A breakdown of the movie, Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock

1). Synopsis:

In a hotel room, two lovers are discussing their future high above the busy city. After lunch Marion Crane, the main character, becomes frustrated with the seemingly unfair world and decides to escape by taking the opportunity to steal 40,000 dollars from her employer so she can start a new life with her lover.

On her way to freedom guilt starts to overtake her and she becomes nervous and hurried. Rain and exhaustion force her to spend the night at an obscure hotel off the main road, the Bates Motel. It is here that she meets Norman Bates, the fragile looking hotel owner whose conversation over dinner convinces Marion to stop running and return the money, to escape trap of guilt she has put herself in.

Unfortunately, Marion never gets the chance to redeem herself because that night Norman’s jealous mother murders her. After Marion’s death, Norman becomes the protagonist. It is painful to watch as Norman hides Marion’s body in an attempt to protect his mother from being discovered. It seems like he/they are going to get away with it, until a private detective comes looking for Marion and the 40,000 dollars. Before he can discover too much, he is also murdered by Norman’s mother.

Here, the point of view in the movie switches again from Norman to Marion’s sister and Marion’s boyfriend who are also searching for her. They become curious about the detective’s disappearance and go looking for him. It is they who uncover the dual personality of Norman. Later we learn it was his alter ego/Mother who killed Marion, the detective, and some other people in the past.

2). Central Theme:

According to the Article on Psycho by Michael Schmidt the theme is the dual nature of humanity.

“ Throughout the film, snippets of the dual nature of humanity present themselves, and throughout the film, lighting, camera angle and mise-en-scene make their contributions to the total concept. Their presence in the movie is consistent and each shift is justifiable, yet nowhere in the film do these three elements come together with greater effect and with greater contrast than in Norman’s parlor. The scene becomes like Hitchcock himself who hides in plain sight within his own films. Our fun is looking for what lies in front of us. Hitchcock’s fun is hiding it from us.”

–From, the Parlor Scene in Psycho: Images of duality by Michael Schmidt

3). Set-up:

Doomed or trapped lovers and the theft of 40,000 dollars.

 4). First plot point:

The first plot point in Hitchcock’s Psycho is the parlor scene at Bates Motel. This event turns Marion around from trying to escape her problems to dealing with them.

5). Second plot point:

The second plot point in Hitchcock’s Psycho is the basement scene. This event turns Norman from a dual personality to a single by illuminating the reality of his mother’s corpse and destroying his illusion.

6). Other plot points:


7). Plant:

  1. The scene begins with what appears to be an innocent invitation from Norman to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), the unsuspecting guest at the bates Motel, to come into “the parlor.” The use of the word parlor—as in “Come into my parlor’ said the spider to the fly”—establishes the tenor of the scene. The significance of this brief line becomes all the more apparent at the end of the film when Norman’s “mother”, who has by now consumed Norman’s mind and soul, looks directly into the cameras and says that “she” would not “even hurt a fly.”

–From, the Parlor Scene in Psycho: Images of duality by Michael Schmidt

  1. The small note Marian writes while in Bates Hotel. This takes on greater meaning later at the payoff when her sister and boyfriend find a piece of the note. This proves that she had been in the hotel room with the money, and it inspires them to keep looking.
  2. The 40,000 dollars is a plant. It takes on greater meaning at the end of the film when the other characters learn that Norman’s crime was a crime of passion, not one of greed. It becomes even more meaningful as we watch the car being dragged out of the mud in the last few moments of the film. As viewers we see the money and the body in the trunk, and think about their value. The 40,000 dollars that was originally to buy away unhappiness was useless, or valueless, in the end.

8). Objective Correlatives:

  1. The bird is Marion objective correlative because, as Norman points out, she eats like a bird. The bird is famous for eating little but really eats a lot, just like the seemingly passive Marion who is capable of more action than her employer thought. Like the birds Marion will become trapped by Norman and then stuffed into a trunk. Her last name, Crane, is also a reference to a bird.
  2. The shadow is Norman Bates Objective Correlative as stated by William C. Martell in his essay on Psycho. “Norman is often shown in half shadow, his face divided into light and darkness… both a man and a silhouette at the same time. The separating Norman into two halves, one dark and one light, Hitchcock visually shows us the struggle within the character.”

-Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho by William C. Martell

9) Subtextual analysis:

In William C. Martell’s article on Psycho he suggests that Psycho may be a story about trapped characters. It is easy to see many situations that are traps for the different characters. Norman is a “quiet kid trapped in the family business.” Norman’s mother character is trapped within Norman. Marion goes from being a “trapped lover” to being trapped by running from her guilt/police, “she can’t run forever.” Also Sam Loomis (Marion’s boyfriend) is trapped by his debts and his ex-wife.

10). Philosophical, political, or social themes:

Philosophically Psycho suggests that quick solutions do not lead to happiness. Drugs are not the solution as Marion says, “Can’t buy happiness with a pill,” when her co-worker suggests she take something for her headache. Also, half hearted solutions to problems don’t last, “Headaches are like resolutions, they go away once they stop bothering you.” Easy money is also not the answer, although Marion must discover this for herself. Tom, the wealthy man suggests that money is happiness by saying, “everyone has a price,” or “I can buy off unhappiness with 40,000 dollars.” Marion tries to buy off unhappiness by stealing the 40,000 dollars. But Marion discovers too late that everything has a price, and it’s not always in dollars. She realizes that running from the law and living a lie is a trap or a price too big for her.

11). Meaning or significance of the title, Psycho: 

Psycho defined by the dictionary is the mind. The title is significant because Psycho is about the unknown functions of the mind, or how as Norman says, “ We all go a little mad sometimes…” We all have the capability of acting unlike ourselves and discovering our own dual personalities. Who knows what is hidden deep in the mind?

12.) Other comments:

  1. I was really interested in the Bates house bedroom scene with Lila, Marion’s sister. Here, Lila becomes startled by a woman in a mirror which she sees while looking in another mirror. She turns quickly around only to see the woman is herself reflected across the room in a different mirror. This scene suggests that we are all capable of surprising ourselves by seeing ourselves from a different point of view. We all hide things from ourselves. It’s possible an unfriendly mirror might make us confront aspects of ourselves we find frightening.
  2. Because the main character changes through the film I found it difficult to define the plot points by the definition provided by Syd Field. It is possible to see these changes in protagonists as the plot points in the film. In the essay by William C. Martell on Psycho he points out, “ Marion decides to return the $40,000. It’s here that Hitchcock pulls one of the most amazing stunts in cinema history. He switches protagonists… when Marion leaves the motel about 50 min into the film, we stay with Norman… Tony Perkins becomes the star, and we follow Norman’s difficulties dealing with his domineering and hot-tempered mother…. About 80min into the film, Hitchcock pulls off his next miracle… He passes off the story from Norman Bates to Sam Loomis and Marion’s sister Lila…Each time we are passed to the next character, we are thrust into their problems, scrambling to find a way out of their little trap… a path to the private paradise. The goals of the last character become the obstacles for the next character to overcome.”
  3. I also thought it was interesting that, according to the Article by William C. Martell on Psycho, Ted Knight from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is a policeman in one of the final shots