Boredom never looked so good
Psycho boring? What blasphemy!
Psycho is unusual for many reasons, but in some ways the most important is the mere fact that it is in black-and-white. By the time Hitchcock came to make the black-and-white Psycho he had already been directing color for years. Color cinema is very different from black-and-white, of course, and for many reasons. To go from black-and-white to color means that major changes in technique are essential – lighting, use of shadows and contrast, even composition require a very different approach from black-and-white. Such changes are comparable to the transition from silent to sound movies, if not quite on the same scale. Psycho, reverting to the earlier conventions, is thus not simply a black-and-white movie (very boring for many non-film aficionados). It is a throwback, but not exactly, since it is a black-and-white movie made in the light of extensive work in color cinematography.
Even more important: Hitchcock had been working on his b/w TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for several years by then, and had undoubtedly learned much from the claustrophobic constraints of that medium, especially in TV’s early and black-and-white days, when “shades of grey” would better describe the quality of early “black” and “white.”1 Hitchcock himself associated Psycho with television, and, in truth, Psycho is a television movie – a movie specifically in the era of television and adapted to the claustrophobic demands of the bug-eyed monster. Hence Psycho has stylistic features that are not the norm in the pre-color black-and-white movies that Hitchcock directed in all of his earlier career. This one is different.2
Apart from the extravagances of Vertigo, Hitchcock’s use of color as he shifted to the new post-b/w era is comparatively restrained and modest, as if in a process of acclimation to the new visual regime. Hitchcock was, needless to say, acutely aware of color and its powers, as in his use of the red blast at the end of the black-and-white Spellbound, when Murchison’s gun goes off, aimed directly at the viewer. The effect anticipates similar color shocks in Vertigo (like Spellbound, Vertigo is about mental breakdown) – as well as in Rear Window, with its astounding flashbulb sequence.3 Rope, Hitchcock’s first color movie, has a definite experimental interest in the use of color.4 The changes to sky color seem to be there as much for their own sake as to look like reality, and for some are the most memorable thing about Rope. It is a self-conscious display, as if daring a viewer to find fault with this reproduction of the sky – watching those clouds and that evening sky change could easily get away with us. Still, Rope is restrained – until it gives in to a burst of color madness at the end, but again, as in Spellbound, intense color is brief, precise: to indicate mental crisis, breakdown, and a life-and-death twist in the plot.
But typically, Hitchcock’s pre-Psycho color movies keep color in hand, in order to do what movies should do, in Hitchcock’s view: tell a great story. Color, like everything else, must be subordinated to this primary function of creating a gripping story. For its use of color, Vertigo is exceptional, as Vertigo is exceptional in so many other respects: its display suggests the excitement of uninhibited experimentation, as of a director finally cutting loose with the paint-box. In spite of its delirious color and light effects, at times not far off the kind of color explosion of movies such as The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus by another experimental English director (Michael Powell), Vertigo keeps these effects within the orbit of the story as vivid expression of the subjective turmoil of its protagonist and the intrigue of the plot that engulfs him. One never feels that the color displays are there for their own sake, but because the plot demands them. The protagonist is plunging into a crazy world: the use of color suggests entry to another dimension of existence.
By the time he gets to Psycho, his final b/w movie, Hitchcock has absorbed and worked through the medium of color, alternately underdoing it (Rope) and overdoing it (Vertigo) and coming to a complete mastery in North by Northwest. Color in North by Northwest is beautifully choreographed: for most of the film, color is tactful and does not draw attention to itself, but that very restraint allows certain sequences to stand out all the more vividly (for example, the descent of Mount Rushmore, where the night-time blue and the striking red of Eve Kendall’s dress are particularly intense).
Then comes Psycho. Hitchcock returns to black-and-white for a major movie, after years of working in color, after years of exploring and mastering color possibilities, as well as getting to know firsthand the harsh restrictions of pioneer television. Psycho was probably impossible without that training. Many people now have never watched a black-and-white movie. For them, Psycho can be a shock, simply because it is not in color. They have the attitude, how can a movie that isn’t in color be interesting or even tolerable? (Perhaps with the rise of 3D movies, the now familiar “2D” movie will elicit a similar oh-no reaction in the future.) But if any movie can change people’s minds about black-and-white, it is Psycho. So how dare it be called “boring”!
Psycho is not boring in the sense of being tedious. All right, all right: the zombies among us may find it so. No: it is boring in the sense of being deeply engaged with boredom. It is a movie about boredom. In the regime of color, black-and-white is boring, anyway. This at least was the experience of TV viewers when color television dislodged its inferior b/w predecessor. In Psycho, even the settings, with few exceptions, are relentlessly boring. Look at the Bates Motel: as dull and shabby and dead looking a place as one can imagine. Nor is it dead in an interesting Gothic-Romantic or even merely morbid style: no, it is just boring. Even the trees, barely more than sticks, look dead; they look like impossibly cheap props. Not a lot of eye-catching flower arrangements around this motel! It is deliberately boring – more important it is visually deliberately dull.5 It looks like a place no one would give a second thought to – just like the nondescript “cheap” hotel at the beginning, like the real estate office Marion works in, like downtown Phoenix, like the used-car lot, like the highway to nowhere that is Marion’s highway to heaven . . .
This stylistic feature of Psycho – its boring settings – in fact its theme of the boring quotidian – is fundamental to this profound masterpiece and repays attention, sometimes in surprising ways, as we shall see.6 By boredom I do not mean the fashionable malady associated with a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, in Thorstein Veblen’s famous phrase. This kind of boredom is much more like a crisis of belief, not belief in some religious denominational sense, but a collapse of meaning in life, the feeling that what one is doing and how one is living mean less and less. For Marion in Psycho, as in a smaller way for her boyfriend Sam (for Norman, also), boredom expresses a failure to make life mean anything: the anxiety that there is no connectedness to what matters, to what makes life valuable. One is useless. Sufferers from this condition are out of touch with “the ground of being,” in Paul Tillich’s phrase; they feel that their life has no value, no purpose, and above all no social function. Without a sense of participating meaningfully in the lives of others, there is neither dignity nor freedom. “Boredom” is what you get when you lack this vital connection. Such boredom generates panic, and is thus far more than the fatigue of an unsatisfying routine – though it is that, too.
Psycho is noticeably bare of visually interesting objects. In particular, there are no tableaux of wealth or scenes of lavish display – the kind of visual scenery that Hitchcock loved and sometimes went out of his way to feature. There are no magnificent hotels or splendid lobbies, no wealthy homes or expensive restaurants or country clubs or chic apartments such as we find in To Catch a Thief or North by Northwest or Rebecca or The 39 Steps or Strangers on a Train or Notorious or To Catch a Thief or even Rope. Nor are there the scenes of bustling public spaces – no train stations (or trains, for that matter), resorts, or even shops, no art galleries or cinemas. No scene of social excitement or stimulus. The only “crowd” scene is when Marion Crane is driving out of Phoenix in her getaway and stops for a red light. But what does this minor crowd scene show? She is stopped at a red light. Her boss “happens” to cross at that light at that very moment and sees her as he walks directly in front of her car. The crowd is just a crowd, a prop or background against which one person will look at and recognize Marion: the setting for the boss who now catches her in a disturbing lie. The coincidence of being seen by her boss as she runs with the money suggests that things are stacked against her. There is no way out.
What is interesting about Marion – and about Psycho – is that Marion is guilty. She is not in the classic Hitchcock predicament of being an innocent accused; she is not on the run because she is falsely accused. She did indeed steal the money, and she is indeed guilty of a serious crime. This is not the usual Hitchcock protagonist. Usually the protagonist is framed by the bad guys, and the frame gets tighter as the story progresses, each episode increasing desperation. But here it is different. The curious thing about Marion, however, is that she is innocent, and we feel it, as an audience. She is an innocent criminal, as are, in a different way, the falsely accused figures in other Hitchcock movies.
What Marion is escaping from, when the boss literally catches her, is the boring work world, with all its pressures and anxieties. The work world is an important motif in Hitchcock, often associated with clerking in a shop (in Frenzy, working as a server in a bar). This is the world that Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train is determined to climb out of. He wants to leave an unsatisfactory – working – woman behind, along with her milieu, the working-class culture that woman represents, in order to make the transition to a higher station in life symbolized by the leisure-class daughter of a senator and by the tennis set. It must be emphasized that the world he is determined to climb out of is the same world that almost all of the population inhabit – including the viewers of the movie.
In Psycho, rather than glamorous settings, there is a drab, cheap-looking office (note the huge picture of a barren desert hanging above Marion’s work station); a cut-rate hotel (Sam actually describes it as “cheap”) that could be anywhere on the planet; a highway that could be anywhere in the western United States; a featureless used car from a featureless used car lot (complete with a tour of its dark and spartan gas-station washroom); a hardware store crammed with dusty-looking household stuff with only a single customer – an elderly party who talks about killing bugs; a motel room whose most notable feature is a toilet; a small-town police station interchangeable with any low-level bureaucratic government establishment in its ugly furnishings. There are no Long Island mansions or luxury hotels (North by Northwest), no over-the-top costume parties (To Catch a Thief), no grand galleries (Vertigo, Torn Curtain) – not even the glamorous locales of many of the earlier b/w films of the 1930s. No upscale thé-dansant scene, even, such as we find at the end of Young and Innocent.
Visually, there isn’t much of interest in Psycho in terms of things – with a few notable exceptions like Marion in her black bra, Norman’s weird stuffed birds, the ugly bric-à-brac of the museum-like mansion behind the motel. And oh yes, there is that mummified mama down in the cellar . . . But interesting objects in the sense of expensive furnishings, cars or exciting vehicles, clothes, and so on? This movie is really bare. It looks cheap. And it literally was cheap, given its minimal budget and brief shooting period. Even the opening tableau – Phoenix, Arizona, carefully labeled with date and time, as if to distinguish it from anywhere else any time else – looks boring. Apart from some distant grim mountains, it is Anywhere U.S.A., hardly the locale of anything interesting, as we zoom toward the sex window. In a world of boredom, windows automatically acquire a magnetic interest – and so does sex, especially sex with any difference, any frisson of the illicit. In Psycho, Hitchcock already gives us what became a cliché: complacent, routine, middle-class America conceals a seamy and alienated and even murderous world, a twilight zone which some are bold enough to enter – or foolish enough to fall into.7
Psycho doesn’t furnish even the cheerful small-town look of Shadow of a Doubt, where the complacent quotidian is emphasized, without any sense of tedium or oppressive routine. Young Charlie in Doubt complains of being bored, but we know that her boredom is just the itchiness of adolescence and not the real thing, not the malady that Marion steals and dies to rebel against. Family typifies the world of Shadow of a Doubt – and is utterly absent in Psycho. In Psycho, human beings are atomized and disconnected. The closest we get to any sense of social community in Psycho is the scene of the sheriff and his wife after church – going to church being the formal marker of approved social conformity: boring! (Are there other church-going scenes in Hitchcock?)
Hitchcock insists on social disintegration-alienation as well as on keeping the look of Psycho, well, dull. A similar combination – no social solidarity (indeed, marital disintegration) plus drabness of setting – characterizes The Wrong Man. The Wrong Man is conspicuously also a film, like Psycho, about money, about the entrapment and mental disintegration that those who do not have money are liable to fall into. Otherwise, to find such grim drabness as Psycho revels in, one has to go back to the urban scenes of Hitchcock’s 1930s Depression movies, Sabotage or the 1935 Man Who Knew Too Much, for example: the world where fascism is imminent. Nor does Psycho offer the stimulus of adventure in exotic locations – no wild treks across wild Scotland here, as in The 39 Steps, no Alpine vistas as in Secret Agent, or scrambles on Mount Rushmore, as in North by Northwest. In Psycho, we go places. But we do not get anywhere.
What the drabness of the film does is to intensify, by virtue of contrast, the acting, the emotion, the script, direction, and camera work – but above all the bravura acting, especially by Leigh and Perkins, whose careers in some respects never recovered from the unforgettable performances they gave in this film. They are too good in these roles: they are overpowering in their dramatization of the predicaments of their characters. This is a stripped-down movie, almost an experiment in eliminating anything that could distract from the drama itself. Hitchcock was fascinated by the possibilities of deliberately stripping things down and letting the action emerge full force – one thinks of Lifeboat or Rope, for instance, movies where physical movement, setting, and cast are minimized. But unlike those movies, Psycho has a driving, anxious, turbulent pacing that pushes the drab settings aside one after another as we rush to the final tableau of Norman, alone, in a deadly white room with nothing but a fly – followed at once by the shot of a car being pulled from the swamp, laden with dead Marion, returning from the oblivion to which Norman had judge-like condemned her.
For such a drab-looking movie, there isn’t one single scene that isn’t visually gripping.8 Psycho is an extraordinary achievement – to make such cinematic brilliance out of such minimal, in fact boring, materials.
Again and again in this movie, the most astounding effects are created with the most unremarkable objects. For instance: the scenes of Norman, standing alone, observing, in the swamp, his clever disposal of victims – we see Norman and a bleakly nondescript background, and a fleeting look of triumph, of evil, on a face that now looks totally different from the boyish Norman with his bag of candy and his wholesome pitcher of milk. That is all, and yet the scene is riveting. . . . Marion, the secretary, at her desk, looking stonily politely at the man in the big hat lolling on her desk and waving money in her face. Marion alone in the car, staring forward into the vacuum of the viewer’s space, driving at night, acting with nothing except her fingers gripping the wheel – and her staring, magnificent eyes. . .9 Norman, under the shadow of his stuffed bird of prey. . . . A woman, a shower curtain, a bathtub – and a shadow. . . .
Hitchcock shows what can be done with a bathtub drain, which, one would imagine, would be about as interesting as, well, a bathtub drain. In this movie it becomes the very emblem of annihilation, projecting cosmic warning.10 Likewise, the brief opening shot, when the camera zooms in on an ugly, featureless building, then a window, then through the window. The scene in the used-car lot, where Marion is driving away in her new old car, and three tall men in the used-car lot march forward into the screen, lined up, staring after her: this is an amazingly sinister tableau, especially for such a commonplace sight – just three ordinary guys at an ordinary car lot, looking. The three men staring after her could be zombies out of Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead smelling a meal. And of course, there’s that scene in the cellar with Mrs. Bates: a dead face, a bright light, and a screaming woman. All so simple. And yet not so simple after all.
Psycho is utterly bereft of visually interesting objects (apart from Janet Leigh in her bra) – everything is quotidian, boring, even mundane or ugly – the whole power of this astounding movie is in the acting, script, camera angle – it’s “pure cinema,” to use one of Hitchcock’s favorite terms of praise. Drab settings dominate: the hardware store; the ugly hotel room and the unattractive place where Marion lives, or tries to live; the boring office and unremarkable streets of Phoenix. And, of course, the bathroom and especially the toilet – the huge critical interest in the toilet is largely irrelevant: the toilet is there because this is life in the toilet – the boring work world of Marion, the frustration and loss of hope (no future) – the sense of paralysis and entrapment – something Norman expounds in his “scratching and clawing” speech in the creepy back parlor at the Bates Motel. When Marion realizes she must return the money and return to her problem – all over again, only the problem is now worse – she flushes her dreams away along with her calculation of accounts owing. She accepts defeat. She is in the hole, after all.
But she is also stripping away illusions. She realizes she must return. Marion now accepts the truth: she has made a terrible error and must retrace her steps. She has in effect become a new person; she must now make some decisions about her life, having discovered that her desperate wish to have her love – to do something, no matter the consequence – won’t work. It is at this point that Norman – Norman the enforcer, as it were – takes action and makes sure that Marion will never deal with her boredom in a more constructive, successful way. In the world of boredom, desire is forbidden. One wish acted on may well be fatal.
The emphasis on paralysis – in a world where boredom becomes explosive – is all-containing. Sam can’t do anything, because he is paying for debts and obligations contracted years ago – including the inherited debts of his father. Trapped in the past, he can’t marry Marion, because the money he needs for her must go to an ex-wife, for alimony. Like so many losers in the movies, he can’t make money – unlike rich Mr. Cassidy waving his tax-dodging wad of bills in the air. Sam’s career is to be a clerk in a hardware store: that is what you call success, the American Dream in action. Norman, however different he is, is also paralyzed, as the imagery of stuffing things indicates, culminating in the persistence of the dead in the form of the stuffed dead mother he lives with. He is stuck. He informs others that he goes through the motions, changing sheets and keeping the place in order, simply because it is a routine, a boring repetition, not for any reason. It is simply mechanical routine. He leads a boring life, not just a caged one. It is a grim prospect.
Though “born” in this “trap” (his words), he resists any idea of leaving his house – his home. The motel may be a white elephant forced on him by the carpetbagging lover of his mother, not something he ever wanted, but he’s stuck. Norman may own the motel and the house behind it, but the money theme persists even here, too. For the motel was a kind of swindle, whereby the ancestral money of his dead father was drained away and replaced by a business for losers. Garry Leonard notes, “The Bates Motel is a particularly stark example of how badly one can get trapped by the abstract market system” (13). It is hard to imagine the boringness of Norman’s existence – no friends, no sex, no activities (he “lives like a hermit,” says the sheriff), nothing to do except stuff things and listen to his dead stuffed mother tell him what a flop he is – oh, and change the sheets in an empty motel every week. Fun!
Money makes the plot go round: the characters themselves understand this perfectly. Thus Lila and Sam develop the theory that Norman has stolen Marion’s money, because he wants to “dump” his motel and get away from his failure, a business that virtually advertises failure: it is the first theory one thinks of, so to speak. The money Marion had stolen in order to get out of the dismal place she is in is the money he needs to get out of the dismal place he is in – therefore, he must have stolen it from Marion, as Marion previously stole it from Cassidy, who stole it so much more successfully, to the point of simply owning it. There seem to be a lot of people in a lot of dismal places, desperate for cash. This motel – which Arbogast the clever detective regards as “hiding” – is, by corollary, shabby and unattractive, an in-your-face display of inadequate finances: a commercial dead-end if ever there was one. In a world as boring as this, Norman has found the perfect relief for boredom: what else is there to do but spy on others? Someone, surely, must be doing something exciting somewhere. He doesn’t need the drug of television, because he has a reality show right there in his motel. Others may find celebrity culture the anodyne for boredom, but Norman is more inventive. He doesn’t need to look for glamour and excitement – it comes to him. This theme hooks the audience itself in the opening voyeuristic scene of peeping through the hotel window to watch the illicit embrace of lovers.
Against the regime of boredom, frustration, and futurelessness, Marion launches her rebellion. She boldly steals the rich man’s cash. She runs off with it, not because she is a thief, but because, at last, this offers her a way to get what she wants: a husband, a respectable, secure domestic life. For her, success is simply 1950s-style normal, the middle-class respectability of the Father Knows Best kingdom that everyone is supposed to attain. This blessed condition is signified by the impossibly named “Fairvale,” where her boyfriend lives, the place Marion dies trying to reach. It isn’t much to ask in prosperous America, but in her case it is a crime. Her wish for this conventional and minimal satisfaction turns out to be a death sentence.11
The boringness of Psycho fills the lives of the people in the action, but it has definite visual power. Against this drab scene, Marion is a visual angel, a flash of brightness in the mise-en-scène. But by minimizing visual interest in things and objects in this film – by boring it down, so to speak – Hitchcock enables himself to do something else: to use ordinary objects to create extraordinary visual scenes, extraordinary visual compositions. Hitchcock’s camera work creates “surprise by the unexpected shapes that a familiar object can assume,” to borrow Rudolf Arnheim’s expression (42). This is notoriously true of the shower scene, but it is also true of almost any moment in this film. Particularly striking, in visual terms, is the handling of the Bates Motel itself. In terms of something to look at, as I mentioned, it is hardly of interest; indeed, it is depressing to the point of being a pain to the eyes – even its ugliness is of an uninteresting variety.
But the very drabness of its shapes – the abstractness of the shapes – allows it to become the material for powerful abstract arrangements visually – in fact an Expressionist masterpiece under Hitchcock’s direction. The motel’s abstract blocks and lines, shapes like those of abstract expressionism, offer the means to convey powerful emotion.12 All the repertoire of noir technique is deployed, not just in the murder of Marion but also in the sequence that follows. This is the surprisingly long janitorial section of the movie. Here we observe Norman on cleanup duty. He does not just remove evidence, he washes, scrubs, and mops. The weird angles and harsh juxtapositions of bright light and darkness, the slashing lines of the composition, comprise a deeply disturbing picture. Against these harsh lines, the limp shapelessness of dead Marion, who a few minutes before was beautiful and vital, emerges with terrible feeling, accompanied by the sinister crackle of plastic sheeting being carefully folded. The crackling of the plastic recalls the other crackling noise in this movie – the newspaper that Marion wraps the money in, as if the money turned into the corpse. Of course, the process of stretching and folding plastic must be presented patiently, in every detail. Norman is good at cleaning up, at making unpleasant things disappear: Norman the shape-shifting magician/murderer.
The stark contrasts and abstract shapes that the ugly motel furnishes, the brutal horizontals and verticals, furnish black-and-white blocks and lines for the viewer, a composition reminiscent of a Franz Kline painting – painting in the style of Abstract Expressionism, which was at its apogee at the time of Psycho. Against these blocks of horizontal and vertical lines and frames, the figure of Norman –first as a bouncy, boyish, candy-eating youth; later as a frighteningly mean, spare, and powerful killer cleaning up after the dirty deed – comes forward with doubled dramatic effect. The very drabness and abstractness of the motel’s lines allow Norman to stand out visually as the fearful bogey he truly is. In this aspect, he comes from the swamp – he does not merely go to it for convenient disposal needs.
* * *
Boredom permeates the movie. Even the other secretary in the real estate office where Marion works, Caroline (superbly played by Patricia Hitchcock), speaks of her phone calls as though each was a pointless predictability. She accepts the dullness of her job and the routine she lives with. Her bottle of knock-you-out pills – always on hand – no doubt helps. Marion rebels against that solution: pills won’t help her, she says firmly – only something much more radical. Note that even the boss, as Cassidy mockingly lets slip, keeps a bottle in his drawer; apparently he also suffers the ennui of his occupation. This is a world where life goes nowhere. Without money, there is no freedom, and no relief from pain. That is the unconscious reasoning of Marion, when she takes the clutch of bills from Caroline, who is hypnotically stroking it, and hurries out of the office with it.
The pain that Marion refers to in the real estate office is the pain of frustration and boredom. Even sex has lost its joy for her; she is tired of meeting clandestinely in a rundown hotel, over and over again with a man she wants – but without any growth of relationship with him: sex as rutting, not as love.13 Boredom implies not merely tedium but exhaustion, the sense of coming up against a limit beyond which there is nothing, “Your gaze fixed forever on the vanishing point of your own future,” as Garry Leonard puts it (17). One becomes a mechanical or ersatz human being, like the mummified mother who is actually heard to complain of her boring existence, and who is in so many ways the central figure of this movie.
The contrasting second phase of Psycho introduces the powerful Lila and the equally powerful detective, Arbogast. The appearance of this pair of figures on the scene at the same time changes the chemistry of the movie entirely. Unlike everybody else, Lila and Arbogast are not bored. Arbogast’s work yields results: it is not pointless repetition. He achieves the decisive truth: there is something off about Norman and his mother. He also shows respect for, even faith in, Marion. He does not view her as simply a criminal to track down. The contrast to Arbogast – whose meaningful work gets him killed – is the sheriff whom Sam appeals to. The sheriff is a know-it-all whose grasp of the situation is feeble. He knows Norman and he knows what the situation is, he thinks – nothing new here. He knows it all already. Complacent boredom is his métier. He actually checks on Norman, as his duty – and dutifully confirms that nothing is amiss. Norman, after all, “lives like a hermit.” So that’s that. When the movie ends, everything will go back to “normal” for him.
Like Arbogast, Lila presents a very different figure in the scene of boredom. She refuses routine. She acts on her own initiative. We do not see much of Lila’s personal life, but we do know that she has a job, that her work takes her away from Phoenix (she has a better job than Marion does), and that there is no man in her life, at least no mention of a boyfriend or any man to hamper her movements or tell her what (not) to do. She is “responsible, respectable, anxious, aggressive” with “defensive reserve” and “fiery edge,” “with a private purpose” (Durgnat 147). Clearly, the love between the two sisters, Lila and Marion, is the most powerful emotional force in this film, and an exception to the social atomization I referred to earlier. It enables Lila to find the truth and to avenge her sister. She knows her sister better than anyone else, including the ineffectual boyfriend Sam; she has the same force of character that Marion has.14 By contrast, at almost every point in the film, Marion’s boyfriend Sam discourages Lila from taking action, counsels delay, and acts in a resigned manner, often sounding hopeless and defeated. His natural affinity with the local sheriff is consistent with his weakness, as is the ease with which wimpy Norman knocks him out in the movie’s one fight scene.
What Psycho points to – what the boringness of Psycho points to – is in fact apolitical theme. Marion is trapped by her economic situation. Sam, her gormless boyfriend, is trapped by his economic situation. The other secretary in the office is trapped by her economic situation, given a dead-end job in a male-dominated business like real estate in the late 1950s. Women were expected to quit work as soon as they got married – the Patricia Hitchcock character is married, but continues to work: clear indication of the weakness of her domestic finances. She also is trapped, as her regimen of boring phone calls indicates.
Psycho is a movie about money. That is why Hitchcock’s camera never strays from the money when it is on stage, constantly keeping it in the center of the field of vision. After Marion’s horrifying sickening death, the camera carefully pans across the grubby motel room to the money in its cradle of newspaper: this is what did it, the camera mutely states, pointing. Psycho, the professorial psychiatrist affirms at the end of the movie, is about a “crime of passion” – but that is from Norman’s point of view, not from Marion’s. From Marion’s point of view it emphatically is about money. The curious abandonment of Marion’s point of view as the movie progresses and as Norman looms large on the scene needs to be noted carefully.
Psycho is not thought of as a political movie, but that is clearly its underlying direction and point. What obscures this dimension of the film is the eye-catching, gripping spectacle of Norman Bates’s madness, above all its psychoanalytic bonanza the Oedipus Complex!, which the film obsessively delivers to the audience. What is wrong with Norman is thus his mother: “a clinging, demanding woman,” as the psychiatrist intones in his explanatory sermon. In the pop psychology of the 1950s, a dominating mother is the worst thing imaginable for a boy and the likely cause of all his problems, including an impulse to dress up in women’s clothes, an aberration especially shocking to the macho boyfriend Sam.15 Trapped by this woman’s fatal possessiveness, Norman thus had to start murdering people. His relation with her, his “love affair” with her, as it were, is the motor of the plot. Nevertheless, somehow, he wants a woman, even though he sort of has the woman he supposedly wants already, but his clinging, demanding mother prevents him. He had already killed her man out of jealousy, and he also killed her, too. The psychiatrist regards “matricide” as the worst crime of all, just as a “clinging, demanding” mother is the worst thing of all for a boy. Young Norman then – somehow – “incorporated” the mother into his own personality, but at the same time somehow split himself totally, to the point of becoming a kind of drag queen who kills women he is attracted to while he is in the guise of his mother impersonation. Having murdered his mother, he then becomes his mother, who then takes on the role of murdering women he likes, all because of (what else?) sex – or is it lack of sex, or . . .
The convolutions go on and on. This account of Norman may make sense to the 1950s psychiatrist and those in the grip of psychoanalytic theory, as so many academics are, but others will not find it so persuasive.16 Norman simply and relentlessly remains inexplicable. “Bates evades definition entirely,” as John Orr puts it (78). Raymond Durgnat wisely emphasizes that “Hitchcock’s primary interest is, not Norman’s ‘inner’ psychology, but Norman’s practical thinking and actions” (130). Norman cannot be explained away, regardless of the psychiatrist’s confidence in doing just that. The final tableau of Norman (now “mother”) smiling gleefully and directly into the camera – a rare maneuver in Hitchcock and in cinema practice – suggests that, far from resolving Norman, the psychiatrist has missed the point. Norman wanted to kill and he sort of got away with it, being “mad” because of his mother, supposedly, and he’s happy. He is happier in that final glimpse of him than in the entire rest of the film.
From the point of view of understanding Marion, who is the true protagonist of this tragic story, Norman’s arcane problems, whatever their nature, are irrelevant. What is relevant is that Marion is bored and frustrated. In a moment of powerful impulse, she steals money that she thinks will enable her to seize the happiness she yearns for, once and for all. Her situation – her problem – is an economic one. That is the plot. It is money – or lack – that drives her rash impulse and all its disastrous consequences. That is why the figure of Cassidy at the outset of the action is so important to this movie – so important.
Hitchcock films often feature wealthy people. But Psycho has only one: Cassidy, who stands out all the more because of that lofty status. He personifies money. He personifies ownership, in an almost abstract way. Thus in the spirit of entitlement, he openly boasts. He is clear that he can have and do whatever he wants. It is as if desire means nothing to him, because frustration means nothing to him. He is the master of bounty, choosing who and when to receive the perks of the American Dream. Because he has lots of money, happiness is irrelevant. He can buy it. His ideal? Las Vegas, what else, “the playground of the world,” he crows ecstatically – the land of gamblers and satyrs, a perfect place for a man like Cassidy – money nirvana, where dollars buy anything, including “happiness.” Gleefully he boasts of his tax evasion. Only little people pay taxes, after all. If his eighteen-year-old daughter wants a house, he buys it. He has the cash, because the restrictions that enclose others – the Marions and debt-hobbled Sams of this world – do not apply to him. The role is a small one, but Frank Albertson plays Cassidy with consummate brilliance: Hitchcock’s small parts are often vital, and often, as here, played brilliantly. Indeed, it is his performance that triggers Marion’s impulsive and rash and desperate revolt.
When Cassidy lounges on Marion’s desk and waves money in her face, she goes absolutely still, dutifully taking in everything the rich man says, as if she liked it. She submits to this invasion of her space – for that is what it is – indeed, it is her emotional space that he invades, not merely her work station. But inwardly she is deeply affected, deeply angered. Something snaps. Why does this useless, dirty old man have everything, and she, who has worked so hard, has nothing? She is at an age where she either marries or is destined to become an “old maid.” If she wants children, her time to do so is now. She cannot show anger, of course. That goes without saying: subordinates must smile convincingly and deny their anger – the boss does not like such anger, let alone a client. She must bow to the money man. The camera respects that anger, though, and does not show it either, cutting instead to her home, where Marion, incensed by her predicament, restlessly hurries, packing to get out of town before she can change her mind about the powerful impulse that is driving this otherwise dependable and reasonable woman – crazy.
Everything about Marion, apart from the theft, suggests someone who is responsible, deliberate, dependable. Far from being crazy, she is, Hitchcock says, “perfectly ordinary” (Truffaut 282). Her boss without hesitation hands a huge wad of cash over to her on a Friday afternoon. He knows her very well, and she knows him very well. She knows him to the point of predicting what he will say about her privately. Thus, driving in her car, she imagines his reaction to her absence, complete with dialogue. In the truly boring situation, everything is predictable, most of all what has not yet happened – it couldn’t be different. The movie poses the question, the boredom question: hasn’t everyone had the impulse to do something like what Marion does? We all go a little crazy some times: precisely what Norman explains to Marion in his “scratching and clawing” speech: the moment when Marion realizes her mistake and realizes that she must return.
Almost the first thing Arbogast says is that dependable people are often the ones who are least trusted: a surprising and interesting observation.17 He emphasizes that the employer just wants the money back – not prosecution – a significant concession, given the money involved, though of course covering the crime up will also cover the mistake the boss made, and the mistake that Cassidy made, as well as their potential conflict over it. As Marion herself knows, this Cassidy is the sort of man who would never admit to making a mistake.18
One of the intriguing things about Norman is that his talk makes Marion realize that she has made a horrible error, that she must return, must deal with the financial consequences of her actions, and that she will be in an even worse position than the one she was in. We see her resigning herself to reality as opposed to pursuing fantasy island (“I’m looking for a private island,” she says to Norman), when she acted on impulse rather than staying inside her usual responsible and bored personality. These are all important points because they raise the question of why Marion would do something so rash and even, in a way, so absurd as stealing a bunch of money from her boss – a crime so impossible to get away with that it suggests a wish to get caught – a death-wish, as it were.
In the world of Psycho, the Marions of this world are trapped. There is no way out for them. That is the tragedy of Marion Crane. Her tragedy is not the unique one of encountering an aberrant “psycho” – it is the tragedy of many, many people of whom Marion is a representative example. Boredom is lethal, not because it is boredom, but because boredom is the manifestation of something even worse: deprivation and the frustration that goes with deprivation. The Cassidys of this world, meanwhile, will get their money back, most of it anyway, even if a bit soggy and a bit smelly. For them, money has no smell.
In Psycho, Hitchcock not only features drab interiors – and drab exteriors – he also emphasizes boring actions. There is, most obviously, the work scene of the secretaries in the real estate office – brief but telling. Nothing interesting to do except gossip, as Marion’s chatty co-worker Caroline makes plain. Compare Bob, Sam’s nosy co-worker in the hardware store, in another boring job that offers a neat parallel to the boring real estate office. Interestingly, Marion knows she cannot trust her fellow worker, just as Sam cannot trust his hardware colleague. The bonus that goes with a boring job is a co-worker you can’t trust, working next to you all the time, and observing everything you do. Marion takes it for granted that her co-worker will make a dig at her expense and behind her back. Thus Marion visualizes Caroline informing the boss that she’s always late on Mondays. “Caroline’s friendly chat bristles with little barbs” (Durgnat 41).
But there is more boring activity in Psycho. In this film, more than in any of his others, Hitchcock is not going to let us forget the money – that is, money as a physical material object, boring as the sheer physical handling of money in itself is. He goes out of his way to dwell on this tangible reality, far more than would logically be required or even reasonable. We know what money looks like – we do not need extended shots of it being wrapped, folded, tied with elastics, carefully packed and unpacked, moved, placed – and replaced – with appropriate sound effects of crinkling and folding. But that is what Hitchcock gives us. More than once, he presents us with detailed scenes of the money, the actual bills. Money being awkwardly withdrawn from sight when the traffic cop stares at Marion through the window of her car, after finding her asleep. Money being counted, one $100 bill at a time, and taken out, as in the ugly washroom of the used-car lot, where the scene is doubled by the mirror above – seeing it once is not enough. Money being carefully wrapped in newspaper (after the newspaper has been folded neatly to contain it). And lastly, money in its newspaper packaging being tossed – the final thing to be taken care of – into the back of murdered Marion’s car when Norman prepares to disappear his victim along with every trace of her existence.
Money in this movie is not an abstraction: it is never simply a cipher in an account book. It is a physical, sensory reality, indeed a visually magnetic reality. We are never allowed to forget its presence once Marion takes off with it. Even the final clue of the number written on the paper which “refused to go down” the toilet when Marion flushed it away, is a physical tangible reality, not an abstraction. It is the power of life and death, because that is precisely what money is.
The most remarkably boring action in Psycho belongs to Norman, naturally, the exemplar of boredom. Hitchcock goes out of his way to makes sure we see Norman’s janitorial virtuosity. Once the killing part is done, the cleanup begins, the really interesting part of the murder, as it were. Norman is clearly good with a mop. We get to monitor every detail of his cleanup operation: the mop, the bucket, the water running, the shower curtain disposed of (not to mention that awkward body), the careful but practiced quickness of tidying the room, including adjusting the picture on the wall. This is no mere amateur in the cleanup department. He knows what to do with a motel room. Every object connected with Marion is made to vanish. Hitchcock emphasizes Norman’s janitorial skill, the sheer visual data of cleanup. Nothing is left to imagination: the routine of boring, real work – hardcore household action, with mop and bucket, including toilet duty – is brought forward to us in a way that few movies would ever consider. Is household cleanup in any movie ever as gripping as it is in Psycho? Only Hitchcock could get away with it. For it is featured, and at length. Boring work that we get to see almost from the inside. Perhaps we can pick up a few tips. Hitchcock wants us to see it all, the work of cleanup that so many of the viewers are equally familiar with.19
He even makes sure that we get another look at that mop, in the daylight no less, thus allowing us opportunity for a second look. What could be more interesting than a mop? If we are bored with the beautiful Lila looking up at the house, we can always attend to the mop that shares the visual composition with her, slanting next to her. For when Lila makes her courageous trek up the little hill to the mystery house for the final confrontation, she passes by that mop. It is leaning rakishly against the back of the motel. The mop and bucket are the emblem of what Norman calls his “only world,” existence in his dull little kingdom: the coat of arms. They are like the mop and the bucket in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, ready to come to sinister life at the touch of evil.
Nothing could bring home to us the banality of evil, in Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, better than this over-the-top emphasis on the physical details of cleanup. This is what Marion’s life comes to. That is, no matter how bizarre, how inexplicable and horrific Norman is, how cruel and sick his actions, somehow he belongs to the same world that Marion belongs to, the boring world, the world where work goes on whether there is any point or satisfaction to it or not, whether it makes human sense or not, whether it pays or not. In an automated existence, spiritually identical with the stuffed birds and the stuffed woman in the basement – and the stuffed woman in the bed – explosive energies begin to build up, and bizarre things happen. Sensible women run off with their boss’s cash on a quixotic errand of love, and not so sensible men murder and rob graves. Welcome to the underside of 1950s domesticity: a regime of alienation, of boredom on the verge of the explosive 1960s.
Norman is bored. Perhaps boredom has something to do with his pastime of dressing up as a woman and indulging the bizarre fantasy world he has created, a world in which his dead mother is somehow still alive and with him, a world in which, thanks to a few inexpensive materials (just sawdust and a few chemicals, he explains modestly), he can bring to life a whole flock of birds. Norman even emphasizes how inexpensive the hobby is – reminding us again of that boring topic, money. We don’t want to spend too much, especially since Norman’s stepfather had wasted the money left to his mother back when the cycle of Psycho began, in the original sin of the Psycho epic. In a boring world, fantasy lights up, whether the fantasy of escape to Fairvale with a magic bag of cash, or the intoxicating fantasy of living the “very happy” life with mother that Norman recalls for Marion in her last night on earth. Irrational fantasy is what you get when you’re very, very bored.20 Some day my prince will come, and everything will be all right. Or, in the meantime, why not murder out of boredom? Isn’t that what the bored boys of Rope do?
Psycho is a searching, even radical movie, but this aspect is easily overlooked or underestimated. As long as Norman’s kinky psychoanalytic twists and turns are the focus of attention, critical elements of the movie vanish into the background, just as Marion herself slips into oblivion once Norman murders and then “disappears” her. Norman obliterates Marion, even if he – or his murderous persona – is caught. He annihilates the woman’s desire, and in that respect, Norman represents the whole structure of control by manipulation and by aggression that keeps the Marions of this regime stuck to their station. He is like the secret police for the Cassidys of this world: an enforcer, and enforcers work best when they are a bit loony and will do, as the vicious old tycoon in Polanski’s Chinatown chants to his shocked listener, “anything!”
As long as Psycho is treated in terms of personal psychology, its real depth remains inaccessible.21 Feminist analysis has helped, in investigating the power relations that sustain this movie, but Psycho is broader in reference than the shocking oppression of women: it is oppression itself, oppression in general, that is the concern. If this is so, then the insistent popularity of this great movie owes a good deal to its underlying radical point, its presentation of the plight of so many of its actual viewers.22
For most people, as the song in Cabaret reminds us, money – not love – makes the world go round. Or, for some of us, not.
Arnheim, Rudolf. Film as Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.
Barton, Sabrina. “Hitchcock’s Hands.” In Gottlieb and Brookhouse, eds. 159-79.
Kolker, Robert, ed. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Livingston, Paisley, and Carl Plantinga, eds. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film. London: Routledge, 2009.
Currie, Gregory. Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Delgado, Sergio. “Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and the Phenomenology of Perception.” Film Criticism 34.1 (Fall 2009): 1-16.
Durgnat, Raymond. A Long Hard Look at Psycho. London: British Film Institute, 2002.
Giralt, Gabriel F. “Realism and Realistic Representation in the Digital Age.” Journal of Film and Video62.3 (Fall 2010): 3-16.
Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.
Gottlieb, Sidney, and Christopher Brookhouse, eds. Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from The Hitchcock Annual. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.
Leonard, Garry. “Monsters and Mortgages: The Horror Movie as Prime Economic Indicator.” Film International 8.1 (2010): 11-17.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan Books, 2003.
Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much. New York: Routledge, 2d ed., 2005.
Morris, Christopher D. The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.
Naremore, James. “Remaking Psycho.” In Gottlieb and Brookhouse, eds. 387-96.
Nicholson, Mervyn. Male Envy: The Logic of Malice in Literature and Culture. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.
“Stranger and Stranger: Male Envy in Hitchcock.” BrightLightsfilm.com 55 (2007).
Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. New York: Marion Boyars, 1999.
Orr, John. Hitchcock and Twentieth Century Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2005.
Schmidt, Michael. “The Parlor Scene in Psycho: Images of Duality.” http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue02/features/psycho.htm
Sharrett, Christopher. “The Myth of Apocalypse and the Horror Film: The Primacy of Psycho and The Birds.” In Gottlieb and Brookhouse, eds. 355-72.
Street, Sarah. “Hitchcockian Haberdashery.” In Gottlieb and Brookhouse, eds. 147-58.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. New York: Simon, rev. ed., 1984.
Walker, Michael. Hitchcock’s Motifs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.
Whittock, Trevor. Metaphor and Film. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Zirnite, Dennis. “Hitchcock, on the Level: The Heights of Spatial Tension.” Film Criticism 10.3 (Spring 1986).
- “It was an experiment in this sense: Could I make a feature film under the same conditions as a television show? I used a complete television unit to shoot it very quickly. The only place where I digressed was when I slowed down the murder scene, the cleaning-up scene, and the other scenes that indicated anything that required time. All of the rest was handled in the same way that they do it in television” (Hitchcock describing the making of Psycho, in Truffaut 283). [↩]
- Psycho is totally different from Hitchcock’s other American black-and-white movies — it seems to be in an entirely different generation, for instance, from Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, or I Confess. The only earlier b/w film that is like Psycho is The Wrong Man, but even it, with its noir New York setting and motifs, feels like a stray from some earlier decade. Psycho, on the other hand, is definitely a movie of its time, the early ’60s. [↩]
- Hitchcock wanted to avoid such an effect in Psycho, interestingly. Hence he speaks of doing the film in black-and-white, because he wanted to avoid the color of blood in the shower scene where Marion is murdered (see Truffaut 335 and Gottlieb, ed., 331). The use of such a shock — such a visual shock, too — became the very basis, visually-cinematically, of the “slasher” genre that followed in the wake of this scene (see Modleski 15ff), possibly the most famous single scene in movie history. Hitchcock’s wish to avoid red blood in this terrible passage is interesting for many reasons, even apart from censorship anxieties. Hitchcock is sparing in his use of shock. It is never there for its own sake. [↩]
- For Rope, “As would be characteristic of him throughout the rest of his career, he chose a generally subdued palette” (McGilligan 411). “I was determined to reduce the color to a minimum,” Hitchcock said of Rope (Truffaut 181). [↩]
- Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is particularly good on the bareness and unattractiveness of the sets; his commentary for the 2008 special edition of the movie is also very good. [↩]
- The question of how Psycho’s black-and-white technique differs from Hitchcock’s earlier usage of black-and-white — the difference that working in color made, especially after dealing with the black-and-white world of television — is a fascinating one. But fascinating as this question is, it would take us beyond the scope of the present exploration. The key point here is that Psycho is of a piece with the existentialist, Modernist culture of Samuel Beckett and other explorers of boredom and alienation. [↩]
- “Alfred Hitchcock Presents had developed a split personality: half of the shows were stubbornly English; but as the series progressed, it increasingly explored the dark side of the American Dream — the artificiality, hypocrisy, neuroses, violence, and evil that lurked in boardrooms and bedrooms across the United States. Psycho would be the culmination of this trend in Hitchcock’s thinking” (McGilligan 581). [↩]
- There is an exception — the wooden-looking figures of Lila and Sam seated in the police office listening to a professorial psychiatrist explaining everything away — or failing to explain it away — in the closing explanation speech. This boring scene is intentionally boring, in the sense that it is designed to restore calm and routine, to remind the audience that everything can be explained when not everything can be explained. See n15. [↩]
- Curiously, Michael Walker’s encyclopedic study of Hitchcock’s use of hands in his great book on Hitchcock motifs does not discuss Psycho, but see Barton. [↩]
- The best comment on this motif remains Robin Wood’s great description. [↩]
- Orr’s comment on Hitchcock’s handling of the American Dream sums up its bizarre subtext, which he associates with the hard-boiled and film noir tradition: “America is the dreamland of opportunity, where all possibilities can be considered and soon you can lose sight of all contexts and all limit in your delirium” (160). [↩]
- “‘I must say that the architectural contrast between the vertical house and the horizontal motel is quite pleasing to the eye,'” remarked Truffaut to Hitchcock, and Hitchcock agreed: “Definitely, that’s our composition: a vertical block and a horizontal block” (Truffaut 269). Hitchcock’s self-consciousness about the abstract look of the scene needs emphasis. Cf. Michael Schmidt on the “parlor scene”: “Norman is immersed in straight lines, many of which are set at angles that create a sense of conflict rather than curved line harmony.” [↩]
- In Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock, Hitchcock speaks of “a visual impression of despair and solitude” for the scene of Marion and Sam in the hotel room (415). Truffaut’s book is the one absolutely indispensable book on, about, or related to Hitchcock. [↩]
- Sam belongs to a recurring character type in movies (and in fiction), a type I refer to as the “ineffectual lover” in my book Male Envy. [↩]
- For discussion of the “pop psychology” of Psycho — and a very different reading of the issues raised here — see my “Stranger and Stranger: Male Envy in Hitchcock.” [↩]
- Psychoanalytically minded readers will find plenty to whet their appetite in the numerous psychoanalytic diagnoses of Psycho, a movie that furnishes an unprecedented banquet for Freudians, Lacanians, Kleinians, and others in this department. The prestigious journal Screen is a veritable treasure trove for psychoanalysts. It is as if this movie were designed to make psychoanalysts go crazy. Nonetheless, critics who favor this approach do not much like the psychiatrist’s analysis, but then no one does. His discourse does more than provide reassuring words for those wanting closure. As Stephen Rebello makes clear, the scene was there for a practical reason: to avoid further collisions with censors. Hitchcock was aware, too, of its function in terms of the structure of the movie, compared to which its plausibility was irrelevant, in the same way that the “explanation speech” in a murder mystery provides a rhythmic space required by the form, forget plausibility. The psychiatrist effectively renders Lila and Sam asleep. We leave them, as in a trance, staring woodenly. Then it’s over to Norman, the fly, and the death car rising from the darkness of the swamp. Images for Hitchcock always mean more than words. [↩]
- His exact words: “We’re always quickest to doubt people who have a record for being honest.” [↩]
- Curiously, rather than alienating the viewer, Marion’s criminal act draws us to her: as the feminist analysis of Sarah Street puts it, “our identification with Marion as heroine . . . becomes stronger once she has committed the theft. It is of prime significance that the money she has stolen belongs to a rich tax-evader . . . . Marion’s ‘transgression,’ therefore, is not just stealing, but stealing money which has a clear patriarchal function” (Street 151). For feminist arguments over Psycho see Modleski 123-52. [↩]
- In his shot-by-shot survey of Psycho, Durgnat describes Norman’s cleanup but has little to say about it. Durgnat’s comment about the scene that follows (loading the body into the car) is observant and suggestive, however: “A lesser director, going by the book, would strive to simplify Norman’s activity for speed and avoidance of repetition. Hitchcock has Norman go in and out of the cabin five times (the variation is within the repetition). Instead of putting everything in the boot at once, Norman makes four trips (once to open the boot, once to lower the body into it, once to put the case in too, once to unconcernedly toss the newspaper in)” (131). The point is that Hitchcock emphasizes the practical, material aspects of the plot — the work aspects of murder, so to speak. [↩]
- Christopher Sharrett notes: “Hitchcock develops a narrative that continually reveals itself to be a systematic analysis of American life. The frustration and confinement that form the bleak atmosphere of the film are established in the furtive affair . . . the dismal financial legacy Sam inherits from his father” (Sharrett 359). [↩]
- Another approach that makes key features of Psycho inaccessible is summed up by Christopher D. Morris: “Psycho depicts a world in which the ‘why,’ or rational interpretation, is superseded by hanging figures of groundlessness and unending suspense” (216; italics in the original). Morris’s book is textbook deconstruction, where “suspense” is a kind of pun on Derridean/deManian “undecidability.” I find this approach unsatisfying, but his discussion of the psychiatrist’s speech is useful (218-21). [↩]
- As James Naremore reminds us, “Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most profitable pictures ever made” (388). Hitchcock himself was particularly proud of its extraordinary popularity and its outstanding commercial success. [↩]