It’s time to explore another cinematic classic: Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). I know that today should be devoted to a foreign film but this film came as a request from MadameBeudete29. There is so much to say about this film. It began the slasher sub-genre horror, and is the reason why we have box office times – yes, before Psycho, you could wonder in on a movie at any time during the show. Alfred Hitchcock demanded that for this film viewers must see it from beginning to end. Critics have written numerous books on this film, and it is seen as the quintessential film for psychoanalysis film theory. But, I’m not going to talk about that – I simply want to address the role of the monster in this film.
This movie is so iconic and so saturated in popular culture, that I’m sure most of you know the plot. For those who don’t, I have provided the film synopsis found on the film’s IMDB web-page….
Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), on the lam after stealing $40,000 from her employer in order to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), is overcome by exhaustion during a heavy rainstorm. Traveling on the back roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at the ramshackle Bates Motel and meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his mother.
Hitchcock’s Psycho, is a film which shifted horror away from monstrous fiends who lived in castles and terrified people by bringing the monster into the safety of suburbia. Indeed, the monster in the film lives rights next door and appears as normal as any other individual. The monster is, in a sense, Norman Bates. Yet, his fragmented psyche has him believing that he is his mother. She becomes an extension of Norman, himself, or rather as she is clearly the dominant personality, Norman is an extension of her, not just a man in drag. He is the weaker half, who ultimately, by the film’s conclusion, is taken over by the mother personality as demonstrated by the haunting voice-over of the mother at the films end.
Critics have argued that what is most horrifying about the film Psycho is that the film represents a perversion of the suburban community, shattering the illusion of peace and safety that the suburbia has often embodied. Since the suburban community is a realm where the domestic reigns supreme and because the domestic is inherently linked with femininity. It follows that the film, then, represents a perversion of femininity- culminating in the ever vigilant presence of the mother. Women upon adopting the gaze of the camera, look upon the monster and recognizes her own lack which the monster represents. The power of monster becomes a symbol of female power which, ultimately, must be destroyed. This is very evident when addressing the monster in Psycho. As told through the course of the film, the mother supposedly raised Norman on her own and presumably ran the motel on her own.
While this should demonstrate the mother’s independence, her tyrannical oppression of Norman and her murderous rage against those who defy her view of how people should behave, twists female independence into something wicked. The mother figure becomes the ultimate symbol of un-checked female power. She controls Norman and even after her death, haunts him. Furthermore, there is a sexual aspect of her power, this is symbolized by her judgment and murder of Marion to whom Norman is obviously attracted. Yet, mother finds her wanting and Norman is not allowed to pursue her; his own sexual identity and masculinity is repressed.
Also, the murder of his mother and her lover, suggesting an overactive oedipal complex in which Norman was feared losing his mother’s attention and then killed her. However, Norman, the man, has been made impotent and cannot function without her. Even more frightening than the perversion of the mother that film represents is the fact that the mother, unlike most monsters is not destroyed- she lives on in Norman. The mother’s dominion over Norman sends a clear and chilling message to the audience which is accentuated by every death, along with the music which highlights the killing scenes… no one escapes mother.
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