Title: Psycho (1960)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Psycho is a 1960’s American Thriller/ suspense film about a woman who is hiding at a motel after embezzling money from her employer. It is there she meets a man who is under the domination of his mother. The film is based on the Nobel by Robert Bloch by the same name.
The noir thriller starred Anthony Perkins, playing as the character of Norman Bates. The film connotes many generic aspects of the thriller genre, such as chiaroscuro lighting which is used in films to intensify the atmosphere. In this film the lighting is used to indicate the diversities of the film and Norman Bates’ character. Although the story begins to follow Marian Crane, Hitchcock has used hidden signifiers that link back to the madness of Norman Bates.
The Iconic Shower Scene
In the iconic shower scene of Psycho the first signifier of the thriller genre is the non-diegetic music which creates melancholic atmosphere amongst the audience, and helps them to build sympathy towards Marion Crane as she is shown alone sitting in her motel room writing figures and calculating, she then tears them up, and later puts them in the toilet; this implies that Marion is ‘flushing’ her hopes of survival away (down the drain). She is sat to a desk in an unglamorous room, which is dark and shadowed, which is how Hitchcock portrays her villainous character. This can be inter-textually referenced to ‘Essex Boys’ when we are introduced to Jason through the murky, dirty car windscreen and we see half of his body immerged into the shadows; which implied that Jason has ominous qualities.
In this famous Shower scene, Marion Crane is in a very vulnerable position, the audience are aware of what is happening; whereas she is unaware; this enables the audience to connect and sympathise with her. When Marion closes the door shut, she creates a generic claustrophobic environment which creates suspension – the audience can tell that within the confined space there is no way Marion can escape ; she is trapped. This can be inter-textually referenced to Witness, when Samuel is stuck in the small enclosed space in the toilet cubical. The confined space shrinks further when she removes her clothing (making her vulnerable) and draws the shower curtain. Hitchcock has used close ups of Marion’s feet as she enters the bath, and quickly and forcefully draws the curtain closed to imply that Marion is blocking out the world; and escaping the crimes she has committed and entering her own sense of self security. The way she traps herself in the shower indicates that she is trapped by her desperation. Hitchcock has perhaps used the shower curtain as a way of portraying the way that Marion is separated from reality.
When she turns on the shower the diegetic sound of the water running dominates the mise-en-scene, it also creates a sense of realism allowing the audience to relate to how naïve and unsuspecting she is. Hitchcock has used various angles and close ups of Marion’s head in order for the audience to see her emotions and allow the audience to relate to Marion. The ‘Worms eye view’ shot of the shower head is used to make the water seem menacing and consuming – this connotes danger, but also make the audience think that Marion is small, and very vulnerable at this point. Marion is having an affair with a married man and has stolen $40,000 of his money, therefore fitting the traditional conventions of a femme fatale; her deviance has sealed her fate; and the audience are aware of this.
Norman Bates murders Marion; his last name indicates that he is someone that preys and ‘baits’ on other people. His character also keeps stuffed birds; this can be related to Marion Crane because her surname is a bird. Hitchcock has used irony to connote that Marion might become part of his collection- which happens.
The camera angle cuts to a medium establishing shot of the Marion and the shower curtain, which
reveals to the audience a silhouette. The camera angle does not change, but the silhouette becomes closer to the shower curtain, Marion is oblivious and unsuspecting, the audience can see that she is not safe however; and this is because Alfred Hitchcock has used dramatic irony in this scene of the film. The tension and suspense builds as the audience are forced to realise that the figure has aggressive intent as well as questioning amongst themselves who’s silhouette it is. The speed of the diegetic sound increases as the murderer comes closer to the curtain- this allowed the audience to foresee what will happen without the use of dialogue. The use of black and white film is very effective in this scene- as it reflects the mood of the scene and allows the dark silhouette to appear sinister and evil against the white shower curtain; the darkness also creates a strong connotation in relation to death and darkness.
When the mysterious figure draws back the shower curtain the shots are short and are no longer than a few seconds; Hitchcock has done this purposely to show how brutal the stabbings are. Each shot would shock the audience. A 1960’s audience would differ dramatically from a modern day audience; the audience of Psycho in the 1960’s would have perhaps not seen film so vicious and brutal. The diegetic sound heightens the tension amongst the audience, the music is loud and abrupt, which shocks the audience. The diegetic sounds of knife stabbings are also apparent, as Hitchcock has made the murder so brutal that it is not just one stab; it is the repetitive stabbing of This sound also puts the audience on edge- because it is not a pleasant sound to the ears; It was Hitchcock’s intention as it makes the audience aware of how unpleasant the murder is. Marion until the camera slowly pans to a shot of the bath which then follows the flowing water stained with blood streaming towards the plug hole; this shocks the audience because it indicates just how brutal the murder was. Marion is a classic victim as she lacks survival skills and an ability to defend herself, she is also passive- therefore she was an easy target to Norman Bates.
After the stabbing, the camera cuts to a shot of Marion’s hand- the bent fingers highlight Marion’s desperation to hold on, but she is slipping away.
After the shot of Marion’s hand Hitchcock uses a camera shot of Marion sliding against the wall with the her up trying to grab the shower curtain; the use of this type of shot connotes death and desperation. This shot signifies how Marion is trying to grasp on to life, but not succeeding.
When Marion is dead on the floor, Hitchcock has used a close up of her face and eye that looks straight into the camera and at the audience. This allows the audience to relate to her, and see that she died in pain. Marion also looks like she has a tear in the corner of her eye, which shows her fear. The camera slowly pans away to the newspaper, and the audience are then shown that the mystery is being continued.