Film Analysis #2-Psycho

Psycho  is a classic suspense thriller from the great mind of Alfred Hitchcock. Originally released by Paramount Pictures in 1960 to mixed reviews, it caused quite a stir when it came out. The amount of risks that were taken in this film is amazing to think about really. Looking at the opening shot, you see two unmarried people in bed together which was thought of to be taboo in those days and later on we see a big name actress, Janet Leigh, die within the first half of the film. This especially was so shocking and unprecedented because of not only how she died but the fact that the promotion for the film used Leigh’s picture and name to get the public to come see it in the first place. Even having a toilet flushing on screen caused concern among the public. Hitchcock broke many barriers with this film and it is now considered a classic in the genre and one of Hitchcock’s best works ever.
The lighting and colors in this film are perfect to tell this story. The choice to use black and white instead of color was critical and gave the settings of the film a much more chilling feeling than if it was in color. In one scene in particular when Norman asks Marion to go back to the parlor to eat dinner with him shows the power the choice of black and white and the lighting choices had on both how we see the characters and how we see the settings.
The scene begins when they both walk into the parlor. Its pitch black in there but Norman goes and turns on the sole light source in the room which was a lamp. Once he turns the lamp on Marion really sees what’s in the room and we see her expression change from being at ease to startled. We see her eyes scan the entire room and each time her eyes stop on something, the camera cuts to what she’s looking at which are all the stuffed birds hanging around the room. She pretends to not be startled by them and begins talking to Norman and eats. From here on throughout the scene, there isn’t one frame where we don’t see a bird in the background.
The mise en scene in this scene in particular the shadows and the birds are what really makes us uneasy watching it. The room is filled with shadows that give off this ominous feeling. Seeing the shadows surround both Marion and Norman it feels like they are being swallowed by them. We are constantly in a state of uneasiness in this scene because of the mise en scene and we therefore are uneasy about Norman. Realizing that he has this room in the back and that he admits to stuffing birds, this is the real starting point into us wondering if there is something up with him. In fact whenever Norman talked, we pretty much have the same expressions and reactions as Marion does on screen. It was interesting to see that this weird vibe the audience gets from Norman comes across to Marion as well.
Even though Norman is such an eye drawing character, the birds in this scene really make it memorable. Its almost as if we expect them to start moving because you can’t help but stare at them and we don’t quite know what to make of anything about Norman and this place yet. We are almost threatened by them because they are literally everywhere. There are some shots where the camera is angled up towards the ceiling and we can see them on the walls and some where they are on ground level but never are they out of our sight. We obviously know from what Norman tells Marion that they are stuffed but they still give off this odd presence of being threatening and yet we know they are harmless.
Another very interesting aspect of this scene is that there isn’t one instance when both Norman and Marion are in the same frame. Every time one of them is talking the camera is on them and then it cuts to the others reaction but we never see them together in a frame. This actually worked very well because the cutting back and forth between them gave a tense feel to the scene and made you wonder what the other would say next. These days, a director would probably take advantage of having two people in a room with such great mise en scene as Norman’s parlor and keep them both and the entire room visible throughout but Hitchcock didn’t do this and this is just one of the many decisions he made that make this film such a classic.
It seems like everything was important and had a purpose in this film. The choice of black and white, the lighting, the music, the story, the twist ending, and of course the shower scene all make Psycho the classic it is regarded as. It’s been 50 years since its release and it’s still able to chill audiences in ways modern thrillers only wish they can. Alfred Hitchcock truly is the master of suspense.

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One Response to “Film Analysis #2-Psycho”

  1. Brad Bujan Says:

    The scene you chose was peculiar. But after reading your analysis i understand why you chose this scene. The scene conveys a great understanding of the film as it leads the film to a sense of unexpectancy. As Marlion is startled in this scene, the audience is startled in every scene after it. With a never ending cycle of unexpected twists and turns the scene you chose set the mood for unease and surprises in the scenes to come. Great job!

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