Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho is based on Robert Bloch's novel of the same name, which was loosely based on the Ed Gein murders in the 1940-50s. This film illustrates the maxim "in horror, women are monsters because they are women; men are monsters because of their reactions to women's bodies."
Middle Class Morality Blame It On Mom Women In the Slasher Film Women's Intuition vs. Men's Knowledge Internet Resources
Middle Class Morality: Marion is punished because she refuses to meekly conform to societal expectations. She engages in premarital sex with a divorcee in the middle of the afternoon when she should be at work. And while she insists to her lover that this will be the last such lurid tryst, she steals $40,000 to be with him in conditions of respectability. The first half of the film is about her departure from middle class morality. Marion is frequently shown reflected in a mirror, as if there are two of her--her conscience which tells her what she does is wrong, and her other self which refuses to conform.
When Marion first leaves Phoenix, there is no shortage of people to question her actions. Her boss spots her on her way out of town and shoots her a disapproving glance. A police officer questions her by the side of the road, and later dogs her in the small town where she exchanges her car for a new one. But her drive away from Phoenix illustrates how she has "gotten" off the main road of middle class morality. All during the drive Marion is accompanied by a sort of soundtrack of running commentary about her actions. At first, her accompanying facial expressions are nervous and guilty, but later, they're triumphant and defiant.
Norman's version of his mother provides a further soundtrack of middle class morality. "Mrs. Bates" chastises her son for his cheap erotic fantasies any time he becomes interested in a member of the opposite sex. This version of Mother is a marked contrast to the real Mrs. Bates with her married lover.
But middle class morality is also critiqued by the film. If Marion is evil for transgressing this morality, she can at least be forgiven (if only by the viewer) because this morality is seen as confining and unfulfilling. Marriage isn't much of an alternative to extramarital sexual expression. Marion's co-worker's doctor and family feel that "marital adjustment" is sufficiently traumatic as to warrant prescription tranquilizers. And Sam is unduly punished (at least, according to him) when his marriage fails. At any rate, he can't remarry since his culture requires that he be able to support a new wife in such a way that it isn't necessary for her to work outside the home. His current arrangement requires that he support his wife until she remarries while paying off the debts of his deceased father. The oil lease man who is buying off his soon-to-be-married daughter's unhappiness thinks nothing of attempting to violate his own marriage vows with a woman he perceives to be loose. And Marion wanted to comply with this morality all along, but Sam isn't available because of his previous divorce.
After supping with Norman at the Bates Motel, Marion comes to see the error of her ways and resolves to return to Phoenix tomorrow. But too late. Norman has already judged her as guilty and she must die.
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Blame It On Mom: Norman's mental illness is represented as being caused by his reaction to women's bodies. An intense fear of female sexuality, and of his own sexuality, drives him to murder women he perceives responsible for his unsettling feelings.
Predictably, Norman's mother is blamed for his problems. She's certainly a convenient target since she isn't even around to answer for her "crimes." The psychologist who never even met Norman's mother pronounces her clinging and demanding towards her son in the absence of a male figure in the household. The psychologist makes a generalized assumption about the nature of an uninterrupted bond between a mother and a son. Norman basically suffers from an unresolved Oedipal situation. If his father were around, he would presumably step in and demonstrate the boundaries in the mother/son relationship. But because this was never done, Norman is entirely too attached to his mother and becomes insanely jealous when she eventually takes a lover. And as he himself says, he learns that a son is a poor substitute for a lover.
But Norman escapes responsibility for his crimes, both in his own mind and in the minds of the people who will prosecute him, for two reasons. First, the mother half of Norman committed the crimes. If the jury buys the psychiatrist's explanation, Norman will be able to successfully make an insanity plea. Second, Norman has performed a great service to a patriarchal civilization that fears female sexuality and attempts to eradicate it. He murders unruly women, and the town chooses to turn a blind eye to these murders. Fairvale has two unsolved missing persons cases, and no one seems too concerned about finding these people. Note that this is a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. The sheriff's wife knows all the lurid details of Norman's mother's death, and even remembers the dress his mother was allegedly buried in. This missing persons cases aren't more thoroughly investigated in part due to a lack of concern for the victims, who are described offhandedly as run-aways.
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Women In the Slasher Film: The slasher in general is a sort of enforcer of middle class morality. He metes out punishment to non-virgins, and even people merely guilty of "impure" thoughts. Women in early slasher films are usually victims who don't stand a chance of saving themselves. While Lila demonstrates more tenacity than most of the men in finding out what happened to her sister, she must be rescued by Sam before Norman kills her. And Marion never stood a chance against Norman.
Norman kills his mother to make her more manageable, more to his liking. Notice how the late Mrs. Bates is dressed. Her clothing and hairstyle are more suited to a fashionable woman at the turn of the 19th century than to a woman of her age when she died. Psycho takes place in 1960, and Norman murdered his mother about 10 years ago. Norman is about 30, and assuming that Mrs. Bates was 20 or 30 when she had Norman, she would be between 40-50 when she died. Even though Mrs. Bates wasn't young at the time of her death, more than likely a woman who takes a lover wouldn't dress the way her grandmother would've. When Norman kills mother and brings her back to life, he makes a mother for himself who is matronly and asexual. He puts words in her mouth that suggest she is repulsed by all forms of sexual expression, even her own son's natural sexual curiosity towards attractive women. Mrs. Bates is so disturbed by human sexuality, that, at least according to Norman, she kills anyone who would "awaken" her son's desires. For Norman, this makes his mother someone to be both feared and revered. While he must cover up his mother's awful crimes, they are also proof that she loves him.
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Women's Intuition vs. Men's Knowledge: Notice that Lila is the one whose intuition drives the investigation, especially after Det. Arbogast is murdered. It is her hunch that causes her to drive to Fairvale to find Sam, and Arobgast finds Sam too by following Lila more than through any detective work he's done on his own. And after Arbogast is murdered, it is Lila who insists that they report the situation to the sheriff, and later, to go out to the Bates Motel and investigate. Sam is initially content to follow Arbogast's instructions and wait for him to return. Intuition and disobeying those who know better, qualities and behaviors more often associated with women than with men, provide the impetus to solve the case.
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Schizophrenia vs. Dissociative Identity DisorderHow These Two Illnesses are Confused for Each Other & Analysis of Which Disorder Norman Bates Demonstrates in the Film, Psycho
Biography of Robert Bloch, Author of Psycho
Ed Gein: A Biography
Psycho: The Original, the Sequels and the Remake: (aka The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)
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