Narrative Report & segmentation on an Alfred Hitchcock film

Narrative Report and Segmentation of Hitchcock Film Psycho



Story and Plot

A narrative is considered as being the sequence of events occurring in space and time in a cause-effect relationship. To analyze a film’s narrative, one needs to first differentiate between the story of the film and the plot of the film. The word “plot” refer to all the aspects of a film that are audibly and visibly presented to the viewer. The plot’s description includes the events of the story and both non-diegetic and diegetic elements of a film. The plot can also be termed as the activities which take place to achieve some sort of artistic or emotional goal relating to what the story is centered on such as the conflicts or characters that occur in the story. Some stories use a plot device which is something that has only a single purpose of advancing the plot.

The story of Psycho film originates from a partnership of both the information which is directly presented to the viewer by way of what is heard or seen in the film and the suggestions made by the audience after they have viewed of listened to the information that has been given (Hitchcock, 1960). Even though not all parts of the story are inferred. One can use story interchangeably with narrative however the main dissimilarity is that story is the structure of events that are used to describe the narrative. An attempt to keep the plot and the story exclusive makes the distinction between them to be quite confusing since they overlap in one sense but are different in others.

The overlap is as a result of the plot encompassing the events of the story. The plot of a film is different from the story of a film in that the non-diegetic traits of the film have an influence on the plot. The elements of the story of a film narrative includes the inferences made by the viewer though not directly viewed in the film. Therefore, the plot of something is the manner in which and through what the events of a narrative are being told and the story is the central base or theme of what the film is communicating


Depth and Range of Information

In this film Psycho, Hitchcock lets the audience to turn into a subjective character within the plot so as to enhance the film’s psychological effects for an audience that is compelled to identify its own psychological inadequacies and neurosis as it is forced to identify, for varying duration of time, with the main character’s personalities that is contrasting. Hitchcock delivers an intensifying theme in Psycho, which bases itself on the unending subconscious fight between good and evil that is present in everyone through the subjective participation of the audience. Psycho starts with a view of a certain city that is arbitrarily identified along with an exact time and date. The camera, apparently at random, chooses one of the many buildings and then proceeds to one of the many windows so as to explore before the audience is introduced to Sam and Marion.

Hitchcock random selection use creates a sense of normalcy to the audience. The mere fact that the city and the room are arbitrarily recognized gives an impression to the audiences that their own lives could be applied to the events that are to follow. In the opening series of Psycho, Hitchcock prospers in catching the audience’s initial senses of suspicion and awareness while allowing it to identify with the helpless situation of Marion. The sympathy of the audience towards Marion is amplified with the introduction of Cassidy whose boasting encourages the audience to dislike his character. Cassidy’s transparent statement that all sadness can be bought by money, incites the audience to justify Marion’s theft of his forty thousand dollars.

We get the first glimpse of the main character who is Marion Crane. Who is a bond wearing a white bra and cuddles with her lover Sam. Hitchcock decided to use the white bra at the beginning as it signifies Marion’s innocence. Later on, after Marion steals the money, we see her in a black bra which signifies her darker side. At some point Marion’s boyfriend Sam releases the arms so passionately that were passionately holding to the love of his life. Then there is an exchange of words that follows. From this dialogue, we realize that they cannot be married due to financial reasons, but in real sense Hitchcock is somehow justifying the future things that Marion is to do.

Relationship between Story and Plot         

AS Marion’s starts her journey, the audience are further drawn back into the depth of what is abnormal behavior though they are forced to identify and sympathize with Marion’s actions. It is with the character of Marion that Hitchcock first introduces the concept of a split personality to the audience. All through the first part of the film, the reflections of Marion are frequently noted in a number of mirrors and windows. Hitchcock is thus able to create a voyeuristic sensation within the audience as it can bring to vision the effects of any situation through Marion’s conscious mind. In the car dealership for instance, Marion enters the secluded bathroom so as to have privacy when counting her money. Hitchcock on the other hand with upper camera angles and appropriate placement of mirror is in a position to bring forth the sense of a conscious mind that makes privacy not possible.

Hitchcock lets audiences into the bathroom with Marion and allows them to struggle with their own beliefs and values while Marion makes her personal decisions and continues with her journey. The split personality theme reaches the height of its power of foreshadowing as Marion fights both sides of her conscience while driving on a likely endless road towards Bates Motel. Marion battles with the voices of the people who her crime and disappearance has affected while the audience on the other hand is compelled to recognize the reason why they can easily identify with Marion despite the wrongful actions she has done.

As the journey of Marion comes to an end at Bates Motel, Hitchcock has succeeded in making the audience be direct participants within the plot. The animosity and suspicion felt by Marion while she is at the Motel is equally felt by the audience. As Marion shakes while hearing Norma yell at Norman, the suspicions of the audience are heightened since Hitchcock at this point made Marion to be the key link between the plot and the audience. The first confrontation between Norman Bates and Marion is used by Hitchcock to slowly sway the sympathy of the audience for Norman and Marion. Hitchcock forces the audience to identify with the shy and quite character whose commitment to his invalid mother has cost him his identity.

After Norman and Marion finish dining, Hitchcock has safeguarded the empathy of the audience for Norman and the audience is now made to question the relationship they had with Marion whose criminal behavior cannot be compared to Norman’s respectable and honest lifestyle. The audience is however reassured when Marion upon returning to her room, comes to a decision to return the money and face the consequences of her actions. She calculates the amount of money she will have to return from her pocket as $700, after she tears the note into pieces, she looks around and cannot find a bin and she decides to flush it in the toilet.

This is the first time that flushing of a toilette is seen on screen. The audience are shocked by the sight of a flushing toilet that they are not used to see in films. Hitchcock has the view that the shot in the toilet is a key component to the plot of the film. The toilet shot actually foreshadows the shower scene. Upon Norman’s introduction, Hitchcock introduces the 1st of many characters parallel with Psycho. The clash between Norman and Marion, although is not seeming to the audience until the end of the film, is one of psychosis versus neurosis. The obsessive and compulsive actions that led Marion to steal the money is recognizable, even though the unusual behavior, embraced by the audience as their sympathy is primarily directed to her character.

The shower scene is a well edited scene, here, Hitchcock makes use of sound and editing as cinematic manipulations to bring a carefully thought out terrible murder scene. The result of this is perfection. In not more than one minute, we experience a combination of 78shots, in connection to the sound of a knife slashing against the skin. The knife is however not seen entering Marion’s flesh, though we are convinced we see through the sight of stabbing, the musical score, sound effect and the carefully done editing. The exposing the audience to about 45seconds of continuous violence without in the real sense showing any violence, Hitchcock leaves it up to the audience’s imagination.

Imagination usually has no limits and that’s the reason why the scene is timeless and shocking years later. The shock is not just as a result of bombardment of cuts on Marion body but because Hitchcock killed off the leading lady in the film. We listened to Marion’s thoughts, looked through her eyes and witnessed her actions only to later see her naked body slashed to a brutal death. With over an hour to go, anything is possible in the film, the audience wait for Hitchcock’s next note on the piano. Norman dashes in so as to clean his mother’s mess. Therefore, we do not only witness the death of the leading character, Marion but we see Norman watching the blood off the wall, the bathtub, the floor and the sink after he washes his bloody hands. After this, Norman wraps Marion’s body in the curtain. This brings the scene of Marion wrapping the newspaper around the $39,000. Norman then gathers Marion’s stuffs and puts them in her car, along with the wrapped MacGuffin and the wrapped body (Ebert, 1998).

Marion’s car slowly sinks into the dark swamp. For a moment, the car stops sinking. Hitchcock is playing with the audience at this moment, because even though we just witnessed our hero brutally murdered, we just want the car to fully sink, it does finally sink and fades to black. Into the inside of Sam’s hardware store, we see one of the customers studying a can of poison. Then enters Lila who is Marion’s sister, she is worried and wants to find out the whereabouts of her sister Marion. Sam does not have a clue where her sister is, he then tells his co-worker to go and have his lunch. The co-worker leaves. Though the scene remain to be a three shot with the entry of Arbogast who is a private investigator. All the three ask some questions and eventually they are all updated.

They realize that they are all in search of the same person who happens to be Marion. Lila wants to find her sister, Arbogast wants to find the money and Sam wants to find her girlfriend back. A new story then unfolds. As the story now takes a new dimension, so does the editing. The first part of the picture is edited to look like the events of the story took place within just two days. The pace is also speeded up after the first part has ended. In the following scene, Arbogast begins to check different hotels for information on a missing Marion. The scene is a sequence of shots showing Arbogast in various hotels, which clearly suggest the passage of time. Eventually, Arbogast manages to reach the Bates hotel.

Arbogast begins his investigation right away. He clearly states the purpose of his visit and shows Norman Marion’s picture. Norman is scared and tries to end the conversation as soon as possible. “Well, no one has stopped here for a couple of weeks.” Arbogast insist that Norman should take a look at the picture before he decides to commit himself. This shows perfect acting. Initially, Norman is relaxed to offer his candy. But with time as pressure builds up, the performance of Perkins intensifies. Arbogast realizes a lie when Norman claims that a couple of people visited last week and seeks to take a look at the Motel’s register. Norman decides to look at the picture again and claims that she was here but could not recognize her at first sight because her hair was all wet.

The terror being conveyed by Hitchcock to the audience shows itself once the audience realize that they showed empathy to a psychotic person to a greater level than they did to a rational person when their sympathy is shifted to Norman. The shift from the normal to the abnormal is not clear to the audience in the parlor scene but the audience is later compelled to reexamine their own character and conscience judgment abilities so as to discover why Norman’s difficulty appeared more worthy of their sympathy than Marion’s situation. At the time of the infamous shower case, Hitchcock expresses a sense of cleansing to the audience. Hitchcock reassures the audience that Marion is still credible and introduces Norman as a wholesome character.

The new security discovered by the audience is destroyed when Marion is murdered. More disturbing to the audience is the fact that the scene is shot not through Marion’s eyes but through the eyes of the killer. The audience being in a vulnerable state now, looks to Norman to replace Marion as the main focus in it’s subjective role. After the murder of Marion, the role of the audience in the film takes a different approach. Hitchcock provokes the audience to make use of the film’s other characters so as to solve the mystery of Marion’s death at the same time he still successfully maintains the sympathetic bond that was between Norman and the audience.

Closing Scene

Interestingly, Hitchcock manages to play on the obsession of the audience with the stolen money since the audience clearly knows that it had been sunk yet they cling to the fact that Marion’s death may have been as a result of her crime with the introduction of Lila, Sam and Arbogast. Hitchcock makes use of Arbogast’s character to arouse suspicion in the audience. Arbogast’s murder is not intense as the murder of Marion since the audience had not developed any kind of subjective bond with him. Arbogast primary motivation, nonetheless, was to recover the money that had been stolen which makes the audience to be interested in his quest. In spite of the fact that Arbogast interrupts Norman’s innocent existence the audience do not perceive him as an annoyance as they had viewed the interrogative policemen who had slowed down Marion’s journey (Ebert, 1998).

At the time when Lila and Sam risk to go to the Bates Motel to find about the disappearances of both Marion and Arbogast, Hitchcock continues to present the audience with even more character parallels. As Lila begins to search Norman’s home, Hitchcock suitably places Norman and Sam in the parlor where Marion had dinner with Norman before she had been brutally murdered. As these men face each other, the audience is in a position of seeing their contrasting personalities in relation to Marion. Sam who had won Marion’s trust is respectable and poised when compared to Norman, whose sexual repression and timid nature is reflected in the scenes whereby Lila is exploring his bedroom. The conflict that comes up between Norman and Sam brings out the fact that Sam had what Norman wanted but was not able to attain it as a result of his psychotic nature.

Psycho concludes by bringing up a blatant explanation for the psychotic nature of Norman. The audience, even though they had received a genuine explanations for Norman’s actions, is left confused and terrified by the last scene of Norman and the expression of his split personality. Faced with this issue, Hitchcock compels the audience to examine their conscious self in in association to the events which they had subjectively played a role in. The fear which Psycho creates for the audience does not come up from the brutality of the murders but it comes from the subconscious identification with the characters of the film, all of whom in a way reflect one side of a collective character.

Hitchcock enforces the notion that all the basic sentiments and emotions that are derived from the film can be felt by any person as the unending battle between evil and good is present in all life’s aspects. The effective use of character parallels and the conception of the audience subjective roles in the plot enables Hitchcock to attract terror and convey a sense of anxiety within the audience through a more and more intensifying theme. The brilliance of Hitchcock as a director has cemented Psycho’s place among the most profound and reputable horror films ever created.

Reference List

Hitchcock, A. (1960) Psycho Film.

Ebert, R. (1998). Review of Psycho (1998 film). Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10/10/2014


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