Imagery in Psycho

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Subtlety
Jillian Miller

The Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho broke box-office records when first introduced in 1960. Hitchcock’s cinematography involving the skillful use of black and white film enabled him to effectively play with shadows and silhouettes. These devices are used throughout this movie to influence and manipulate the audience into various states of comfort and terror throughout the film. It is the clever use of duality in human nature and the associated environments that surround the main character that makes Psycho a true American cinema classic. Psycho opens with an extensive view of Arizona that highlights the spacious scenic background of the city. The scene then switches to a more restricted view of Marion and Sam in their hotel room. Their room is very small and the lighting is extremely dim, perhaps matching their lives and the pending state of their relationship. This is a major contrast to the brightly lit wider view that we were first introduced to in Arizona. The symbolic value in these two scenes represents the distinction between openness and concealment. Outside we are unaware of what is not directly in front of us. We are in a sense naïve to our surroundings, as though we have tunnel vision. A crucial example of this is when Marion’s boss gives her money to take to the bank. Although he believes she is going to follow through with the task at hand, Marion decides to keep the money and leave town. Her focus becomes survival, at all costs. Marion’s boss represents the outside world. Normality exists in this carefree world and it as if nothing bad can occur. However, in the confined area of the hotel room there is a mysterious element that presents itself. The audience is aware of the conflicting circumstances that prohibit Marion and Sam from getting married, but they are unaware of what is to come for the two characters. This lack of knowledge provides an uneasiness for the viewers. Marion’s underwear is another prime example of binary opposites used methodically to create suspense. As she is expressing her ethical stance on their relationship, she is shot in white undergarments. Hitchcock’s choice of white in this scene emphasizes his desire to portray Marion in an angelic light. Chaste women are associated with lighter colored underwear, while loose woman are often connected with red or black underwear. The color white represents innocence, and in this scene Marion is perceived as the innocent woman who wants to get married to her one true love. She is trying to progress her relationship in the right direction, and her wardrobe mirroring this attitude emphasizes this “good girl” image of Marion that Hitchcock wished to exude. In contrast, after she steals 40,000 from her boss, she is later shown in black under garments. Due to debts from his father and divorce, Sam does not have enough money to marry Marion. She decides to take matters into her own hands, and ends up completely shattering this good girl image that she previously emanated. This underlying theme of good versus evil within the choice of color in wardrobe, coupled with Marion’s actions, reiterates the psychological aspects that our emotions, if left unchecked, can get the best of us. When we are led by our desire, we often find ourselves in dangerous situations. Wealth versus poverty serves as another binary opposite as well. We are introduced to a wealthy father who believes that his financial status can purchase his daughter’s contentment. He is readily willing and able to give away vast sums of money without a care in the world. He has it, so he can do whatever he pleases with it… On the contrary, Marion and Sam are not as well off. They are severely lacking in the financial department. And money, seemingly, is prohibiting them from getting married. They are desperately looking for ways to overcome their...
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