Freud’s Psychoanalysis of the Film “Psycho”

Published: 2021-07-26 04:20:07
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Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most outstanding filmmakers of the 20th century. He was born in 1899 in Leytonstone, East London. In 1920, Hitchcock obtained a full-time job designing film titles. While working, he endeavored to learn as much as he could about the film business. Within 3 years of starting his job at the studio, Hitchcock became an assistant director and, in 1925, a director. In a career spanning six decades, Hitchcock made 53 films, the best of which are at once suspenseful, exciting, disturbing, funny and romantic.
The so-called ‘master of suspense’ pioneered many of the techniques of the thriller genre, and remains highly influential to this day. He was one of the first directors to portray psychological processes in film narrative. During much of Hitchcock’s career, Freud’s ideas were dominant, and although Hitchcock was skeptical of psychoanalysis, Freudian concepts and motifs recur in many of his films. Hitchcock’s films usually centre on either murder or espionage, with deception, mistaken identities, and chase sequences complicating and enlivening the plot.
Three main themes predominate in Hitchcock’s films. The most common is that of the innocent man who is mistakenly suspected or accused of a crime and who must then track down the real perpetrator in order to clear himself. Examples of films having this theme include The Lodger, Strangers on a Train, I Confess, To Catch a Thief, The Wrong Man, and Frenzy. The second theme is that of the guilty woman who enmeshes a male protagonist and ends up either destroying him or being saved by him; examples of this theme include Blackmail, Notorious, Rebecca, Vertigo, and Marnie.
The third theme is that of the (frequently psychopathic) murderer whose identity is established during the working out of the plot; examples of this theme include Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, and Psycho. Hitchcock’s films always have close relationship with Freud’s psychoanalysis. Through the devices of suspense and horror in his movies, he produced the perfect combination of film and psychology, which presents the audiences a vivid interpretation of Freud’s psychoanalysis.
Hitchcock is the first great film director who explained Freud’s psychoanalysis theories, such as dream analysis, psychological trauma, Libido, Oedipus complex in his movies. Therefore, to some extent, he promoted the widely spread of Freud’s theories. Thus, people regard Hitchcock as “the Freud in movie industry”. Freud’s work was very influential during the 20th century. He became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis. Some of the important ideas that he introduced are the idea of human psyche being divided into 3 parts: the id, ego and superego, the Oedipus/Electra complex, stages in the development of a child etc.
We will elaborate on these ideas once we start the detailed analysis of the movie Psycho. Since a movie is a product of the times when it was filmed, it naturally depicts the society of that time. Hitchcock’s movies, in particular, give us an insight into the abnormality that existed beneath the surface of the perfect American society. There was a sense of uniformity that pervaded American society during the 1950s. Conformity was common, as young and old alike followed group norms rather than striking out on their own.
Though men and women had been forced into new employment patterns during World War II, once the war was over, traditional roles were reaffirmed. Men were expected to be the breadwinners; women, even when they worked, assumed their proper place was at home. Women were expected to be perfect, in every way. They were expected to wear pearls and high heels and await the return of their all-knowing husband. Women were trained into this routine from an early age. Everyone wanted the perfect TV family. Television and other forms of technology became widespread through the country.
TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Honeymooners showed how it was to be a family in the 1950’s. The television gave much of the country something to do. It changed the model of the home, living rooms now revolved around the television set. Domestic comedies stretched the values and morals of the time period. What was portrayed on television became accepted as normal. The ideal family, the ideal schools and neighborhoods, the world, were all seen in a way which had only partial basis in reality.
For this reason people have often also assumed that these fictional households ought to mirror not simply family life in general, but their own personal values regarding it. However, the society in America held millions of secrets. Outwardly, people appeared to hold higher values and morals than they practiced in their family and private lives. What was under this perfect image was a wasteland of cheap houses, bored men commuting to work, unhappy housewives, and greedy, demanding children.
Society affects the psychology of an individual by setting number of rules, expectations and laws. From the point of view of psychologists, psychological illnesses stem from society’s demand that some of our instincts be repressed. People are pressurized to keep the appearance of leading a life according to social norms and if they do something that is not socially accepted, it must be hidden. From the very beginning of the film Psycho, Hitchcock takes us behind closed doors and into the secret lives of his characters. The opening scene presents a survey of the city of Phoenix.
As we scan the buildings, the camera focuses on one building and takes us closer until we enter through an opened window to find the main female character Marion Crane and her lover Sam in a motel room. , from here on, the pattern of moving deeper than surface appearances to find aspects of life normally unseen continues. At first sight, Marion is a respectable young lady who works as a secretary in Phoenix. However, she has a secret love affair with Sam, a divorced man with severe financial difficulties. Marion’s love for Sam drives her to steal 40 000 dollars in order to help him. Freud would explain this action as stemming from the id.
Freud offered a structural model of the human psyche consisting of 3 elements: id, ego and superego. The id relies on the “pleasure principle” looking only for gratification and not looking at the consequences. The super ego aims for what’s right and it runs on guilt. Both the id and superego conflict with each other to produce the ego, or the culture of the society. The ego is the meeting of the id with the superego; it represses the inappropriate desires of the id. The ego leads to the development of self. Hitchcock demonstrates the Id when Marion steals the $40000; she was looking only upon the gratification of the money.
In the opening scene, Marion Crane is half undressed in a motel room with Sam wearing a white bra because Hitchcock wanted to show her as being “angelic”. After she has taken the money, the following scene with Marion undressed occurs when she is packing for her escape to California but now she is wearing a black bra because now she has done something wrong. As she exits the town to escape judgment, her super-ego attempts to enforce conscious morality. She imagines conversations between those hurt by her crime: her boss, her sister, her boyfriend, and the man she stole the money from.
She is still not dissuaded and continues. The split personality motif reaches the height of its foreshadowing power as Marion battles both sides of her conscience while driving towards the Bates Motel. Marion wrestles with the voices of those that her crime and disappearance has affected. While driving, she imagines a conversation with Sam, a conversation of her boss with her colleague, and a conversation between her boss and his client from whom she has stolen the money. We hear their voices on the sound track as an interior monologue. This voices stand for the superego and we can see it in the next scene.
For the first time Marion is acting in a neurotic way, now that she is under pressure because of the money she is stealing to finance her marriage with Sam. We see her nervous and uneasy face in a close-up. She obviously has come under stress, which is why she cannot control her thoughts and actions. Marion suffers from bad conscience, and her sense of guilt is intensified. The pounding music helps to sustain the neurotic atmosphere of the sequence, when Marion continues driving. It is not a coincidence that it’s raining at this particular moment. The rain foreshadows that something bad is going to happen.
She stops for the night at the isolated Bates Motel. Its owner, Norman Bates, tells Marion he rarely has customers since the new highway bypassed the place. He mentions he lives with his mother in the grim-looking house overlooking his motel and invites Marion to share supper with him. Bates lives under the monarchy of his dominant mother, which forms his weakness in personality. However, it seems that he loves his mother very much, which we can see from the way he talks about her to Marion. We can hear Norman saying that “a boy’s best friend is his mother”.
His strong attachment to his mother, despite the way she treats him, is obvious and that’s why he can’t picture being away from her which we can conclude from the further dialogue between Marion and Norman. At this point we can conclude, by the way Norman talks about his mother, that their relationship is quite unusual. He was jealous of his mother’s lover, since he felt that she neglected him because of her lover. This is best seen when he says that ”a son is a poor substitute for a lover”. Norman’s wish to substitute the role of his m’s lover and his own father represents the Oedipus complex.
The Oedipus complex is one of Freud’s basic theories of psychoanalysis. In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrates upon a child’s desire to sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud who coined the term “Oedipus complex” believed that the Oedipus complex is a desire for the parent in both males and females; during the early childhood, the boy desires the mother, and the girl desires the father, which is a universal phenomenon of human-beings.
However, from the primitive society to modern civilization, incest is unaccepted and intolerable by the society. Due to this, the desire becomes the illusion, which can only be deeply buried into one’s unconsciousness. During one’s whole life, the desire and illusion is repressed. Freud thinks that this is the main psychological matter of childhood. All the complex psychological activities originated from it. To most people, the existence of this phenomenon is a shame of morality. Thus, people feel guilty about it.
Through the analysis of Oedipus complex, people find that children’s sexual instinct and its development plays an important role in one’s psychological development of whole life. In order for the boy to resolve the Oedipus complex, he must repress these fantasies. The essence of repression lies simply in the turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious. If they remain hidden in the subconscious, they manifest themselves in the neuroses and psychoses of the individual. Oedipus complex occurs in the unresolved oedipal phase which comes after 3 crucial stages of the development of a “self”.
The first stage is a stage of narcissism, self love or auto-eroticism. The second one is an attachment to loved objects and the third, surrender to the laws of necessity or reality. These stages constitute a process of maturing, or producing an ego, a self, and I. There is another stage, called the mirror stage, which is positioned between primary narcissism (love for self) and attachment to loved objects (love for others), that is between the first and second stage of development. Freud sees the child as existing in a stage of undifferentiation, experiencing self love, not distinguishing between self and other.
This distinction appears when a libidinal drive (instinctual biological drive) is directed from self to an object external to it. What is formed in this shift is recognition of self as object, as if seen in a mirror, the mirror constituted by the looks of others. This self is the ego, and becomes the means of self-definition and identification. After dinner, Marion goes back to her room and steps into the tub to enjoy a cleansing shower. Let’s see that famous shower scene. The shower scene is for sure in Hitchcock’s cinema the most famous one (not to say one of the most famous of the whole cinema).
The fact that Hitchcock killed off the main female character in the movie, after just half an hour was only one of his many unheard of elements. Even a flushing toilet — considered a vulgar sight — had never been seen in such a big movie. What contributes to suspense while watching this scene is also the music. The person who watches the scene is affected by the mood of the music feeling the tension, but also understands what is going to happen. The slashing of the knife and the screaming along with music are very impressive.
Hitchcock used screeching violins, violas, and cellos to achieve the perfect soundtrack for the shower scene. In search for Marion, her sister and her fiancee end up in the Bates motel. The moment of revelation happens when Marion’s sister enters the house and goes to the basement. This is where she finds the corpse of Norman’s mother, and everything becomes clear when Norman enters the room dressed in woman’s clothes. Norman’s mother is dead, and that he was the one who killed Marion. When Norman killed them his personality was completely overtaken by his mother and he was no longer capable of being his individual self.
When arrested, he is treated as a psychiatric case, and later on the psychiatrist explains Norman’s pathology in detail, introducing a villain/monster who isn’t driven by the usual motives. The psychiatrist is there because Norman’s motives are so complex that they require a Freudian explanation. Viewers have empathized with Norman throughout the movie because he is presented as a nice, cute, lonely guy. So at the end, the psychological explanation is necessary to show how someone not that different from the ordinary viewer could become such a twisted killer.
It is Norman’s intense attachment to his mother that leads to his split and alternate personality. Two souls exist in his body, one is himself, another is his mother. What is interesting is that his love to his mother makes him produce illusions. When mother’s personality controls him, he feels that his mother loves him mutually, so the mother is jealous about the young ladies her son is attracted to. Consequently, the mother wants to kill them. Thus, Bates becomes a serial killer of beautiful girls. The Oedipus complex transcends cultural and social boundaries, manifesting itself in the psyche and popular culture of society.
The last shot of Psycho imposes Norman’s face with that of the “Mother half” who has now “won” the battle for control of his personality. In the final scene Norman, shares his thoughts with the audience. Only his thoughts are those of his mother confirming the schizophrenic split personality disorder. Norman is an example of the extreme manifestation of the oedipal complex. Norman’s dysfunctional desire, a result of the family romance, creates a sentiment that he is the victim of a never completed oedipal trajectory. Bates is entrapped by his suffocating past and is therefore taken over by his own vision of the mother.
The two names of the main characters, Marion and Norman, are almost anagrams of each other. This encourages the audience to see the characters as mirror images of each other, and how normality (Marion) has within it abnormality (Norman). We know that Marion’s id is shown when she decides to take the money; however, her superego takes over when she understands the consequences of her act and when she decides to go back and fix what she has done. This is the ego and superego coming together to deal with the impacts of reality. Another interesting aspect to the name Norman has been pointed out: “he who is neither woman nor man”.
Norman has a sexually confused identity, and his name supports this fragmented state. Others have suggested that three levels of the Psycho house correspond to Superego (upstairs), Ego (main floor), and id (cellar). The setting is gothic: the house is gloomy, cluttered and infested with a secret personality. Norman’s parlor is filled with stuffed birds, and Marion’s motel room is adorned with pictures of birds. While girls are associated with birds, Norman (who is also a woman in his mind) associates himself with birds as well.
Norman truly holds a psychotic position-both aggressor and victim. The aggression is seen in his last name. Bates sounds like “baits,” and Marion’s last name of Crane situates her character as “bird” in a story where Norman’s hobby of taxidermy lends itself to the stuffing of birds. Crane takes the bait and becomes victim. The city Marion starts from also symbolizes a bird. The Phoenix, in Egyptian mythology, is a bird which is consumed by its own flames, only to rise again from its own ashes. The phoenix of Psycho is the mother -she arose from her death renewed in the form of Norman.
We’ve come to the end of our presentation. We talked about Hitchcock’s work, we discussed Freud’s theories through the movie, and explained the major symbols in the movie. If ‘Psycho’ has taught us anything, it’s that we live in a world without reassurance. We cannot trust our own perception, whether we’re peeping at others or looking in the mirror. And if we look through the killer’s eyes and recognize that he is not so different from us, what does that say about us? Thank you for your attention, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

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