An Analysis Of How Narrative And Genre Create Meaning And Respons

  • Category: Music & Movies
  • Words: 1945
  • Grade: 100
Psycho was a defining film for the slasher genre. It represents a prototype in the horror movie, being one of the first mainstream productions in which the "˜monster' was physically human rather than a gothic or supernatural entity; A transition from European mythology to a contemporary American context. This issue was especially pertinent at the time because of the story of Ed Gaines. A seemingly regular man from the Southern states of America who was found to be digging up corpses, and using them for indecent acts, making household furnishing like lampshades, and other despicable purposes. It is likely that the story of Gaines inspired "˜Psycho'.
        It is interesting looking at Psycho and the way it took from traditional horror conventions familiar to an audience, such as the resemblance of Bates' house's resemblance to the castle of Dracula. Then the way in which it lent to future developments in horror. The eventual protagonist: Norman Bates, a character loosely based on the aforementioned Ed Gaines set up a stock character which is seen in an evolved form of some sort in all slashers since. It wasn't until 1978 when "˜Halloween' was released by John Carpenter. This was the first release, that used the blueprint created by "˜Psycho', to achieve the high success that slasher films now attain. It took the human monster and rather than putting it in isolation put it right in the middle of the familiar setting of suburbia, tapping into a very conscious fear. "˜Psycho' was a hybrid of crime/detective and horror, "˜Halloween was a hybrid of the slasher sub-genre and teen drama. The hybrid and its success have become a major part of the current system Hollywood use to sell films. A hybrid that is repeatedly successful will become reasonably formulaic, and hence become a sub-genre. This is a part of innovation in production. It works from the basis of a mutual understanding between the director that an audience's enjoyment is based on them seeing recognisable and innovative elements in a film.
        The classic Hollywood narrative structure is an equilibrium, which is broken, creating a dis-equilibrium, which through the course of the film will be resolved to create a new equilibrium. Generally this involves a literal or metaphorical journey through a passage in the life of the given protagonist(s). Psycho deviated from the classic narrative in that it followed the pattern bellow.

Equilibrium > Dis-equilibrium > new equilibrium > New Dis-Equilibrium > new                                                                                         equilibrium

        The audience is introduced to Marion Crane as the protagonist. They follow her journey, in which she steals a large sum of money from a man depositing it in the bank she works at. The deed done, she takes flight. An expectation is set up that this self created dis-equilibrium will provide its resolution in a conventional fashion. Simply that either she escapes with the money, or she gets caught. However the audience are also aware that as the film is horror there will be a further element to differentiate it from its seeming nature of crime and personal journey. Hitchcock satisfies this expectation in a spectacularly unconventional manner, brutally murdering the protagonist in surreal violence. By letting the audience see from her point of view, and hear her internal diegetic thoughts, he omnisciently directs the spectator to identify with Miss Crane. Therefore her death is a more personal experience. Coupled with the assumption that the lead character will survive the course of the film Hitchcock escalates the shock. Fulfilling the key requirement of the horror genre with innovation and disturbing efficiency.
        The chosen sequence contains one of the most important features of the film: the shift of concentration from Miss Crane to Master Bates. Robin Wood writes in his study of "˜Psycho': "The scene prepares us for the transference of our interests from Marion to Norman.". Through similar techniques to the ones used in the introduction of the original protagonist, Hitchcock sets up Norman to take on the central role. His argument with his mother could disputably be, with the benefit of hindsight, understood as an internal diegetic of sorts: The audience also see through his eyes as he spies on miss Crane preparing for her last shower.
        Psycho helps establish the Bates character conventionally in terms of narrative function. The audience are given various pieces of background information on him through dialogue. They learn that he lives with his mother in almost complete isolation. This information is however tainted as she is dead in the literal sense of the word. Metaphorically she does live but only inside his head. Freudian psychology in a simplified form states that when a person dies, sub-consciously those who are close to the individual deal with the pain by keeping them "˜alive' inside their own ego and memory. If there are any repressed feelings of resentment toward the deceased, then the emotions are displaced back onto the person who originally held them. This is a route cause of psychological abnormalities, which are considered to be a cause of depression, eating disorders, and amongst other things, arguably schizophrenia. Which is given as a reason for Bates' course of action.
        Hitchcock has a tendency to deceive the audience in Psycho. He explained this in an interview by saying that his role in Psycho was as much to direct the audience as it was to direct the camera and cast. An audience accepts that not everything will be as it seems. At first one could be forgiven for thinking that Norman is merely another victim of his mothers madness. In the shower scene, there is a brief shot of what would seem to be an elderly woman, automatically assumed to be the mother. Soon after, the audience see Bates cleaning up after "˜his mother', he seems shocked, as if genuinely oblivious that the murder had taken place. The other major example of deceit is the aforementioned murder of Marion. Again, Hitchcock plays games by setting her up as the protagonist. Not only does he create the sympathy which increases the effect of her murder, but the element of deceit manifests in the fact that the audience are tricked into believing that her purpose in the film will be more than that of murder victim.
        At this point there is still a lot of ambiguity in the situation. The audience are being made to question the authenticity of what they are seeing. Prior evidence, and the strangeness of Norman's character would suggest that he is a likely candidate as the murderer. Because of what is seen, the spectator is not aloud to confirm the suspicion. In this, Hitchcock asks the audience to un-wittingly question the nature of film. Which itself is a very subjective representation of a given "˜reality'. If Hitchcock had followed Bates as the protagonist from the start of the film, the death of Miss Crane would still have been a powerful piece of film, but it is unlikely it would have had the same profound effect on the audience as it does.
        There is a sort of sympathy for Bates. Hitchcock achieves this in a number of ways. The characters dis-comfort around Marion, and his seemingly pleasant, helpful nature make him endearing to a degree. The tyrannical nature of his un-seen, but not un-heard mother enforces this feeling. When he talks about his "˜personal trap' the emotion is heightened. When this issue helps Marion to decide to return with the money she stole (her own personal trap) one could be forgiven for liking, and maybe even respecting Bates.
        The particular scene in question , when Marion is eating with Norman also marks the place in the film at which the protagonist transferral takes place. It is response to his personal that makes her choose to reverse her path. Hitchcock resolves her dilemma and thus forces the audience to take more interest in Bates. After she leaves his company the camera follows Norman for the first time, The audience even get to see from his point of view as he spies on Marion getting ready for her shower. This helps to draw the spectator closer to Norman.
        The portrait of Norman as a voyeur lays foundation for more questions and themes within the film. Obviously it causes one to further question Bates as an upstanding individual. A viewer is made to almost conspire with the murderer, in that the audience are the only part of the cinematic experience which are privy to his point of view. It also raises question to his sexual functionality. Obviously he is attracted to Marion, but can only spy on her.
        The sexual theme can be applied to the shower scene. When taken apart this can be interpreted as being a rape. The voyeurism sets it up, and by placing Marion in a shower, nudity is involved. She is unaware of the intruder in the room, and the attacker seems to almost stalk her before the sudden attack. In "˜The World and its Image', V.F. Perkins writes about how because of the knife being "˜long, steely, sharply pointed and dull edged' it can be regarded as phallic. He further elaborates this opinion by saying that the penetrative stabbing motion used, the Freudian connotation of a knife and "˜its relation to other shots' being "˜the vaginal imagery of the liquid, round shapes of (in close up) the shower-rose, the drain and Marion's mouth.', further emphasise the knife's phallic status. The scene became inspirational for benchmark films such as "˜Halloween' and "˜Nightmare on Elm Street', which on a very basic level set out to present a narrative in which there was more place for the type of killing seen in Hitchcock's renowned shower scene.
        By today's standards "˜Psycho' does seem very dated in terms of the immediate visual impact of its violence. The deaths were censored, so that they weren't too offensive. However in the shower scene, the montage of images and shots give it a depth rarely seen in the "˜"Scream"'s and "I Know What You Did Last Summer"'s of today. Indeed, the scene would look more in place in an independent surrealist film such as those made by Dali and Bunel. Hitchcock constantly makes pre-echoes of future events, but through his subtlety he hides them from our conscious, allowing to play on sub-conscious fears. By concealing the truth from his audience, he enabled himself to shock viewers time and again with relative ease.
        By first making the viewer identify with Marion, the victim, then Norman her killer, Hitchcock made and still makes people question themselves in terms of morals and the monsters which lurk in everyone. As Bates is, to all intents and purposes, a likeable person at first; or at least someone who evokes a vaguely protective feeling towards himself, Hitchcock tapped into an almost irrational fear that even the person sitting next to you could be as disturbed as Norman.
        Psycho's structure is meticulously formed, and the given sequence is an intricate part of the overall of the film. The scene in the shower is world renowned, and provides one of the most radical narrative devices seen in cinema. The murder of the films main character. The film as a hole is very deceptive, Hitchcock is extremely selective with the information he shows to the audience. Hitchcock's fascination in voyeurism is apparent throughout by his concentration on the eye, and spying. He invites the viewer to ask themselves the question of what is being seen. This point should remind that what they see is a very subjective, two dimensional representation of a much larger overall world.


"Film as Film" V.F. Perkins (Pelican)

"Film Art" David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson (McGraw-Hill)

"Hitchcock" Francois Truffaut (Paladin)

"Media Students Book" Gill Bransome (Routledge)

"The Cinema Book" Pam Cook & Mieke Bernink

"An Introduction to Film Studies" Jill Nelmes (Routledge)
ad 4
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved