This iconic horror movie from 1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock was brilliantly ahead of its time. It changed the then-future course of the horror genre in films by setting the bar for suspenseful and psychologically thrilling plots. A remake of this movie, directed by Gus Van Sant was released in 1998; an ode to the original's greatness.
The movie begins with a wide aerial shot of the sky, and a brief introduction of the characters, their professions and relationships. The plot begins to darken and intensify as Marion Crane and Norman Bates have an impassioned conversation in the backroom of Norman's office. In the midst of the taxidermied animals, the eerie environment sets the tone for not just the film, but also Norman's character. An excellent shot here shows Marion's eyes focus on money, while the camera pans out and moves up the house, to show us a conversation between Norman and his mother.
We then see Marion being stabbed multiple times while she is in the shower at a motel near Norman's house. The camera shots change quickly and alternate between Marion screaming, crying for help, and the motions of the hand holding the knife that stabs her. After Marion's murder, the tension builds up. Detective Milton Arbogast is assigned to the case. He looks for clues in the motel as well as the house, while suspenseful music makes the audience wonder what will happen next. Shockingly, the sudden attack on Arbogast turns the setting chilly. We view the scene from a bird's eye view. Many scenes focused on Norman, however, show him from a lower angle. This gives him a certain domineering air which adds to the imposing disposition of Bates and his family.
The movie uses music as an integral part of the narrative. It serves to add to the suspense, tension, and thrill of the plot. Without it, the scenes would stand alone; calm and quiet. However, the music lends to the ominous intensity that mounts with every scene. As the plot progresses, we are introduced to Lila, Marion's sister, and Sam. Lila and Sam investigate the killing of Marion under the pretense of being guests at the motel. Their search is directed by intel that they received from Abrogast before he went missing.
Their search leads them to the Bates mansion. As Sam distracts Norman with questions about Marion and the money, Lila sneaks into the mansion looking for clues. The frequency of the music changes to match with Lila's fright and curiosity as she confronts Norman's mother. Throughout the film, the mother isn't shown clearly; only the outline of a woman with her hair tied in two buns on either side of her head. This was the silhouette that appeared briefly in the scene where Marion was murdered. The slow revelation of facts about the Bates and their home intensifies. Fright, terror, and fear mount as a showdown entails between Norman and Sam, and he rushes to hunt Lila. Shocking revelations reveal the true identity of the lunatic murderer: Mrs. Bates is long dead, and Norman, dressed as her (wig and all) murders. He dresses up so to corner and kill Lila but is stopped by Sam. Despite the welcome relief, the curiosity as to why Norman keeps his mother's dead body, and murders dressed as her, continues. It is only later that the dark truth about the murder of Mrs. Bates and Norman's multiple personalities is revealed.
While working with this essay, I realized that that the ideation and visual techniques used in the film create room for varied interpretations and conclusions; this is part of why every viewer experiences this film differently. Hitchcock uses this to brilliantly narrate the story such that one can't peel their eyes from the screen. The oft-used wide-angle shots depict calmness and quiet, while angled, narrow shots display the darker, intense, and ominous sequences in the movie. An excellent job has been done by the direction and postproduction teams to bring out the true depth of the character's emotions, and the story itself.
I watched the original and the remake separately after watching the blended version of the movie. I found that the remake and the original movie blended really well; the flow did not seem to be discontinuous at any point of time. Even though the original movie was made in
black and white and the remake in color, the original movie displayed a broader spectrum of emotions, which, in my mind, is what makes it an all-time classic.
In conclusion, the movie brings about different emotions in the actors as well as the viewers. This setup involves a theme that Alfred Hitchcock used frequently in his films: the guilt of the ordinary person trapped in a criminal situation.
Garv Anand is a film enthusiast, aspiring scriptwriter, and self-taught chef studying at the Manipal Institute of Technology. His interests lie at the intersections of the dark, twisted, and classy. Films speak to him, and art liberates him.