Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Marion Crane, office worker, steals $40,000 and flees
Phoenix to be with her debt ridden boyfriend in
California. On the way she stops at the Bates Motel
where she meets Norman Bates. Norman’s “mother”
murders Marion. Soon after, Marion’s sister arrives in
California with a private detective following her.
Arbogast, the detective, follows the clues to the Bates
Motel and is murdered by Norman’s “mother”. Marion’s
sister and Sam approach the local police chief and
discover Norman’s mother has been dead for years.
They go to bates motel in search of Marion where
Norman’s mother attempts to murder Marion’s sister but
is stopped by Sam. They then discover that the mother
is in fact Norman’s alter ego.
Marion Crane: Janet Leigh
Lila Crane: Vera Miles
Sam Loomis: John Gavin
Milton Arbogast: Martin Balsam
Norman Bates: Anthony Perkins
Opening scenes take place in Phoenix,
Arizona but quickly moves to California.
The time and place are clearly established
by the screen titles.
The opening of a film is often the most critical part of the film. This
is where the audience expectations are set up. What narrative
possibilities are established in the opening of Psycho? What could
be about to happen? Why do you think this?
Consider the following:
Titles: From the outset the audience is put on
edge. The titling is quick moving and harsh. At
points the titles are jagged and split horizontally,
then rejoined. This could possibly insinuate that
the Psycho has a split personality.
Music: Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for
the film. The music in the opening is full of harsh
and abrupt strings which seem to set a one
dimensional, yet suspenseful tone. The score is
composed with ONLY strings in the orchestra.
Apparently Herrmann chose this as he felt it
complemented the B&W film by having less
dimensions to it.
Camera movement: The camera is quite
voyeuristic. It pans slowly across the rooftops until
it begins zooming towards a window of a
darkened room, hesitating at points as if peeking
in on a secret. It moves from the normal city
atmosphere to the abnormal world of anxiety and
shady love between two unfree people. This
camera movement could seen to be a metaphor
of the flow of the film which moves steadily from
the normal deeper and deeper into the abnormal.
Setting:The city location and time is
clearly established in the captions. The
change from the brightly lit, bustling city to
an unknown, murky and seedy darkness;
from the very public to the very intimate
was what Hitchcock intended. Hitchcock
was known for making metaphorical
statements in the opening shot.
Lighting: The lighting in the hotel room is dim,
yet gentle, perhaps representative of the secrecy
of their relationship. There are no harsh
shadows. Their conversation is based about
Marion’s frustration with the secrecy of their
relationship. When Sam agrees that they need
to be more public he opens the venetian blind,
flooding the room with light. The light is used
symbolically to highlight the announcement that
this relationship can now be public.
Dialogue: The dialogue in the opening scene
primarily alerts the audience to the predicament
of Marion and Sam. Both are indebted to
someone and deprived of their freedom. For
Sam it’s about money, for Marion it’s about the
constricts of her mother’s opinion. In a way this
being dominated by people of the past
foreshadows what is to unfold at the Bates motel.
Notable quotes from Marion “…when your time is
up”, “Sam – this is the last time” and “I pay, too”
How have production elements been used
to develop two of the characters in
Psycho? You must address the following:
Dress/Appearance: Marion is depicted as an
attractive, respectable, yet desirable young woman.
In the opening scene she is wearing nothing but
white underwear; white being a symbol of good. In
the next scene she is dressed in respectable
business attire, which may reinforce the perception
that she is a responsible and respected person. In
the next scene, when packing the suitcase, she is
shown in black underwear; a symbol of evil, or in
opposition to good. This highlights the inner struggle
she is facing in regards to stealing the money.
Hitchcock believed everyone had both good and evil
traits which he wanted to demonstrate in Marion.
When she is preparing to steal the money she is
dressed in clothing relevant to her state of mind.
Visual Composition: Marion’s character, despite
a momentary lapse of reason, is a good person and
a victim of circumstance. In the parlour scene we
see her cleverly portrayed as the victim in the
relationship between her and Norman. Marion’s
surroundings are soft, gentle and rounded including
the small stuffed birds. She placed so that she is
facing the camera, at eye level, front on and there is
nothing to hide. Hitchcock seems to be portraying
her as redeemable. This is a stark contrast to the
way in which Norman is shot in the very same
Juxtaposition of characters
Marion is shot from the front,
suggesting openness and
honesty. Everything near her is
rounded and soft. The small
stuffed birds may be symbolic of
the relationship between her and
Notice the placement of large
birds of prey surrounding him.
He is placed at an angle to the
camera so part of his face is
obscured, suggesting something
hidden. Other objects in the shot
are angular and harsh.
Lighting: If we continue to focus on the parlour
scene we see that Hitchcock has lit Marion in a
way that she seems almost glowing with
wholesomeness. She is evenly light by soft light
which create almost no shadow at all. Despite
the fact that she has embezzled forty thousand
dollars from her employer, she is not hidden in
shadows of evil or consumed by the darker side
of her nature. Leaving Marion in light indicates
that redemption is possible. Indeed, at the
conclusion of the scene, Marion has done an
Sound/Dialogue: Although Hitchcock tends to
tell a story visually rather than with dialogue the
conversation between Sam and Marion in the
motel room develops Marion’s moral dilemma as
a character. Marion is portrayed as a good
character and not in a sleazy way, despite their
surroundings. The conversation develops
Marion as a character that wants to do the right
thing although circumstances are preventing her
achieving her goals.
Dress/Appearance: When we first meet
Norman there is nothing particularly unusual
about his dress. He is dressed very neat and tidy
which may indicate to the audience that he is a
normal person. Hitchcock probably did this
intentionally so the revelation that he was
actually quite disturbed was more of a shock.
The only clue to his character is that he is
usually dressed in dark clothing which contrasts
with the lighter clothing which Marion wears.
Darker clothing perhaps being symbolic of his
Visual composition: We begin to grow suspect of
Norman as the visual composition of shots including
Norman lead us towards this conclusion. In the
parlour scene Norman is framed with large,
ominous birds of prey surrounding him to give him a
menacing look. The use of angular objects about
him suggest danger. If we look closely we can see
the paintings in shot are of women being attacked.
The fact that Norman is in a way that we can’t see
his whole face also infers that there is something
hidden or sinister. This composition is enhanced by
the low key lighting creating harsh shadow.
Painting behind Norman
The painting on the right is of particular significance
as it hides the peephole Norman uses to spy on
Marion. The painting is Ruben’s Susannah & the
Elders. A painting based on a biblical tale of two
elders who spy on the innocent Susannah as she
is about to bathe outdoors and then pounce on her.
They violate Susannah’s moment of relaxation
much in the same way that Norman violates
Marion’s privacy. Like Norman towards Marion, the
two elders felt lust for Susannah but were ashamed
Susannah & the Elders
Lighting: The lighting on Norman in the parlour
scene is particularly effective. The contrast
between the way Marion is lit and Norman is lit is
very suggestive of their roles. Norman is clearly
presented as the predator and Marion the innocent
prey. Norman is lit with a low level key light to
create a sinister look. Both Norman and the stuffed
birds create harsh shadows on the wall. Parts of
Norman’s face are darkened, suggesting an
unknown element to his character. He looks
particularly menacing in this scene.
Sound/Dialogue: The dialogue between Norman
and Marion in the parlour scene reveals a great
deal about Norman’s character. We learn that he
spent most of his life living alone with his mother.
The mother as an overbearing character that
seems to restrict his development. Phrases such
as “a mother is a boy’s best friend” lets us know
that he is a reclusive sort of character. When
Marion suggests his mother may be better in an
institution his dialogue suggests that he may know
what the inside of an institution is like and suggests
that he is psychologically unstable.
Cause & Effect
Narrative is all about cause and effect.
Without it, narrative would not exist. Cause
and effect provides the reason for the plot
and feed character motivation. It implies
narrative progression from an initial event
that triggers a narrative through a seriese of
linked events that develop the plot through
to a resolution.
Cause & Effect
A narrative generally begins with a
situation, then a series of changes occur
according to a pattern of cause and effect.
With reference to Psycho, discuss two
examples to show how cause and effect
contributes to the way the narrative has
been set out or organised.
Cause & effect.
Sam owes money and cannot afford to
support Marion (Cause)
Marion is tempted by the $40,000 and in a
moment of weakness steals it and runs
towards Sam (Effect)
Marion finds it difficult to see during a
rainstorm and leaves the main road to
arrive at the Bates motel (Cause)
Marion meets Norman and is murdered
within several hours (Effect)
Cause & Effect
Can you create a flow chart for the series
of events that structures the storyline?
At each point in the plot where cause and
effect are employed what other scenarios
could have been presented?
Select a sequence from Psycho and discuss
with examples how any four of the following
elements contributed to the effectiveness of that
• Sound (music, dialogue, sfx, voice over).
• Developing storyline.
• Character development
• Creating suspense
Camera/Film technique: Camera positioning
and framing in this scene gives the audience an
indication of where the power lies between Marion
and Norman. Shooting Norman from a low angle
enhances the feeling the audience gets that he is
the dominant character. This is particularly
effective as Marion is shot at eye level, making her
appear more natural and encouraging the audience
to engage with her rather than Norman. Most of the
shots are MS although we punch in to a close up
as Norman begins to get agitated. This is effective
in reinforcing our suspicion of Norman.
Sound: Herrmann’s score is largely unobtrusive
through this sequence, only becoming noticeable
when Norman begins to get agitated. This change
in the music enhances the sense of weariness the
audience feels about Norman. This is coupled with
the aggressive tone and content of his dialogue at
this point to make the sequence more effective.
Marion’s tone is calm and gentle. The questions
she asks Norman seem innocent which not only
enhance the idea that she is redeemable at this
point but also serve to highlight the Norman’s
Editing: Although much of the story is told using
long, voyeuristic shots with little editing in this
sequence Hitchcock engages the audience with
the use of a SRS sequence between Norman
and Marion. The SRS (Shot Return Shot)
technique makes the sequence more effective
as the audience is able to see each of the
character’s emotions and reactions to each
other. It also serves to make the film more
visually interesting as we are constantly
reminded of the different angles the characters
are being shot from.
Developing Storyline: This is an important sequence
in the development of the storyline. Throughout the
film Marion is depicted as a “good” person who
suffered a momentary lapse of reason. The
dialogue and production elements in this sequence
portray her as redeemable; she has reverted to her
normal self and will return to Phoenix to face the
consequences. In contrast to this the seemingly
clean cut, well mannered Norman is beginning to
develop an evil side. His dialogue and the way
production elements are presenting him causes the
audience to be wary. The production of this
sequence is an effective way to convey the turn in
the storyline to the audience. The story is moving
from being about Marion fleeing with the money and
focusing on this suspicious new character, Norman.
Character development: After 10 slide
discussion on this earlier in the presentation I am
not going to repeat it.
Refer to the question on how production elements
Creating Suspense: The creation of suspense in
this sequence comes from the development of
Normans character. Prior to this point the focus of
the film was the money. Suspense was created
around it. The camera constantly reminding us where
the money was. In this sequence the money seems
to be almost forgotten and the director is building
suspense around Norman. This is particularly
effective as this is approximately where the “second
part” of the movie begins and the audience forgets
about the money and the suspense created by
Marion stealing it. The suspense is now focused on
this new character and his “mother”.