Psycho Rhetorical Analysis There are many factors that contribute to making a film as a frightening as Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho, without all of the typical gruesome scenes moviegoers are used to seeing. The timeless movie Psycho is a 1960 American psychological thriller about the encounter between Marion Crane, a secretary hiding out after stealing a large amount of money, and the schizophrenic motel owner Norman Bates, both of whom must deal with the guilt and surveillance as consequences of their actions in the film.
Hitchcock establishes his message by going beyond the parameters of a conventional horror film, leaving the audience shocked with his twisted mysterious plot. The audience was not only able to feel the guilt of the protagonists through close-ups of the camera, but also feel the surveillance aspect shown through the lens focusing at a distance from the scene. These deliberate and specific camera angles set the feeling of being watched, as many experience as a result of guilt in the conscience.
Repeated uses of motifs, such mirrors, birds, and eyes, in addition to the camera’s focuses and the music played in the background, helped Hitchcock portray the themes of voyeurism and how surveillance and guilt come hand in hand. Without Marion and Norman’s feelings of getting caught, their guilt probably wouldn’t be so powerful in their minds. Anyone can be a witness to a crime, just like an audience watching a film, which makes their consciences that much more terrified. Hitchcock uses the very first scene to convey his strong surveillance and guilt message that pans out throughout the film using camerawork and text on the screen.
The first shot pans across many skyscraper buildings and finally descends and starts to go deeper into one of many windows in a “cheaper, high-rise hotel building” (Johns). There, the camera pauses at the half-open window and then voyeuristically intrudes into the darkness of the room. This effective camerawork makes the viewers feel as if they are intruding themselves. The date and time displayed on the screen is specific, yet random, it shows how something significant must have happened at that exact moment; it is the complete beginning of the themes of surveillance and guilt playing out in the film.
Although Marion was just trying to have a good time she still felt guilty for not getting back to work right away. It is later when the audience finds out how wrong her decisions become. Meanwhile the viewers are almost spying on her and her husband through the window of the hotel room. It is just one of the many ways that Hitchcock incorporates his effective camerawork and screen displays to show surveillance and guilt coming together. The guilty consciences in this film have shown to result in voyeurism, and even vice versa.
From the beginning of the movie Psycho, one of the protagonists, Marion Crane, shows her guilty conscience when she takes an extended lunch break. This sets up a precedent for the guilt complex shown in the rest of the film. Marion is so fed up with her life that she steals $40,000 to start fresh. Through the camera’s close-ups of her face, especially when she’s driving, viewers can easily see the indecisiveness and guilt she feels. Marion’s eyes are so significant that they could be viewed as the “windows of her soul” (Carr). It automatically shows the audience that she knows what she did was wrong.
The music in the background is tense as it builds louder when she’s driving, and it contributes to the portrayal of her nervousness. It is even absorbed by the audience, as people are able to feel her emotions secondhand without any needed dialogue. When the man who owns the money, Cassidy, walks by on the street and stares directly at her, it makes her feel even worse, showing his surveillance and her guilt coming together. After she encounters the cop, the camera again focuses on just her facial expression for a while, giving us more insight to how afraid she is of getting caught.
Her guilt is apparent, making the cop suspicious, so he keeps an eye on her and follows her car. He stares intently as Marion trades her car for another one, using the camera’s distant shot of him leaning against the police car to show his suspicious surveillance. Marion’s guilt manifests once she meets Norman, shown when she watches him run up the stairs to his home. The scene is shot to show the surveillance of Norman since her guilt about what she has done leads to her becoming a voyeur herself (Carr).
She has to be constantly on the lookout after what she has done so she doesn’t get caught. Psycho successfully proved how powerful guilt can become in the mind; once it is in the conscience, most people can’t help but feel like they are being watched and judged by everyone. As Marion was driving right after taking the money, she kept hearing voices in her head from people she knew that would judge her for taking the money and escaping. Her sister, Guy, Cassidy, and her other feared enemies simultaneously inhabit her own mind with questions they would’ve asked her when they found out the truth.
Hitchcock’s excellent use of multi-narrative dialogue successfully showed the internal voices that tormented Marion (Ager). He later effectively paralleled Marion’s internal guilt with that of Norman’s when viewers learn about his schizoid personality switching. Norman hears his mother’s voice in his own mind and creates this new identity for himself because of his guilt for murdering her. He hears his mother in his mind judging him on everything he does like Marion after stealing Cassidy’s money. Hitchcock shows the mental and physical toll a guilty conscience takes on an individual, no matter how big or small the crime.
Surveillance and guilt comes together in many other ways as well in this film. In addition to the deliberate close-up or distant camera shots and the high-pitched music, the motif of mirrors comes into play even from the beginning. As Marion looks into the mirror at herself, then back at the money lying on the bed behind her, she contemplates the right and wrong thing to do. These camera shots that focus back and forth from her face in the mirror to the money behind her on the bed show how her guilt and surveillance of what she is doing is coming together.
Her hesitancy is so apparent that the viewers can almost feel it themselves. The camera is positioned in a way that they can see the back of Marion’s head as she is looking through her double mirrors, so that the viewers are practically taking her place, seeing and feeling as she is. The back of her head signifies her guilty conscience, which is rubbing off on the viewers. This shot shows how everyone sees himself or herself, contemplating right from wrong decisions. Even viewers can become voyeurs as they are watching from uncomfortable close- ups in the mirror (Johns).
Nearly every scene uses mirrors, like the rear view in Marion’s car, the overhead shot in the car dealer restroom, the desk at the Bates Motel, and a whole series of mirrors that scares Lila in Mrs. Bates’ room. Through these mirrors viewers get the feeling that Norman Bates, or even the cop in some scenes, is watching at all times. Norman is guilty about what he has done and his voyeurism is prevalent and obvious, as he makes sure no one finds out the truth. It just goes to show how surveillance and guilt tend to tie together.
Another element that Psycho director Alfred Hitchcock uses throughout the film is the bird motif. Viewers see the reoccurring element throughout the entire movie, showing its significance in conveying the message of guilt and surveillance. Her last name is “Crane,” portraying her character as a bird (Old School Reviews). Marion herself is birdlike, as Norman Bates would describe it, when watching her eat. The picture on the motel wall falls to the floor when Norman discovers the shower room murder is of a bird.
When Norman says that his mother is “as harmless as one of these stuffed birds,” referring to his collection of birds and taxidermy, it signifies the importance of these creatures showing up in many parts of the film. They stand for the murderous side of Norman, always watching from the walls of his room. The dead birds are nothing but a spectacle; they are there to be seen, like a voyeur. Even further detail into the movie shows how the music in the background, like in the infamous shower scene, resembles shrieking birds (Carr). Everyone has felt guilty at one time or another in his or her life, sometime even for someone else.
The thought of being watched and getting caught is enough to frighten people who aren’t even involved in the wrong act done. Many people have also been on the other side of the act; they have seen something wrong being done and feel guilty for even watching. In Psycho, the audience is constantly implicated in the wrong acts of Marion and Norman Bates. The camerawork of the film makes the viewers feel as if they are a surveyor. In the beginning, the camera takes the audience deep under the crack of the hotel window’s shade like they are spying on Marion and Guy in the dark hotel room.
The outsiders become voyeurs, feeling guilty for invading their privacy. The audience in this movie is drawn in to everything Marion and Norman are feeling and thinking. Hitchcock effectively uses the audience to show how just about anyone can feel culpable and afraid of voyeurs no matter how trivial the act, while someone else is actually watching and feeling guilty. Guilt and voyeurism tend to come hand in hand in any sort of situation, whether it is just from spying on a couple having fun, or even witnessing a murder.
Both sides of the crime always come together, as Alfred Hitchcock successfully shows in his classic horror movie Psycho from the 1960s. He used excellent camerawork and angles, motifs of birds and mirrors, screen texts, and much more to portray his message to the audience. It was so effective that the viewers got a little taste of what it felt like to be in the position of Norman Bates, Marion Crane, and even as an outsider spying on these characters guilty consciences. The audience can even feel guilty after being voyeurs like the cop, Norman, and Marion were.