Thursday, 29 November 2012

Analysis of 3 Scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" -Case Study

Shower Scene

The shower scene is by far one of the most famous and iconic scenes in all of cinema. We begin this scene by seeing Marion Crane close the shower curtain and then we view a close-up of her face as she turns the shower on. As it’s a close-up, it’s easy to see the facial expressions of Marion. We quickly see a change in her emotion as it goes from plain and bland to (as she sees the water emerge) hopeful. Then a look of satisfaction is portrayed as she cleanses herself. It’s like baptism. In the prior scene Marion is talking to Norman Bates and has a sudden epiphany when she realises that what she had done was wrong and so decided to go back and apologize for her mistakes. So this shower is like a baptism as she washes away her sins and looks for redemption. In this shot, we could also say that she is exposed, in that she’s naked but also because she’s vulnerable.
As she showers, there are frequent cuts to the showerhead, both head on and side-on. The showerhead, in a way, is watching her. It resembles an eye that is overlooking the situation. There’s even a shot which is almost a point of view from the showerhead. This appears peculiar and ominous, giving the sensation that something is not right. And so, the feeling that something is going to happen becomes potent as we await for that moment where we see the motherly figure behind the transparent but blurring shower curtain.
The second we see the shot change to the shot in which the figure enters through the door, we expect someone to walk in before anyone does. This is because Hitchcock takes advantage of the rule of thirds. The reason we are prone to the idea of another body entering is because the rule of thirds takes advantage of the spacing within the shot and if one character is in one third, there are still two thirds that need filling, thus implying that the space will be filled. When the shot progresses into a zoom, our assumptions are confirmed as the camera zooms on an opening door as a silhouette of the mother enters and the previous bliss of the once joyous scene escalates towards terror. Marion’s space is invaded by this demon figure that then tears the shower curtain open. There’s scream of terror and an extreme close-up of Marion’s mouth as she screams, capturing the shock and distress she feels at that moment.
From now on the shot speed escalates into a stabbing montage, giving us as much chaos and confusion that Marion surely feels. This is likely to be the desired effect that Hitchcock wanted to give viewers. This high speed action combined with multi-angled shots inspires shock due to the sudden increase in pace. The multi-angled shots create the feeling of disorientation. The way the montage was cut (No pun intended) really helps us believe that the actress is being stabbed, when in fact there’s only one shot where the knife pierces the skin. Therefore, the majority of violence we believe is there is actually not, yet our imagination leads us to believe there is. Hitchcock’s skillful cuts, combined with the shots of fake blood (which was actually chocolate sauce!), are taking advantage of what we expect to see.
The screeching music also adds to the terror. It’s piercing, like the knife used to kill poor Marion. This inflicts shock upon hearing it as it comes out of nowhere. Then when the “Mother” leaves and we see a close-up of Marions hand sliding down the wall, the pace changes to match the music (or vice versa) as a much lower pitch with a slightly slower tempo is heard. The lower pitch indicates that something very dark has occurred and the slower tempo, combined with slower cuts gives us time to reflect and see the consequences of what has just happened.
As we see a now dead Marion laying across the floor, the shot then pans to and zooms into a shot of the plug hole, a metaphor perhaps saying that everything has just gone into a downward spiral like the water that flows into it. A bridging shot then happen, fading from the plughole to Marion’s eyeball as the camera pulls back, revealing her face flat on the ground while we hear nothing but the sound of the still running shower.



“She Wouldn’t Even Harm a Fly”

This scene comes right at the end of the movie.It begins as we follow a police officer on his way to deliver a blanket to Norman (Who’s currently the “Mother”). We follow the officer down a hallway to a door, where the camera stops to the side of the door, before we see what’s in the room. As we assume the blanket is given, a “Thank you” in the mother’s voice is heard and see another officer making an angry or unimpressed facial expression and sighs as it happens. The impression is given that what is happening in the room is either bizarre or agitating.
Upon entering the room, a number of things can be taken as denotation. If we think of the room being like his head, to the edge of the shot there is a barred window that represents Norman being trapped in his own mind while the mother is in control. Everything in the room is empty and the focus is on Norman as the mother, indicating that the primary focus of Norman’s mind is the mother. There is also a mug on the floor that. Mugs are a typically an object associated with the home, so in this case it shows the association that Norman has with the mother and his feeling of being “at home” with her, in his safe-zone. A blanket is covering Norman. Building on the idea of a safe-zone, the blanket is like protection which is similar to the way that the “Mother-state” takes over to protect him when feeling threatened, as mentioned by the detective at the end of the film.
The camera zooms from a wide-shot to a medium-close-up of Norman while non-diegetic narration of the mother’s thoughts play. The narration is perfectly timed with the facial expressions of Norman, making the audience totally forget that these spoken thoughts are added in post-production as they fit so perfectly to the scene that’s playing. Even the cut to a point of view shot from Norman, looking at his hand with a fly crawling on it, slips in smoothly.
We then cut back to Norman’s face when he menacingly stares directly into the camera. This alienates the audience from the film and feels like Norman is talking and delivering a messages directly to them, the individual.
Finally, right as there’s a crossfade from Norman’s face to the car being pulled out of the swamp, there’s a discrete image of the mother’s skull-like face that is perfectly laid over Norman’s face, like a mask. Confirming that they’re the same person in one body, also hinting that Norman is just a face that the mother wears now as she has completely taken over. During the crossfade (If paused at the right moment), the chain that’s pulling the car out of the swamp looks to be going through Norman’s heart, as if his heart is now tethered by guilt to the people he’s killed.



“We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes”

This scene is a brilliant example of crosscutting and the 180 degree rule, during the conversation between Marion and Norman. When Norman speaks of his mother saying “I hate what she’s become”, the camera is at a lower angle which is looking up at him. This give him the appearance of dominance because he appears very big and threatening. This feeling of threat is also implemented by the stuffed owl on the left side of the shot. The owl is in a pose that portrays it swooping down on its unsuspecting prey. This is similar to the way that Norman is luring Marion in before he decides to swoop. Seen in the shot also are 2 pictures of exposed women, one trying to cover-up, the other appears being attacked by men. This is very discrete foreshadowing, showing how Marion is going to be exposed and attacked.
Another brilliant shot of Norman is when he challenges the idea of putting his mother in an institution. He leans forward, closer to the camera, like he’s entering our space, making us (and Marion) uncomfortable. We can clearly view the discomfort of Marion from her reaction shot and her surprised look. The feeling of menace arises again as more high pitched and sharp music plays, yet it’s slow which fills us with suspense, waiting for the climax. Norman finally leans back when saying he had a similar idea, which puts us at ease for a second. That ease is short lived when he leans forward and proclaims “We all go a little mad sometimes”. This is another big hint in what is to come.
The lighting and colour of clothing helps us to understand the character’s intentions and frame of mind in the scene. Marion is wearing lighter clothing and her face is reasonably well lit up. This depicts innocence and light heartedness. It’s especially shown when she politely suggests putting Norman’s mother into care to try and make his life easier. Norman appears a binary opposite. He is wearing dark clothing and half of his face is covered with shadow. The shadow shows two different sides to him, or infact revealing the other side of him which we hadn't previously seen and is coming out now. With his dark clothes come the darker side of his personality as he talks of his mother in an unstable and distressing way, at some points also seeming to be speaking from a first-person perspective, like when he talks of a “Mad House”, it’s as though he know how it feels to be in one.

6 comments:

  1. loved this so much and after altering it a tad adding a few camera angle points a film features, making it my own I received an excellence so great thanks to you!! Awesome piece.

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  2. I hadn't noticed the skull superimposed on Norman's face until my penultimate viewing of the movie during a _Psycho_ marathon on some cable station Mother's Day 2015 (the original _Psycho_ aired, and aired again, and aired again, and...). Totally missed the chains through Norman's heart; I'll have to watch the movie again, and again, and...

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    Replies
    1. Correction: Mother's Day 2014. My cable system died in late June of that year, I threw the box into the swamp, and
      haven't watched TV since.

      Delete
  3. I hadn't noticed the skull superimposed on Norman's face until my penultimate viewing of the movie during a _Psycho_ marathon on some cable station Mother's Day 2015 (the original _Psycho_ aired, and aired again, and aired again, and...). Totally missed the chains through Norman's heart; I'll have to watch the movie again, and again, and...

    ReplyDelete