Hitchcock’s Psycho; A Brief Thematic Analysis.
The theme of Voyeurism is very interestingly explored by Hitchcock almost as some sort of a double edged sword. The presence of the spying within the diegesis soon becomes an ill present not only in the characters of the film, but the audience watching the film as well. The idea of a third presence peeping its way into an existing story is developed very early into the film. Before the main narrative even unfolds, the camera pans across several windows, before grasping the first chance to settle on a slightly open window in one of the tall blocks. As the lens of the camera peeps through, so does the watchful gaze of the audience and that is when the idea of looking into otherwise private spheres is first settled into the narrative.
The audience is made to realize the peeping tom inside them, when they get to see Norman peep into the Marian’s world without permission; something similar to what the audience had already done on its own. Even the showerhead above Marien acts like an eye looking down. Hitchcock very carefully projects his contention that the act of looking or the look itself is violent, because it does not just involve looking, it involves the very intentional act of violation of privacy. The whole idea of the nonexistence of privacy within society and hence the audience, ties well with the theme of voyeurism in the film.
Another prominent theme is that of repression in puritanical societies. And this is a theme well explored using the concept of “respectability” within the film. The idea of a puritanical society reflects the concept of impossible moral standards, with a strong hold towards not exposing human sexuality. This concept is very well presented by the display of dichotomy of prescribed behavior and the other which emerges underground. Marien too, wants to be respected, something the audience is made aware of straight from the first scene. Even when she wants to rebel, she wishes to do it respectably. In her dialogue with Sam in the first scene the audience realizes her wish to conform to societal regulations of how two lovers must meet “respectably.” And society is of course the faceless all powerful entity which decides what is respectable and what is not. And anyone who refuses to toes its lie, will be considered at outcast. On the surface, Marien does not wish to be outcast, yet.
Hitchcock seems to have built on another theme by showing the mother figure in a rather unconventional light. He seems to have subverted the role of the mother figure altogether, in every mother that is introduced in the diegesis. The first time the audience is exposed to a mother figure is right in the first scene when Marien refers to the picture of her mother on the mantel piece, as if to refer to her as some sort of surveillance or watchful eye of morality. The idea of a controlling mother, which almost demands exactly what the faceless society demands, is introduced. The second mother the audience encounters is the second secretary’s mother, who we find out gives her tranquilizers on their her wedding night and keeps calling in to check if her husband’s called her. The third mother we encounter is yet again portrayed as a micro controlling, violent mother. Hitchcock seems to have very brilliantly presented the anti-thesis of what a mother actually is, by killing the selfless aspect of motherhood and instead lacing it with control, surveillance and an odd strangeness.
Digging deeper into the underbelly of society is the unpleasant face of the faceless surveillant. Bob, the cashier at Sam’s shop is a physical intervention by Hitchcock, which is presented as a symbol for society, or more directly put, the audience, within the movie. The one nosey, judgmental character who wishes to get his hands into a matter that has absolutely nothing to do with his existence. This may be taken as a jab at society itself where people judge others in order to feed their faux moral superiority and sense of “oh, at least I’m better off than them.” Hitchcock uses Bob as a tool when Sam indirectly asks him to mind his own business, as if to check and teach the audience a lesson simultaneously.
The potential for evil and the treat of evil penetrating any other heart has been portrayed as a very possible and real theme throughout the narrative. So much so, that often the potential for evil in the audience is also tested frequently, whether if it’s the audience wanting Marien to successfully run away with the money and escape the police officer or whether it’s the urge to make sure Norman has cleaned the crime scene immaculately before leaving the scene. This conflict leaves a looming question within the audiences’ minds; whose side are they really on? This internal conflict silently raging within the audience is yet another manipulation of the diegesis by Hitchcock, which helps hold the audience accountable for the potential for evil in their hearts. It almost makes the audience feel as though it wants to live its own rebellious fantasies through the actions of the characters within the film, whether if they are in the form of Marein’s rebellion or Norman’s.