A running theme that is presented to the audience in Psycho is the opposition that exists between good and evil. This is shown throughout the movie among the different characters. Examples can also be taken from conflicts within the characters. Certain conflicts and how the characters deal with them and each other are what shape the structure of the movie. The perception that the audience receives of the characters change throughout the movie by the different conflicts that arise. These conflicts show the audience many sides of good and evil portrayed by the different characters.
One of the first impressions of evil in this movie is the character Tom Cassidy. His character is an affluent middle aged gentleman. He portrays society’s perception of America’s upper class, snobbishly rich. Cassidy flaunts his money in Marion’s face. He talks of his eighteen-year-old daughter who is getting married the next day. As her wedding gift he is buying her a house with forty thousand dollars cash. He claims that she has never had an unhappy day in her life. Though this is unrealistic, he proudly boasts about how his money is to thank for this. Another thought from Mr. Cassidy is that money does not buy happiness, but it buys off unhappiness. His interaction with Marion was brief but very vital to the next turn of events. Mr. Cassidy asked Marion point blank if she was unhappy. Her reply “not inordinately” shows that she is not completely happy with her life(Hitchcock). The major source of her unhappiness is the fact that she can not marry her beloved Sam until he gets his feet on the ground financially. She then takes Mr. Cassidy’s advice on using money to buy off her unhappiness by stealing his money. Marion never makes a clear-cut decision. Packing her suitcase suggests that she has decided to go through with taking the money. People are able to commit acts they know are immoral only if they inhibit their conscious processes (Rothman, 262).
Leaving the money on the bed while she packs suggests that she is unsure of her decision. Forcing herself to just “do it” she packs her car and leaves, heading for Sam’s hometown. While stopped at a stoplight she sees her boss and Mr. Cassidy crossing the street. This is the first sign to Marion that her attempt to steal the money is futile. Her thoughts are becoming less and less rational and more and more desperate. When she is awakened by the police officer she is once again reminded of the futility of her situation. At this point the audience is drawn towards Marion’s flight. They want her to succeed. Her goals have become the viewers’ goals. With Marion, the audience loses all power of rational control, and discovers how easily a “normal” person can lapse into a condition usually associated with neurosis. After her encounter with the cop, Marion quickly loses her ability to think rationally. She starts to imagine conversations, and knows that Sam will never accept the money. This fact itself shows that her sense of logic is gone. A rationally thinking person would have realized that she would never get away with the crime. As Marion drives on into darkness rain begins to fall heavily. The viewers’ begin to feel as Marion does, hopeless and weary. Her endless journey takes a turn due to an illumination on the side of the road.
Marion exits her car at the Bates motel and finds a deserted office. She then turns to discover a large Transylvanian type house on the hill above the motel. A shadow is seen walking past an upstairs window, then a young man is then seen running down the stairs to greet her. He introduces himself as the proprietor of the motel, Norman Bates. As he is checking her in the two begin to converse. Norman finds out that Marion is very hungry. He offers to fix her dinner in the kitchen of the house on the hill. He shows her to her room and tells her to make herself comfortable. He said he would return once dinner was done. As Marion is left alone to unpack she hears a quarrel between Norman and his mother. The impression left by this first appearance of Norman’s mother is that of an overprotective old-fashioned woman.
Norman then comes down from the house with a tray of sandwiches. He offers her dinner in the parlor behind the office instead of up in the house. As he brings her into his parlor she notices that Norman has a very unique hobby. Taxidermy, the art of stuffing animals, is what Norman does to fill his time. He informs Marion that he only likes to stuff birds because he does not like how other beasts look stuffed. He also draws a parallel between caged birds and himself. His talk of being trapped makes Marion realize the extent of her present condition. Norman tells her, “We’re all in our private trap. We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it we never budge an inch”(Hitchcock). The viewer is compelled towards Norman despite his withdrawal that seems due to his circumstances. They pity him for his situation of devotion and self sacrifice for the benefit of his mother. Norman saves Marion from further problems. A simple question was asked of her by Norman, who had no idea of the profound effect that his question would have on the young woman sitting across from him in his parlor. Norman says to Marion “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” (Hitchcock). To which Marion replies, “Sometimes just one time can be enough. Thank you” (Hitchcock). The thank you at the end of her sentence implies that Marion has regained a rational state of mind. She is thinking more clearly now and realizes that she needs to return the money. After she thanks Norman for dinner she returns to her room, and prepares for a shower. The audience sees Marion under the showerhead. Her movements are almost ceremonial. Her facial expressions show the relief she feels of washing away her guilt. As she is bathing, a shadow can made out from behind the shower curtain. As the figure rips away the shower curtain, the audience is appalled to see Mrs. Bates attack the defenseless bather. The attack continues until Marion is seen reaching for the shower curtain as her last salvation. Her death is as irrational and as useless as the theft of the money.
Following the attack Norman’s voice is heard panicky, over finding his mother with a bloody knife. Concern for the young woman in cabin one makes Norman run down the hill to the motel. He is horrified at the slaughter his mother committed. After almost becoming ill, he begins the unpleasant task of cleaning up. He does this because he feels it is his duty to fix his mother’s mistakes. The audience, still reeling after the death of Marion, needs a new character to focus on. Norman soon finds a place in the hearts of the audience. For one thing, Norman is an intensely sympathetic character, sensitive, and vulnerable. The fact that he is unbalanced merely serves to evoke protective instincts. He is a likeable human being in an unbearable situation, desperately in need of help and protection yet unable to obtain it. Following the aftermath of the murder and clean up, the audience next encounters Lila, Marion’s sister, meeting with Sam. She tells him she is in search of Marion, when a strange voice tells them both the same thing. The voice comes from a middle-aged man who introduces himself as a detective. Everyone is in search of Marion for different reasons, yet they all have the same goal in mind. When they decide to work together, Arbogast sets out to check all of the hotels in the area. He leaves Lila and Sam behind to wait for his call. Just before Arbogast is ready to give up his search of the hotels, he encounters the Bates Motel. Deciding to check it out, he finds Norman in the office. Not seeing anything odd, he introduces himself and begins to ask questions about Marion Crane. Unable to get the answers he wishes, and sensing an uneasiness about Norman, he asks to look at the guest register.
Recognizing the woman’s handwriting, he again questions Norman who then begins to back away from the answers he had given previously. Getting some of the answers that he desired he leaves the motel and calls Lila and Sam from a pay phone. He proceeds to explain that Marion had been at the motel earlier in the week, but had only spent one night and had left early the next morning. Deciding that he needed some more questions answered, he told Lila that he was going to return to the motel but that he would meet them within the hour.
Returning to the motel, he encounters no one. Seeing a shadow in the upstairs window, he begins the ascent to the house on the hill. Finding the front door unlocked, he enters. Once inside the house, Aborgast sees a staircase leading to the upstairs bedroom. As he reaches the top of the staircase, Mrs. Bates emerges from the room yielding a knife. After being stabbed, he falls down the stairs where Mrs. Bates proceeds to stab him to death. After more than an hour had passed Lila finally convinced Sam that Arbogast would not just go on without letting them know. She is convinced that something happened and that they need to go check out the Bates motel themselves. When they check into the motel they pretend to be married. They devise a plan to corner Mrs. Bates. Sam detains Norman in the office while Lila searches the house. Once inside the Bates’ home Lila sneaks around carefully. She finds Mrs. Bates bedroom where everything is in perfect order, as if its been a long time since its been used. The audience can almost smell the stale air that envelops the room. Lila then finds her way up to Norman’s room. You get the impression from his room that something is not right. The room looks like it belongs to a young boy and not to a grown man. After a careful search of the upstairs Lila still has not located Mrs. Bates. So she heads downstairs to look for her. As she does this she sees Norman running frantically for the house. She steps into the fruit cellar for a place to hide. Instead of finding a sanctuary she is terrified by the skeletal remains of an old woman. With this finding Lila cannot control herself and she screams aloud. With this a woman with long white hair runs down the cellar steps towards Lila with a huge knife. Sam screams right before the woman has a chance to harm Lila. A battle of strength between Sam and the woman then takes place. During the struggle a wig is knocked off of the woman’s head revealing Norman. The audience is in disbelief at this point. The next scene takes place at the police station. Where a psychiatrist is busy talking to Norman. When he is done examining Norman he goes into the room where Lila and Sam are anxiously waiting. He then describes in detail what is going on in Norman’s mind. After his explanation the movie goes into the room where Norman/Mother is sitting alone. There is a fly in the room with her and she knows that people are watching her. Her last thought that the audience hears is her saying “Why she wouldn’t even harm a fly” (Hitchcock).
Alfred Hitchcock is renown as a master cinematographer (and editor), notwithstanding his overall brilliance in the craft of film. His choice of black and white film for 1960 was regarded within the film industry as unconventional since color was perhaps at least five years the new standard. But this worked tremendously well. After all, despite the typical filmgoer’s dislike for black and white film, Psycho is popularly heralded among film buffs as his finest cinematic achievement; so much so, that the man, a big name in himself, is associated with the film, almost abovehis formidable stature. Imagining it in color, Psycho would not appear as horrific, and maybe it would also not be, as a whole, as unified as it now stands, nor memorable. Black and white has a quality of painting things starkly, showing plainly truths about character, the emotional determination or mood, as in vulnerability, and other inexplicable, purely artistic elements. Regular among his works, Hitchcock opens the film with a hovering crane shot coasting over the setting of Phoenix, Arizona. Even without the mysterious, chilling soundtrack, the shot itself watched in silence evokes a timid passage into danger. In a long take it sweeps across the cityscape to build initial curiosity in the viewer, and then surpasses a curtain-drawn window into the presence of a hotel room’s trysting occupants. Immediately the viewer is called into confronting his/her discretion regarding those things we are not customarily meant to see, in such ideas as privacy and good taste. How far should the law step into a man’s world before he is discovered with reasonable certitude for engaging in illegal activities? This question can still come to mind about Norman Bates when he’s interrogated by Arbigast, even though it follows his murder of Marion Crane. Norman obviously growing in tension, the camera sadistically watches him from a low angle, bearing its aim on his throat as he feverishly chews and swallows candy corn bits. He’s suggested as a victim in a way, despite the viewer’s (probably, (in moral optimism)) routine support of the law.
One can feel sorry for him. And how much do we question Norman’s character as he spies Marion undressing through the parlor wall peephole? Particularly today the viewer would likely question it less than one watching Psycho during its first, theatrical release, what with modern films’ overwashing of the senses in gore, mechanical sex and violence to program unconscious indifference in viewers. Maybe it doesn’t come to mind as readily because right after seeing the profile shot of Norman hiding in the peephole light and shadows, there’s a cut to the camera’s -- or the viewer’s -- voyeuristic assault on Marion’s privacy. This lessens Norman’s culpability. But noticing him in the act brings wonder to uncovering peoples’ secrets. Maybe these examples suggest engrossment of passive violence or wrong to such a modest intensity that the horror of the murder scenes still shock today’s viewer. Of course those scenes are further dramatized by Hitchcock’s fast editing; indicative of how wild and dangerous events occur within a trice of time in real life. And the awe is preserved by not mulling over the active violence in any indulgence, or further screen time. Mastery of just a few core elements in film apparently intensify its experience; of all, a compelling synergism for even an ordinary story.