Psycho Alfred Hitchcok's Psycho Was Released in Thesis
Excerpt from Thesis :
Alfred Hitchcok's Psycho was released in 1960, and encapsulates the social, psychological, and political tensions of the Cold War era. As Raubicheck and Serebnick point out, Psycho could have been a bridge to the 1960s but the film is "less linked to and reflective of the so-called radical sixties than they are of the more controlled fifties and possess more cultural texture of this earlier era," (17). The issues related to gender, sexuality, and sexual repression in the film are likewise reflective of the interest in Freudian psychoanalysis that prevailed during the 1950s. Rebello points out that the popularity of Freudian psychology and theories like the Oedipus complex are played out on the screen in Psycho. Anthony Perkins's character Norman Bates is "connected with a much larger discussion, in the early Cold War, of political and sexual deviance," (Genter 134). In Psycho, Bates becomes the archetype of the psychopath, which has important moral, social, psychological, and political implications.
The association of sexual confusion with psychopathic tendencies reflects the moral culture and prevailing social norms of mid-century America. Central to Psycho is the theme and motif of gender confusion. Bates is a transvestite, but not one who entertains. His cross-dressing is portrayed as being deeply deviant, and inextricably connected to his psychopathic and homicidal behaviors. As Tharp points out, the transformation of the transvestite into the psychopath underwrites the evolution of the horror genre to which Psycho easily belongs. As a prototypical horror and psychological thriller film, Psycho links cross-dressing, gender confusion, and deviant sexuality with homicidal behavior. The implication is clear: sexual deviance is connected with moral turpitude. The restrictive gender and sexual norms of the 1950s emerge in Psycho, whether or not Hitchcock intended to make a political statement or not. Moreover, there is a definite historical context and background for the analysis, implied by Bates's dressing up as his mother as being evidence of the Oedipal desire to fuse and merge physically with his mother.
Hitchcock cleverly creates confluence of her corpse and his cross-dressing in the final scenes of the film, to emphasize the corresponding connection to prevailing social norms. Leading up to the scene, Lila Crane (Vera Miles) comes down the stairs and sees Bates running into the house from his car. The viewer sees him as she does: through the veil of a hallway curtain. Bates does not realize he has been spotted. Lila hurries to hide under the stairs before Bates opens the door. The door closes with a slam, and Bates briefly glances at the hallway where Lila hides before rushing upstairs. The camera follows Lila closely. Lila symbolizes normative social and sexual identity. The audience needs to perceive Bates through the eyes of Lila. While Bates is upstairs, Lila decides to peek at the basement
Her visage had been illuminated with deft lighting, and now the director decides that the basement scene shall be shrouded in darkness to symbolize the darkness of the unconscious mind and the darkness of the mind of a psychopathic killer. It is in the basement where secrets are buried; the basement represents the deepest recesses of insanity. In Freudian terms, the basement symbolizes the repository of the unconscious, where the sexual impulses like the Oedipus complex are repressed to emerge either in dreams or in neuroses. Although the basement itself is dark, the lighting illuminates Lila's face and body because she represents goodness and truth. Lila opens another door in the basement, leading to a small room. In the room is a chair with an old woman seated in it. Lila slowly steps down a small flight of stairs. The viewer hears her footsteps over the soft soundtrack, as well as her first line of the scene: "Mrs. Bates!" Lila excitedly approaches Mrs. Bates.
The old woman, viewed from the back, has her hair tied in a gray bun on the back of her head. Building the suspense, Hitchcock switches back and forth between Lila and the woman in the chair, changing the point-of-view in ways that challenges the viewer's sense of perspective and judgment. Suddenly it becomes clear that Lily is poised to be the next victim; that Mrs. Bates was the victim of matricide and that Norman Bates is a psychopath who victimizes women. Bates is also consumed by the Oedipal desire to mate with his mother, which gives rise to feelings of intense guilt and shame. Bates
then transmutes his self-hatred into deviant behavior including cross-dressing, stalking, and murdering.
The mis-en-scene contributes to the sense of budding suspense. Lila touches Mrs. Bates on the right shoulder, and the camera instantly switches to Lila's view of the chair spinning around so that the mother will face her. The chair spins slowly clockwise. From a medium-range angle, the camera switches to an extreme close-up. Each straggly gray hair is visible, as is the shadow the body makes on the wall. Halfway through the rotation of the chair, the skeletal face becomes visible in all its grotesqueness. The skeleton's mouth is open teeth bared widely in a grin. The mis-en-scene is pure horror, and true to the genre. Once she perceives the skeleton, Lila's face transforms from one of curiosity to one of abject terror. Beneath the surface are the political implications related to the Cold War and nuclear fallout, which is fleshed out by the prevailing mood of impending doom. Mrs. Bates represents the archetype of death, and the unspoken consequences of psychopathic foreign policies. Hitchcock also thematically links this scene with the earlier shower scene with the soundtrack. The same piercing staccato violin music plays just as Bates appears in the doorway dressed in his mother's clothing. His face looks very much like that of the corpse with his teeth bared in an exaggerated open-mouthed grin. Bates also looks ridiculous in his high-necked plaid dressing gown, adding to the absurdity of the scene and underscoring the insanity. Lila is cornered, but Loomis comes to the rescue.
As Loomis wrestles with Bates from behind, Bates's wig falls off and his dressing gown opens. The camera switches back to Lila occasionally, to suggest to the audience their emotional reaction: which is a combination of shock and relief. Hitchcock is sure to display the wig prominently in one shot, in which the use of mis-en-scene clearly corresponds with the theme of pathologizing transvestisism. With the wig on the floor in a close-up, the director focuses on this symbolic element of cross-dressing. The wig is revealed to be the culprit, as if gender confusion and Oedipal desires are the root causes of insanity. Similarly, Hitchcock focuses on a close-up of the Mrs. Bates skull in its exaggerated grin. There is a connection between the wig (Bates's twisted sexual union with his mother) and the death of the mother, which is the ultimate outcome of the Oedipal desire. Shifting lighting is used to convey the darkening of the mother's eye sockets. Had she lived, what would she think of her son?
Moreover, Bates is emasculated in this scene by the more powerful hands and body of Loomis. The scene fades into the next, which an outside shot of the County Court House. Bates's apprehension first at the hands of a "real man," and then at the hands of the law, represents, as Genter points out, a "visible document to issue a warning about the deviant behavior lurking within each individual," (135). At the time Psycho came out in theaters, Genter notes that American government and media sources were releasing reports and studies related to deviant sexualities in relation to mental illness and the development of the "psychopathic personality," (135). The connection between psychology as a social science would seem technically unrelated to the politics of the Cold War, but it was not. In the 1950s, documents related to Soviet spies reveal the increased use of psychological language and terminology to describe Soviet spies as psychopathic. At the same time, law enforcement officials around the United States were issuing grave warnings about the sexual predators lurking the streets. Both fear of sexual deviants on the streets, and fears of global psychopathic war criminals became linked in the public mind. Psycho capitalizes easily on the link between the Cold War and psychological illness. Cross-dressing, which was then linked with "the homosexual menace," is therefore a major motif in Psycho (Genter).
Hitchcock's use of mis-en-scene and composition in Psycho serves to solidify the connection between seemingly disparate elements in the American psyche. Those disparate elements include the socially normative deviance of cross-dressing, the sexual deviance of homosexuality, the psychological deviance of the Oedipal complex, and the political deviance of communism. Using a setting that connotes absolute isolation is a cornerstone of Hitchcock's approach in the film. In Psycho, the Bates Motel is located in an out-of-the-way area. This setting emphasizes Lila's predicament, as she presumably has no access to law enforcement. Her rescue at the end therefore appears more cathartic, as if to say that all Americans will be safe no matter…
Sources Used in Documents:
Genter, Robert. "We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes': Alfred Hitchcock, American Psychoanalysis, and the Construction of the Cold War Psychopath." Canadian Review of American Studies. Vol 40, No. 2, 2010.
Hitchcock, Alfred. Psycho. Feature Film.1960.
Raubicheck, Walter and Srebnick, Walter. Scripting Hitchcock. University of Illinois Press.
Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Open Road Media.
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