Academics and film critics have been analyzing Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Psycho since its release in 1960. Film critics, Robin Wood and Jean Douchet have both published extensively on the works of Hitchcock.
Wood’s essay, Psycho (1989) and Douchet’s, Hitch and His Public (1986) will be analyzed in terms of critical methods and procedures employed. Both critics discuss the importance of audience participation in the film and the distinct juxtaposition of elements that have become synonymous in Hitchcock’s films.
Robin Wood begins his analysis of Psycho, with the theory of normal to abnormal as the film opens with the normality of the bright city life in the 1960s. From the tracking movement of the camera into the darkness of a window, Wood claims that we are drawn progressively deeper into the abnormal darkness of ourselves (p. 143). From the reveal into the window, we find a couple canoodling in a motel room. Wood mentions how the situation in the motel room is ‘ordinary enough for us to accept it as a representation of “normal” human behavior’. This is immediately followed by what he argues is the leading theme of the scene: ‘The dominance of the past over the present’ (p. 143). Sam (John Gavin) won’t commit to Marion (Janet Leigh) until he has cleared his dead father’s debts and is relieved of his ex-wife’s alimony payments. The same theme is also the dilemma faced by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who has committed to the presence of his stuffed mother for ten years.
Wood continues discussing the sequencing of scenes and the effect experienced by the viewer. He contributes Hitchcock’s ability to involve the audience through the direction of camera angles employed, which are mostly from a subjective point of view. For example, his discussion of Marion’s road trip again highlights the juxtaposition of the scenes. After Marion changes cars, her long drive begins in daylight, her face revealing an expression of purpose and invigoration. The next scene, her drive continues into the night, her expression now reveals ‘her hopelessness and her weariness’ (p. 145). Wood describes this scene as an, ‘endless journey leading nowhere… into darkness’ (p. 145). Through the windscreen, the audience subjectively can only see darkness beyond the rain until the lonely lights of the Bates motel come into view.
Jean Douchet also discusses the thematic elements of distant opposites of ‘light and shadow…unity and duality’ occurring in many of Hitchcock’s films (p. 15). In particular, he too mentions the juxtaposition of contrasting shots in the opening scene of Psycho. The ‘very raw light’ is juxtaposed against ‘the absolute darkness of a room’ (p. 15). Douchet’s analysis of Hitchcock’s films is broken down into what he calls ‘the three realities’ (p.8). Douchet adds interesting elements to his theory that can be applied to the events that lead to the death of Marion in Psycho. The first reality is the everyday world, which is ‘immediately recognizable by the spectator’ (p. 8). The second reality opens onto the world of desire in which the protagonist possesses a ‘real existence and an active power’. This world encompasses the ‘secret thoughts’, ‘mental attitudes’ and deep desires of the protagonist (p. 9).
Douchet explains this in reference to an immense mirror inverting a quotidian reality of situations and thoughts of the protagonists. The third reality is the intellectual world. Douchet believes that this reality is the support beam of the Hitchcockian oeuvre (p. 9). This reality links the protagonist’s quotidian (first reality) with that of the desired world (second reality). In this reality, the world of desire ‘soon unveils its true nature’ to the protagonist as a ‘horrible action takes place’ in the third reality (p. 9). Douchet mentions the pre-publicity for Psycho. The fear imposed upon the public becomes a chief element in the movie. Subjectively the audience is as unprotected and defenseless, as is Marion in the shower scene (p. 9).
In comparison, Douchet claims that the Hitchcock oeuvre exists in his ability to create audience participation from a subjective point of view into a reality that mirrors the protagonist’s desires. Wood also contributes the subjective camera angles along with the thematic elements that make Hitchcock’s films a work of art. Wood and Douchet both convey an informative and thorough exploration for their theories of Psycho, as well as provide a concise analysis of Hitchcock’s work.
In agreement with both critics, I do also believe that the core of Alfred Hitchcock’s films is in his ability to skillfully, manipulate the preconceived assumption of the audience when it is least expected (Truffaut, 1983 p.269). Through his tactical directing skills and his ability to subliminally direct and divert the viewer’s attention and in turn, he creates a passage of audience participation that one feels compelled to watch or listen to what it is that Hitchcock wants you to focus on.
Douchet, J 1986, ‘Hitch and His Public’, in M Deutelbaum & L Poague (eds), A Hitchcock Reader, Iowa State University Press, Ames.
Psycho 1960, DVD, Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Sydney.
Truffaut, F 1985, Hitchcock, Rev edn, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York.
Wood, R 1989, Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, Rev edn, Columbia University Press, New York.