dir. Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho”


Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller tells the story of Marion Crane – at least we think it’s going to. On the run with $40,000 in stolen cash to her lover Sam, Marion stops at the Bates Motel rain. There she meets Norman Bates, who lives there alone with his mother, whom she has heard shouting at Norman. Marion eats a sandwich with him in his creepy parlor full of stuffed birds, takes a shower (we see Norman voyeuristically watching through a hole in the wall), and is stabbed to death by someone who looks like a woman in what is probably the most famous murder scene ever filmed. After her sister Lyla shows up, the detective on the case is also murdered. Eventually we discover, in the final twist of the film, that Norman is schizophrenic and has committed these murders in the guise of his mother, whose persona he adopts whenever he feels sexually attracted to a woman. He murdered her and her lover many years ago out of jealousy, but out of guilt, he now keeps her mummified body in his house and talks to it.

Namwali Serpell argues that the doubles of the film (2 stacks of cash, 2 lookalike sisters, a lookalike boyfriend and murderer) ask us to re-cathect our attention from one face to another in a concatenation of reorientation as the film goes on and Hitchcock reroutes our attention as characters die. As it is, the film is a study in surfaces – Serpell likens the porcelain, shower curtain, drain, and mop to the skin, clothes, eye, and hair of the dead girl. Marion’s name, birdlike as it is, foreshadows her end. Norman Bates’ name is a sort of descriptor for what the “normal-man” does in the film – he “baits” women. One of the most fascinating surfaces or guises in the film is the drag Norman puts on to kill. Why have him inhabit his mother as persona? Certainly, the glib psychological explanation at the end does not satisfy…


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