Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peeping Norman and the Evil Eye - Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Psycho is one of my favorite movies. The wealth and depth of images, sounds, and scenes is overwhelming (with the exception of the exposition at the end in the scene with the psychiatrist). So many images to choose from. And the shower scene, one of the most famous in all of cinema, is exceptional in its lighting, music, editing, framing, directing, acting.

I find interesting that the movie begins on Friday, December 11th, two weeks before Christmas (a little bit of trivia: December 11, 1959 was a Friday). But the only Christmas decorations that I am aware of are seen when Marion is in her car getting out of Phoenix and she accidentally runs into her employer. You can see the street decorations through her windshield. 

The movie ends roughly one week later, that is, six days before Christmas (the premier was June 16, 1960 according to imdb).

This leads us to some religious iconography and symbolism in the movie (Hitchcock was raised Catholic).  One of the Christian symbols is the Eye of God or the Eye of Providence (used during the Renaissance and in the U.S. one dollar bill). It is represented as an eye inside of a triangle emanating rays of light. It is a symbol also used in the Masonic ritual. It represents the omnipresence and omniscience of God, who watches over all things. It is also associated with the Trinity (hence the triangle).

For its part, the Evil Eye is a look that is believed to cause injury or bad luck to the person at whom it is directed. It also refers to the power attributed to certain persons of inflicting injury or bad luck by such a look.

All of which brings us to the image that I chose from Psycho.

Norman, after some hesitation, puts Marion in cabin number 1. After she retires to her cabin, he peeps on her through a small hole in the wall. We only see one of Norman's eyes. It is a simple constructed image, but full of symbolism. For me, this image is a multiple representation of Norman's inner struggle. The eye (god's eye?), which actually has the form of a triangle, sees Marion preparing for her bath. It is all-seeing and all-desiring. But the rays of light are coming from Marion's room, not emanating from Norman's eye.  Further, he looks at her with desire, absorbing her light.  This image is preparing us for the shower scene and Marion's demise. Hence, his eye is really a "dark eye", or as they say, he is giving her the evil eye, wanting what he cannot have. This is almost instantly reinforced with the brilliant zoom to the water drain, Marion's eye while she is on the floor and the circular movement of the camera away from her, a cleansing of her sins if you will.

After Mother dispatches Marion, while Norman is cleaning the cabin, we see another iconography of the Christian religion, in the form of a cross. It is made by a fixture in the bathroom and the mop used to clean, almost like a cross on a tomb.

(You can also see crosses throughout the movie, for example, in the windows.)

Further, Hitchcock spends an inordinate amount of time showing Norman cleaning the room.  During this cleaning we also see Norman washing his hands from Marion's blood (reminiscent of Pontius Pilate).

I also like the subtlety with which Hitchcock lets us in the know of the double nature of Norman's psyche. For example:

You can see his reflection in the window. Also, Marion is positioned almost right under the lamp, with the light showering her.  Although when they enter the parlor, there is a bird of prey just behind Norman in attack position (not so subtle here). 

And the final image of Norman, as it dissolves into the last frames of the picture, is masterful in its intimacy and with Mother speaking directly to us and finally and truly revealing herself (without the need of the exposition by the psychiatrist).  

This is one of the great movies of all time.



i hadn't actually noticed the instances of Norman's reflections until this viewing so i'm pleased you brought it up.

Jose said...

I've always felt that the eyes in Psycho are cameras but you're right about them having a religious symbolism.
I always seem to forget Hitch was a Catholic. Awesome post!

Pedro said...

Jose: Thank you. I write short stories and they are usually suffused with religious symbolism. For that reason I almost always look for that in everything I read/watch.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

I love the religious background and symbolism you brought up. I never think of any of his movies that way but yes Jose is right, PSYCHO does feature some interesting examples of it.

Being one of my favorite movies of all time, I fully agree with you when you talk about the overwhelming depth of images, sounds and scenes. It really is a movie with all its elements spot-on.

I especially love the conversation scene between Bates and Marion, the way the camera shifts and closes in on the two characters... It says a lot about how much Hitchcock wanted the audience to get from studying those two characters' personalities.

And I love your pick for best shot. I almost went with that one myself.

Nice post all told! I'll be sure to follow your blog from now on!


Pedro said...

Jorge - Obrigado! I almost never post anything, but I am trying to at least comment on movies and books I've recently sen or read.

Tom Clift said...

This shot would have been my second selection; it's definitely the most visually attractive/"beautiful" shot in the film in my opinion. I also love how Hitchcock, after setting up Norman as such an unsettling character in the parlour scene, puts the audiences in the creepily enjoyable position of the voyeur. We know we shouldn't like it, but staring at such an attractive woman as Janet Leigh...for male viewers at least, it's an uncomfortable position to be in