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Free Custom «"Psycho" (1960)» Essay Sample

Thesis of Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is a classical masterpiece in the genre of suspense and horror where the director skillfully uses light and shadow, soundtrack, and psychological cues to signal about psychological troubles of the protagonist. Apart from cinematographic means, Hitchcock relies on dialogues and props to covey the sense of trouble and sickness of mind of the protagonist. Shot in black and white, Hitchcock’s Psycho is more distinct in indicating positive and negative sides of the characters and the scene with light and shadow, but, at the same time, monochrome reduces the effect of violence that could have shocked the audience too much in the 1960s.

Thesis for analysis: Without showing graphic violence, Hitchcock manages to create a sense of suspense, horror, and chaos and then frighten the audience by using a harsh and fast-playing soundtrack with screeching violin sounds, chaotic editing technique, and mise-en-scene in the famous shower scene.

In the 1960s, the audience was not as spoiled with violence as it is now, so Hitchcock had to proceed cautiously to increase the suspense and rely on the audience’s imagination without putting the censors on their guard. The mise-en-scene of the shower scene has several cues indicating that something ominous is about to happen. The protagonist, Marion Crane, walks into the bathroom and flushes down the toilet the torn pieces of paper with her calculations; for the 1960s America, it was very innovative to show anything flushed down the toilet. Then, Marion steps into the shower and turns on the water. The camera shows a showerhead as if looking at the protagonist, and it indicates that something bad can happen. The different shots of the showerhead, especially the one from the top, suggest that the protagonist is under observation, that she is being watched by someone. It mirrors the way Bates observes Marion through a hole in the wall. However, Marion steps into the shower in an uplifted mood. Naked and smiling, she has just decided to return the money. Therefore, her washing in the shower can be interpreted as washing from the sin of stealing. In contrast to dark and rainy outside, the white walls in the bathroom of the hotel cabin are light and glaring. Nothing forebodes the tragedy. However, Marion is naked and, therefore, unprotected and vulnerable. Several seconds after she has started taking shower, a dark shadow is seen behind the shower curtain. After Marion is stabbed, the camera zooms on the drain, showing how the water flows away similarly to the way Marion’s life leaving her body. The next shot shows Marion’s lifeless open eye and the whole mise-en-scene with the body prostrated on the floor.


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The shower scene has a quick shift from a mundane showering to a gruesome murder. It is reflected in the cutting technique. The scene starts from medium-angle shots of Marion entering the bathroom and stepping into the shower. The calm procedure of soaping and washing is abruptly stopped by a large number of editing cuts and a rapidly changing camera angles. This way the director creates a feel of chaos and anxiety. When the murderer approaches Marion, the audience sees close-ups of Marion’s screaming mouth and rapidly moving hand with a knife. Then, follows a sequence of high-angle and low-angle shots changing at high speed. The audience feels disoriented and experiences shock and horror that the protagonist is experiencing. The fast-paced editing creates an illusion of the actress being stabbed, whereas, in fact, the shots show the images of the knife against Marion’s stomach and above the head. The rest of the shots are focused on flailing hands, head shaking from side to side and running water. Thus, with a skillful editing, Hitchcock manages to create a scene of stabbing to death without actually showing how the knife penetrates the skin. There are no images of open wounds and blood gushing out of cuts. The director relies on the audience’s imagination, showing splatters of blood and dark-tinted rivulets of blood, implying that the protagonist is dripping with blood. The last shot after the murderer has left zooms in on the protagonist’s hand. Marion attempts to get hold of the white tiled wall, and her strength is on the wane, and, eventually, she plops on the edge of the bathtub.

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The suspense and horror of the shower scene is greatly intensified by the soundtrack. When Marion steps into the shower, only the noise of water is heard. Then, together with a quick sound of the shower curtain being pulled aside, the screeching of the strings suddenly begins. The audience realizes that something bad is about to happen. The composer made the soundtrack only with sounds of string instruments played at increased speech to convey the sense of chaos and horror. To create a sense of increasing horror, the director uses high-pitched violin screeches, screams of the actress, and dramatic music against the background of running water. At the moment of the murder, all sounds are united in a dynamic and tense crescendo, whereas after the murderer leaves, Marion slides down to the floor with the dramatic accords only. When Marion drops dead on the floor, there is no soundtrack and only a rhythmic noise of the water measures a pace of time. Along with the music and screaming, the audience also hears the sounds on the knife entering the flesh. It intensifies the thrilling sensation of the audience and contributes to the horror of the scene.

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