then stops for a few seconds. The car failing to completely sink causes a great amount of anxiety for Norman and elicits even more sympathy for Norman because the audience feels badly for the young man. The car does eventually fully sink, and the audience and Norman feel great relief.
When the Sheriff reveals to Sam and Lila that Mrs. Bates has been dead for ten years, there Norman’s attractiveness prevents the audience from concluding that Norman is the killer. Even when Norman hits Sam on the head and knocks him unconscious, there is still hope that Norman is only trying to protect his ill mother. However, when Lila discovers Mrs. Bates’ mummified corpse in the basement, Norman is undoubtedly the killer, the cruelest trick in the film. Norman’s attractiveness and charm allowed him to disguise his guilt and makes the moment when he is revealed to be the murderer even more shocking.
Development of Emotional Terror: 4.5/5 stars
Psycho does an incredible job utilizing the technique, “developing doomed characters”, which enriches the psychological terror the film creates. The movie opens with a conversation between Marion and her secret lover, Sam. The audience then follows Marion to her work, where she is handed forty-thousand dollars that she’s supposed to put in her boss’s bank account – money that she decides to steal. The entire first third of the film has solely focuses on Marion. She is always on-screen, there are many close-ups on her face, the audience can hear Marion’s thoughts. The thorough character-development of Marion convinces the audience that she is the essential part of the story. However, Marion is rather insignificant to the plot of the movie other than her attractiveness and the money she stole, for she had to entice Norman for him to murder her, and she needed to commit a crime for the police to discover her murderer. Of course, after Marion is brutally murdered, the audience realizes that Marion isn’t as important as they first believed. The development of Marion, a “doomed” character, convinces the audience that the story is following a certain course, only to brutally reveal that the plot has been on a completely different track from the beginning. Developing “doomed” characters betrays the audience’s trust and causes them to question everything they see in the rest of the film, increasing the audience’s anxiety and desire to uncover the truth. After Marion’s death, the film’s focus turns to Mrs. Bates – Marion’s suspected murder; however, Mrs. Bates has been dead for ten years. Once again, Psycho develops a “doomed” character, or in this case an already dead character, which furthers confuses the audience and elevates the psychological terror, as the “doomed” characters distract the audience from the real story. The deception created by developing “doomed” characters builds anticipation and suspense throughout the film, which makes the moment when the murderer is revealed to be Norman even more terrorizing, as well as satisfying, for the audience.
In addition to the film’s successful development of “doomed” characters, Psycho does an excellent job of constructing moments of severe discomfort for the characters and the audience that add to the emotional fear the film evokes. Such moments include when Marion’s boss walks right in front of Marion’s car as she’s driving off with the stolen money. Marion’s eyes widen and she holds her breath as her boss passes by, and when he turns around and looks right at Marion, the camera cuts to a close-up shot of Marion’s face, transferring Marion’s anxiety to the audience.
Also, right before Marion is killed, the audience sees an oblivious Marion showering and a blurry figure approaching her behind the translucent shower curtain. The audience is aware that something terrible is about to happen and the anticipation the audience feels while they wait for the inevitable to occur is paralyzingly horrifying. Psycho instills great emotional terror in its audience by building up tension and transferring the anxiety of the characters to the viewers, making these moments much more terrifying than the cliché “jump scare”.
Real-Life Accuracy: 4/5
The film provides a pretty accurate example of dissociative identity disorder, as Norman exhibits many of the symptoms of the disorder. Norman is obviously awkward when he meets Marion, as he fails to consistently keep eye contact with her and continuously stumbles over his words. Norman often seems to zone out and be detached from real-life, symptoms of the disorder. Furthermore, Norman has issues with sexual behavior, as his Norman identity is attracted to a woman and his Mrs. Bates identity despises any woman Norman desire. These moments of conflict between his two identities cause an extreme amount of stress for Norman, making his Mrs. Bates identity taking over. People with dissociative identity disorder switch identities under large amounts of stress; therefore, Norman accurately represents the disorder.
However, there were some instances in the film where the way in which events occurred seemed quite unlikely. An example of this is when Norman knocks Sam unconscious and runs to his house to prevent Lila, Marion’s sister, from discovering that his mother is dead. Right as Norman, dressed as Mrs. Bates, enters the basement yielding a knife, Sam appears out of nowhere and tackles Norman, saving Lila’s life. It doesn’t seem very likely that Sam would enter the room right as Norman is about to murder Lila, and it seems even less likely that he would be able to disarm Norman so easily after just being unconscious a minute before.
The decisive choices of what appears on-screen during moments of extreme emotional distress improve the overall terror created by the film. Specifically, the utilization of unique camera angles to elevate the anxiety of Marion and the audience in the scene where the police car appears to be tailing Marion is especially impressive. During the scene, the shot repeatedly alternates between a close-up of a paranoid Marion with the police car visible through the rearview window and Marion’s point of view, as she’s constantly checking the police car in her rearview mirror. The back and forth between the shot of Marion and of the police car in the rearview mirror mimics Marion alternating between watching the road and checking to see if the police car is still there for the audience and places the audience in Marion’s dilemma. The camera angles in this scene connect the audience to Marion and therefore transfer Marion’s distress and fear to the audience.
Moreover, Psycho, like many other psychological horror films, doesn’t show brutal, bloody murders, and instead utilizes the emotions of the victims to scare the audience. In Marion’s death scene, the camera zooms in to an extreme close-up of Marion screaming and zooms even further until the shot is only of Marion’s open, screaming mouth. As Marion is being stabbed, the shots of the knife impaling her flesh are zoomed in to the point where there isn’t enough of the murder on-screen for it to be gory. The murder scene focuses on the fear of the victim, rather than the actual killing, which creates the desired emotional fear; however, Marion’s death is heavily overdramatized. The ultra-zoomed in shots of Marion screaming, of the knife entering and exiting her body, of her fingers slowly sliding down the wall of the shower, and of her dead, open eye, when combined, push the scene past being scary to being hokey.
However, Detective Arbogast’s murder scene does a better job instilling emotional fear in the audience without overdoing it on the dramatics. When Arbogast is stabbed, the film shows him falling – albeit in slightly-cheesy slow motion – down the stairs. The shot is of his utterly shocked face, a face of authentic fear, and that is truly chilling.
Concluding feeling: 4.5/5
I vividly remember the first time I watched the final scene of Psycho. It was over the summer, I was watching the movie on my computer in bed around one in the morning, and I remember shaking because the last scene – the final look of Norman Bates – utterly terrified me that night. After viewing the film for the second time and watching the entire Bates Motel television series that is the prequel to Psycho, the chills I got at the end of the move in no way compared to how I felt the first time I saw the film. However, the film’s ending is extremely unnerving, as the camera settles on Norman, who has completely been taken over by his Mrs. Bates identity by this point. There is a voiceover of Mrs. Bates’ thoughts about how she turned her son in for the murders and was going to prove to the police that she’s as innocent as they come. Mrs. Bates thinks the iconic line, “why she wouldn’t even harm a fly”, suggesting that Mrs. Bates is completely innocent. However, we know that Mrs. Bates – Norman – is not innocent at all. Then, Norman slowly lifts his gaze level with the camera and grins, as his dead mother’s skulls appears underneath. This moment – when Mrs. Bates’ skeletal face is superimposed upon Norman’s creepy smile – is awfully horrifying, and the audience gets a glimpse at the evil identity of Mrs. Bates, who once lurked inside of Norman and now has become him. After witnessing the chilling transformation of Norman into Mrs. Bates, the audience sees the damage Mrs. Bates has caused; the final image the audience is left with is of the car containing Marion’s body being dragged out of the lake. The film’s end is so terrifying because the audience now understands how much damage an innocent-looking young man can cause. During the final scene, the audience fully sees Norman for what he truly is – a psycho.