Movies A Thematic Analysis Of Alfred Hitchcock

Movies: A Thematic Analysis Of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Essay, Research Paper Movies: A Thematic Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has been commended for forming the

Movies: A Thematic Analysis Of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Essay, Research Paper

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


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 Marion to

Norman. Hitchcock compels the audience to identify with the quiet and shy

character whose devotion to his invalid mother has cost him his own identity.

After Marion and Norman finish dining, Hitchcock has secured the audience’s

empathy for Norman and the audience is made to question its previous

relationship with Marion whose criminal behaviour does not compare to Norman’s

seemingly honest and respectable lifestyle. The audience is reassured, however,

when Marion, upon returning to her room, decides to return the money and face

the consequences of her actions.

Upon the introduction of Norman, Hitchcock introduces the first of

several character parallels within Psycho. The clash between Marion and Norman,

although not apparent to the audience until the end of the film, is one of

neurosis versus psychosis. The compulsive and obsessive actions that drove

Marion to steal the money is recognisable, albeit unusual behaviour, that the

audience embraces as its sympathy is primarily directed towards her character.

The terror that Hitchcock conveys to the audience manifests itself once the

audience learns that it empathised with a psychotic person to a greater extent

than with rational one when its sympathy is shifted to Norman. The shift from

the normal to the abnormal is not apparent to the audience in the parlour scene

but the audience is later forced to disturbingly reexamine its own conscience

and character judgment abilities to discover why Norman’s predicament seemed

more worthy of its sympathy than Marion’s.

During the infamous shower scene, Hitchcock conveys a sense of cleansing

for the audience. Hitchcock has reassured the audience of Marion’s credibility

and introduced Norman as a wholesome character. The audience’s newly discovered

security is destroyed when Marion is murdered. Even more disturbing for the

audience, however, is that the scene is shot not through Marion’s eyes, but

those of the killer. The audience, now in a vulnerable state looks to Norman to

replace Marion as its main focus in its subjective role.

After Marion’s murder, the audience’s role in the film takes a different

approach. Hitchcock provokes the audience to utilise the film’s other characters

in order to solve the mystery of Marion’s death yet he still successfully

maintains the sympathetic bond between Norman and the audience. Interestingly,

Hitchcock plays on the audience’s obsession with the stolen money as the

audience knows that it had been sunk yet clings to the fact that Marion’s death

may have been a result of her crime with the introduction of Sam, Lila, and


Hitchcock uses Arbogast’s character to arouse suspicion within the

audience. Arbogast’s murder is not as intense as Marion’s because the audience

had not developed any type of subjective bond with his character. Arbogast’s

primary motivation, however, was to recover the stolen money which similarly

compels the audience to take an interest in his quest. Despite the fact that

Arbogast interrupts Norman’s seemingly innocent existence the audience does not

perceive him as an annoyance as they had the interrogative policeman who had

hindered Marion’s journey.

When Sam and Lila venture to the Bates Motel to investigate both

Marion’s and Arbogast’s disappearances, Hitchcock presents the audience with

more character parallels. As Lila begins to explore Norman’s home, Hitchcock

conveniently places Sam and Norman in the parlour where Marion had dined with

Norman before she had been murdered. As the two men face each other, the

audience is able to see their contrasting personalities in relation to Marion.

Sam, who had legitimately gained Marion’s affection is poised and respectable in

comparison to Norman, whose timid nature and sexual repression is reflected in

the scenes of Lila’s exploration of his bedroom. The conflict that arises

between Sam and Norman reflects the fact that Sam had what Norman wanted but was

unable to attain due to his psychotic nature.

Psycho concludes by providing a blatant explanation for Norman’s

psychotic tendencies. The audience, although it had received a valid explanation

for Norman’s actions, is left terrified and confused by the last scene of Norman

and the manifestation of his split personality. Faced with this spectacle,

Hitchcock forces the audience to examine its conscious self in relation to the

events that it had just subjectively played a role in.

The fear that Psycho creates for the audience does not arise from the

brutality of the murders but from the subconscious identification with the

film’s characters who all reflect one side of a collective character. Hitchcock

enforces the idea that all the basic emotions and sentiments derived from the

film can be felt by anyone as the unending battle between good and evil exists

in all aspects of life. The effective use of character parallels and the

creation of the audience’s subjective role in the plot allows Hitchcock to

entice terror and a convey a lingering sense of anxiety within the audience

through a progressively intensifying theme. Hitchcock’s brilliance as a director

has consolidated Psycho’s place among the most reputable and profound horror

films ever made.