Movies: a Thematic Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

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Movies: A Thematic Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has been commended for forming the archetypical basis of all horror films that followed its 1960 release. The mass appeal that Psycho has maintained for over three decades can undoubtedly be attributed to its universality. In Psycho, Hitchcock allows the audience to become a subjective character within the plot to enhance the film's psychological effects for an audience that is forced to recognise its own neurosis and psychological inadequacies as it is compelled to identify, for varying lengths of time, with the contrasting personalities of the film's main characters. Hitchcock conveys an intensifying theme in Psycho, that bases itself on the unending subconscious battle between good and evil that exists in everyone through the audience's subjective participation and implicit character parallels.

Psycho begins with a view of a city that is arbitrarily identified along with an exact date and time. The camera, seemingly at random, chooses first one of the many buildings and then one of the many windows to explore before the audience is introduced to Marion and Sam. Hitchcock's use of random selection creates a sense of normalcy for the audience. The fact that the city and room were arbitrarily identified impresses upon the audience that their own lives could randomly be applied to the events that are about to follow.

In the opening sequence of Psycho, Hitchcock succeeds in capturing the audience's initial senses of awareness and suspicion while allowing it to identify with Marion's helpless situation. The audience's sympathy toward Marion is heightened with the introduction of Cassidy whose crude boasting encourages the audience's dislike of his character. Cassidy's blatant statement that all unhappiness can be bought away with money, provokes the audience to form a justification for Marion's theft of his forty thousand dollars. As Marion begins her journey, the audience is drawn farther into the depths of what is disturbingly abnormal behaviour although it is compelled to identify and sympathize with her actions.

It is with Marion's character that Hitchcock first introduces the notion of a split personality to the audience. Throughout the first part of the film, Marion's reflection is often noted in several mirrors and windows. Hitchcock is therefore able to create a voyeuristic sensation within the audience as it can visualise the effects of any situation through Marion's conscious mind. In the car dealership, for example, Marion enters the secluded bathroom in order to have privacy while counting her money. Hitchcock, however, with upper camera angles and the convenient placing of a mirror is able to convey the sense of an ever lingering conscious mind that makes privacy impossible. Hitchcock brings the audience into the bathroom with Marion and allows it to struggle with its own values and beliefs while Marion makes her own decision and continues with her journey.

The split personality motif reaches the height of its foreshadowing power as Marion battles both sides of her conscience while driving on an ominous and seemingly endless road toward the Bates Motel. Marion wrestles with the voices of those that her crime and disappearance has affected while the audience is compelled to recognise as to why it can so easily identify with Marion despite her wrongful actions.

As Marion's journey comes to an end at the Bates Motel, Hitchcock has successfully made the audience a direct participant within the plot. The suspicion and animosity that Marion feels while at the motel is felt by the audience. As Marion shudders while hearing Norman's mother yell at him, the audience's suspicions are heightened as Hitchcock has, at this point, made Marion the vital link between the audience and the plot.

The initial confrontation between Marion and Norman Bates is used by Hitchcock to subtly and slowly sway the audience's sympathy from...
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