Joshua Peery Psycho: Marion in the Mirror

In his film Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock makes use of several of his trademark film-making techniques in order to successfully “play” the audience. This visual manipulation can be seen through a close examination of the film’s scenes. Hitchcock makes use of shot / reverse shot, cross-cutting, points of view shots, and mise-enscene to drive the film narrative and to manipulate the audience’s sympathies and identifications. This manipulation is in large part the method by which Psycho extracts an emotional, or as some might say, visceral response in the audience (Gomez 2003).

From the very beginning of the film, Hitchcock is using his “film tools” to manipulate the audience’s identification with her. The audience is introduced to Marion and her situation in the opening scenes of the film. During the scene where Marion is in her apartment, without dialogue, Hitchcock informs the viewer of Marion’s intentions while providing the audience with her point of view. Hitchcock accomplishes this via the camera tracking the line of sight of Marion to the money on the bed and then tracking up to her suitcase.

These sorts of tracking shots will happen several times as Marion moves around her apartment. Hitchcock wants to inform and reinforce Marion’s agenda, depicting her checking her automobile documents, packing her clothes, and continually glancing at the money on the bed. Hitchcock shows the money four times and the suitcase twice to make sure it is not lost on the viewer. Hitchcock’s use of these shots sells the depiction of the money as possessing a Siren-like effect. The method of cross-cutting used here not only moves the story along, but helps Hitchcock make the audience see what Marion sees along with the temptation to which she has succumbed. Hitchcock makes it hard for the audience to avoid sharing Marion’s experience.

Within the mis-en-scene, Hitchcock makes use of items that will call attention to Marion's character and state of mind. When the audience first meets Marion she is wearing a white bra and slip. However, in this scene, she is now wearing a black bra and slip. While being in plain sight to the viewer, Hitchcock uses this change of color in her clothes to none-too-subtly reflect her criminal intent. This black-and-white dialectic is also an echo of Hitchcock’s specific desire to shoot the film in black and white despite color film being well within his budget and wheelhouse.

Second, this scene features Marion shot with her own reflection in the frame, thus creating the effect of two “Marions” on the screen. Hitchcock is illustrating for the audience that Marion is suffering a metamorphosis or

duality. The Marion in the mirror is reflecting the moral conflict she is experiencing, almost like a tangible conscience. This use of reflections will be revisited by Hitchcock throughout the film.

When Marion arrives at the used car dealership, Hitchcock makes use of cross-cutting point of view shots once more to drive home the fear Marion has of being caught. Marion decides to change vehicles and, again without dialogue, the viewer is shown what she is thinking. First, with Marion noticing the difference in the Arizona and California license plates, then the camera tracks Marion to the newspaper machine, where she scans the paper for any report on her crime. It should be noted that the color of the license plates and cars are Hitchcock's subtle reminder of Marion's situation as well. The Arizona plate on her car is black and her car is also a dark color and the California plate is white as is the car she is interested in. It can be said that Hitchcock is having Marion change cars not only in the effort to elude police detection, but also reflecting her wish to change the perception of her morals as well.

The dialogue and interactions between Marion and Charlie, the used car salesman, are further embellished with Marion's fearful glances toward the police officer surveilling her. Hitchcock once again forces the camera's perspective to be that of Marion's, thus, giving the audience her viewpoint. In doing so, Hitchcock increases the level of suspense for the viewer. Will she be caught? What does the policeman suspect?

Within this scene is an important break in the outside action. Marion visits the ladies' room and is shot with a high angle camera shot where, once again she is reflected in a mirror. The high angle shot reflects Marion's vulnerability and fear, so much so, that Hitchcock has her hiding/trapped in the closet-like, claustrophobic, restroom. Meanwhile, within the same shot Hitchcock has once again made her moral problem reflected in the bathroom mirror again via these shots. She is about to spend some of the money she has stolen and the mirror shot literally reflects this. Hitchcock breaks these high angle mirror shots up with a point-of-view shot consisting of Marion's hands counting out seven one-hundred dollar bills. In this manner, Hitchcock further reinforces the viewer's identification with Marion and her moral crisis.

When Marion finally arrives at the Bates Motel, Hitchcock uses the mirror shot again. Once more where Marion has to make a moral choice she is reflected in a mirror. Hitchcock shoots the register signing scene with Marion on the left and Norman on the right. This shot composition lends an effect that Marion is doing something "wrong" and Norman, ironically, is innocent or "right." As mentioned above, she is also reflected in the mirror as she signs the register under a false name. Norman by contrast is not shot in the mirror.

Hitchcock is continuing his visual mirror theme of Marion's moral struggle with right and wrong.

Next, after Norman has returned with dinner for Marion, the viewer gets a shot that is a reverse of the previously examined scene. Within these shots Norman is on the left side of the frame with Marion on the right. Also, what is more important, Norman is reflected in the glass behind him. Hitchcock is telling the audience that perhaps Norman is not all he appears to be, and like Marion is suffering from a duality crisis of a larger severity.

In this scene is also Norman's first point of view shot. The viewer is given his eyes in which to look at Marion with. The shot itself shows Marion shot from an angle where Norman is standing. Norman is much taller than her and the difference in the perspective, from previous camera shots of Marion, makes her seem all the more vulnerable or diminished. With these shots Hitchcock is starting to force the audience perspective into that of Norman, which later will pay dividends in suspense and emotive response.

The parlor/dinner scene is one of the most Hitchcockian encrusted scenes in the film. Hitchcock fills the room with strange objects and places Marion and Norman opposite of each other and cross-cuts between them during the scene. The angle of the shots of Marion and Norman play a part in how they are to be perceived. Marion is shot from the front with all of her face visible, while Norman is shot from a skewed angle where shadowed profile of him can be seen. This "skewing" is how Hitchcock is showing the audience that Norman is not everything he shows on the surface. How Marion and Norman are lit is also a tool as to the characters mind states. Marion is fully lit in soft light, while Norman has a strong shadow across his facial features.

In step with the dialogue, the mis-en-scene and lighting show Marion's moral struggle coming to an end with the "good" side winning out. Marion, in contrast to Norman, has softer surroundings, the round picture frame, the rounded milk pitcher, and the soft window drapes to go along with her well-lit glowing face. Hitchcock is informing the audience that Marion is not only saying she will get out of her "trap" but truly means it as well, with how she is presented visually to the audience. She no longer has any more mirrored reflections.

The mis-en-scene of the arrangement also is meant to show the viewer that Norman is less than "normal." Norman is shot in the corner with the strong jagged angular picture frames behind him, or else with the creepy stuffed birds in the shot. The shots with Norman, where you can see the pictures on the wall, are interesting as well. Hitchcock chose the pictures to be of "classical" naked women. This further foreshadows Norman's voyeurism and in fact one of the pictures is covering Norman's peep hole into cabin one.

In the final scene examined, Hitchcock once again places the audience into Norman's viewpoint and taking it a step further forcing us to share his voyeurism of Marion undressing. This scene, also without dialogue, helps Hitchcock reinforce the audience's sympathy with Marion by making her a victim of Norman's

peeping. Also, the fact that Marion is undressing is significant because she is removing the black underwear which Hitchcock has made the audience associate with her criminal theft. Marion is preparing to return to Phoenix to make amends for her crime, so she will also go and take a shower to wash away her sins so to speak. Thus, Hitchcock is making Marion's impending murder more likely to be perceived by the audience as a tragedy, rather than the punishment of a criminal getting her just comeuppance.

Hitchcock truly was a master film maker, who had the innate talent to predict audience reaction. Hitchcock's thoughtful shot selection, composition, and mis-en-scene make this film impact the audience exactly how he wanted them to react. With this ability he was able to craft the kinds of films that shocked and thrilled viewers. A testament to that fact is that Alfred Hitchcock is still one of the most emulated directors. His films continue to impact viewers to this day with each new generation who watches his films for the first time.

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