How does Alfred Hitchcock manipulate the audience to make the viewing of Psycho a frightening or worrying experience? Essay
For this essay I am going to describe, in detail, what Alfred Hitchcock did to make Psycho an innovative film, a new one that hadn’t been around before. It is famous because at the time it had a huge effect on the audience, we’re analysing how and why it did.
In the 1950’s America had a totally different disposition. There were certain boundaries for films in the past. There was never any flesh shown that was too provocative, kissing wasn’t included in films. For example at the end of a big love scene between two people there was no big kiss, people would kiss on the cheek.
When films were being played in multiplexes, anyone could walk in at anytime as films were on a loop, with cartoons and the news interspersed into it. Hitchcock wanted to change the course of cinematic history, so he changed the whole process of presenting, producing, making and promoting a film. This was so he could get to the fan base he wanted, so he could create a mass emotion and following.
He wouldn’t let anything else be shown in the cinema and everyone queuing outside would have to keep quiet about what they were to see. No one could suddenly walk in halfway through; you either saw it or you didn’t. The film had many theatrical trailers to make you feel interested in seeing the movie. A lot of work went into producing a film that was exciting and new, whilst trying to get around the censors.
The audience had certain expectations. In the trailer Hitchcock manipulated these expectation s to create a sense of an “enigma”, to entice the people to see the film and unfold the mystery. In one full length trailer he walked around the house, leaving clues and trying to tell you what happened. He went in important places in Norman’s house and made it crystal clear that something odd was going to happen. He then went into the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain to show Marion screaming, which set people a-back. He made them see little tiny snippets of the house to make them more and more intrigued. He used his monotone voice and guide like way and this set people up for a large climax.
Posters were used to create an effect that people thought certain things weren’t what they seemed. Marion looked like she could be the main character for the whole film, which towards the middle and end, isn’t true. The posters used bright colour, and showed Marion in her bra and slip, which was again another daring flight. It was enticing and risquï¿½ and had never been done before.
The audience expected a normal story. A beginning, middle and an end, which meant that a normal classic narrative would have to be used;
The film would start with equilibrium. A balanced calm, then a disruption would happen, something to break up the story, then there would be equilibrium, where everything would be happy again, then there would be an ending, a clear ending with not many twists or turns. This would settle things, but could also leave a light open for a sequel perhaps. In Physcho there was a beginning, middle and end and this was kept up with twist and turns and the main journey of the protagonist.
At the beginning we see a title telling us the time, date, where we are set. This makes us feel voyeuristic, like we are secretly watching. This makes us want to know more about the characters, we feel empathy for them, if any is needed. We look through the window of Sam and Marion during their lunch hour. In the early 50s these scenes would be frowned upon due to Marion in her bra and slip and Sam in his trousers. Premarital sex and lunch breaks for women were wrong at the time and this film showed it in a different light. Already the audience are surprised. This is what Alfred wanted to do, scare them, yet make them feel part of something they hadn’t been part of before. This gave people a sense of belonging in some way, that they could be part of something, that was risquï¿½ and innovative.
When Marion wants to get married to Sam, it is obvious she would do anything to have it. When the money from the agent is placed into her lap, literally, she takes it. You can sense she will do something with the money and won’t do what is expected. We all have a bad side that wants her to get away with her taking the money and leaving Phoenix but we want to stay with her in case she gets caught.
As the film progresses her clothes change to darker colours which depict that she is evil deep down. As she is driving and she starts hearing and imagining things you begin to feel uptight with her and that something will happen. Then when the policeman stops her and follows her you feel that she may not get away with her crime after all and that the film will be about her getting into trouble. At this point we expect Marion to be the main character, the protagonist, for the WHOLE of the film. But then when she is rescued by Norman you feel he will bring back the good in her and make her return the money. Normal is seen as a nice, good looking, sensitive soul who will help her.
We are tricked into empathising with Marion and see she isn’t so bad. But then suddenly halfway through Marion is killed whilst washing away her sorrows in the shower by a shadowy figure who we assume is Norman’s decrepit mother. This then breaks up the classic narrative by planting red herrings all throughout the film, which is shown by a surprise, which leads to a shock and then a disorientation of the film for maybe even a second of the story.
When Marion clings onto the shower curtain, we are with her through her final fight for life, there is a close up of her hand, we see her slipping away and feel that the killer has affected her only chance of doing well again and has killed off the main character.
The protagonist then becomes Norman as we see him frantically try to get rid of Marion and help out what has gone wrong. We see he is shocked and scared and doesn’t know what to do. We feel he is odd but feel sorry for him also. We are made to feel this by his timid behaviour and the fact that he looks like he could get riled up very easily, we know he loved his mother or “loves” her and feels really close to her. We are yet again tricked to empathise with him. This causes lots of different things for the audience to think about, a series of questions arise. For example, is it mother? Or is it someone else, is she really dead?
When Arbogast the detective comes into the picture we almost feel he is the killer due to his odd nature. But after a few scenes we see him killed by mother, another person added to her list and we know that she is now an evil figure. We hear mother and see her silhouette in the window a lot and you think she is real. This makes us think that Norman is kept away by mother and can’t control her.
We think this way up until the end of the actual movie, when in one of the final scenes where Lila (Marion’s sister) finds a DEAD mother in the cellar, and then realising Norman is the killer before he nearly kills her. As she is saved by Sam. The scene showing mother was scary and shocking and kept you guessing. You may have thought mother was alive and would stab Lila when in fact it was Norman. In the last scene we see Norman in a cell with mother’s voice being played.
This scene makes you uneasy again, which holds up the closing of the ending. It then sets a question mark, which could possibly make way for a sequel and make you think that the story has many years to follow after this. This makes us think that there was a set narrative all along yet there were added bits to it to manipulate your thoughts or how you felt about it.
In the shower scene, the editing makes you think you can see something, when really it was just the knife missing Marion’s bare body. There is more than one shot a second and this makes you scared and frantic. The pace is fast therefore making you concentrate more looking at things, you might not of seen, making you feel giddy, like you are in on the action. This then manipulates you more, making you think you saw something.
In the Arbogast scene the cutting is more a view of Arboagast and more slow and normal and you don’t see the knife go in at all. There are a lot of eye level shots so you feel that you are with him as he falls down the stairs. And the view of mother in both scenes is blurred or not clear and you don’t actually know if it is in fact her doing the killings. There are a lot of overhead shots, like you are looking in on the action yet again.
The sound is high pitched at the actual killing, using only strings to give that scared effect. Before hand the music is calm yet menacing as it travels up slowly getting louder, then a large imaginary bang happens leading the strings to creep in.
All you can hear in the shower scene before Marion gets killed is the shower and the creaking of the door and stairs in the Arbogast scene.
The lighting is generally dark and moody, causing a scary effect through all scenes. In both scenes you don’t know whether it is night or day due to the darkness and black and white colouring of the screen.
In the Arbogast scene, the only light you see is the room in which mother comes out of, but you don’t know what it is. This makes you think that something may be in there, or it may be the simplest explanation.
In the discovery of mother scene, the cellar is very dark and there are a lot of close-ups on Lila’s face. This flashes from her face to the house for a long time until she finds mother. It is then flashes to mother as well as the tension builds. When her face is finally revealed there is a few seconds where you think it’s still her, when in fact it’s Norman, who runs in to be kept back by Sam. Each cut is close-up after close-up. Before in Arbogasts murder and Marion’s, the scenes were shot overhead sometimes which gave us the sense that we shouldn’t be around and that we were being peeking Tom’s, being nosy.