The rain splashes down on Marion Crane’s windshield, making
is almost impossible to see through the night sky. Suddenly, a neon light appears up ahead. At first, its words can barely be made
out. Marion squints to read the sign… ‘Bates Motel’.
To me, that is the most iconic moment in Psycho; even more
than the infamous shower scene. Psycho
is a film that I find myself revisiting more times than I care to count. In my eyes, it is the closest film that
almost achieves perfection. Whether it
be Hitchcock’s impeccable direction, Joseph Stefano’s immaculate screenplay or
the talent of its well-rounded cast, Psycho works without fail, even if, by
all accounts and purposes, it shouldn’t.
On paper, Psycho breaks all the rules. It introduces us to Marion, a woman living an
unsatisfied and droll life, who decides to steal a wad of cash from a potential
client at work and skip town. During an
overnight stop at a decrepit motel run by the odd but harmless Norman Bates,
Marion realizes that her problems really aren’t all that bad. After an uncomfortable, but enlightening
dinner, with Norman, Marion has a change of heart and vows to return the money
the next morning and face the consequences.
Whether or not you’ve seen the film, you know what happens next.
The fact that Marion is set up as the film’s lead
protagonist (even though the majority of her actions are reminiscent of a
traditional antagonist) only to be snuffed out by the forty-five minute mark
was an incredible gamble taken by the filmmakers. Regardless of her actions, the audience
connected with Marion; we wanted to see her story play out. Personally, I don’t think she would have
returned the money if she were to live.
It just doesn’t seem to be in her nature.
During Marion’s dinner with Norman, it’s as if his character
took her place as the film’s lead. The
only reason why such a ballsy move worked was because the characters were
intriguing; neither Norman or Marion were perfect, so we have this natural desire
to see how things pan out. It all
reverts to the fact that, in many ways, we sometimes like a simple and comfortable
type of storytelling. But Hitchcock and
Stefano didn’t want us to be comfortable.
They didn’t want to follow the rules of storytelling. They wanted to drag us through the dirt. They wanted us to forget the woman we connected
with and accept an odd, quiet man who has a frightening mother fixation. Maybe this is why I watch Psycho over and
over. It shouldn’t work. None of it.
But it does. And it boggles the
mind to wonder how the filmmakers pulled off such an incredible feat.
I noticed Quentin Tarantino attempted to pull a similar
narrative move in Death Proof. He set
up the first half of his feature with four women. Suddenly, half way through, the perspective
changes from those four women to another quartet of women; only now, it is seen
through the eyes of the killer, Stuntman Mike.
Why didn’t it work in Tarantino’s film?
The narrative structure of the film was acting too much like a wink to
the audience; letting them in on the joke.
Not to mention the fact that I really didn’t care for the women on
screen or their petty problems.
Obviously, that wasn’t Tarantino’s intention. However, that is the reason why the story
wasn’t successful in my eyes.
Considering Psycho was made in 1960, it’s amazing how well
it’s held up over the years. The story
is haunting (made all the more due to its association with real-life psycho Ed
Gein), characters intriguing and visuals deceptively memorable. I consider Stefano’s work on this film to be
the pinnacle of his career, which says a lot considering this is one of the men
who played an important role in the success of the original Outer Limits
television series back in 1963. His
screenplay is one of the best adaptations that I’ve ever read. He took Robert Bloch’s story out of its
pulpish roots and made it something completely different; all the while
creating one of cinema’s greatest monsters.
Of course, I adore Freddy, Jason, Chucky and Michael. But Norman is a different sort of
monster. He’s the type that lives out
there in our world, not one created by filmmakers for our entertainment. His soft spoken voice and massive collection
of stuffed birds are just few of the traits that make him memorable and
different. Sorry Vince Vaughan, no one
could have done it better than Anthony Perkins.
Psycho is a film that surprises me every time I see
it. Arbogast’s surreal stumble down the
staircase, Mother’s weird, yet soothing voice, Bates’ macabre house sitting on
top of the hill behind the motel. Every
scene is magic. And to think, it all
started with a lonely, seemingly normal, man in Plainfield, Wisconsin.