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Was Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960 a discovery of the unknown or unconscious common in a horror movie or film?

Locanian structure of psychoanalysis/ sublimation process

“I can feel someone gazing at me although I do not see his eyes, not even discern. All what I need is something to alert me that there may be others there. The window, when it gets darker, and I have reasons for having the perception that someone is behind it, I definitely gaze”. Under the Locanian structure of psychoanalysis, the radical contingency of the activities in films is what leads to the perception that the unconscious is outside. For instance, a couple accidentally reveals that their marriage is purely fraud and that the two are professional murderers who turn to hunt each other (Thomson, 2009). Locan relates the unitary feature to an element of symbolic identification to which the real subject is attached. Therefore, the very same activity takes a totally different symbolic value (Zizek, 1992b). A psychologist tries to uncover his patient’s neurosis by looking at some information from the patient’s life. This data is used to solve some of the problems by excavating the information that influences the normal operation. It is clear that a psychoanalyst operates by uncovering clues, which if successful can lead to the understanding of his clients’ psyche.

Having subjected his viewers to one of the most harrowing experiences in the history of films, Hitchcock promises to solve the mysteries of the Psycho (1960), the authority of doctor Richmond who was a psychiatrist. The Psycho has a lot of mysteries which are followed by “Yes... And, no.” answers. This aspect is very well seen to be manipulated by Hitchcock through the video with the aim of denying his spectators any chances of understanding the quite senseless violence portrayed in the film (Thomson, 2009). Here, the director of the play aims at perplexing, confusing in order to give an explanation and completely debunk it at once.

Hitchcock mischievously presents us with a question, “How do we, the audience, cope with Norman Bates?(Rebello,1998).The situation in the police station reflects the many attempts made to analyze Psycho in terms of psychoanalysis. For instance, Dr Richmond tried to analyze it, but he was unable to give any satisfactory explanation which is compatible with the evidence in the film. In this research paper, I would like to look at some of the methods Hitchcock uses to perplex our understanding of Psycho by mismatching the elements of the character, mise-en-scene,and dialogue to curb Sigmund Freud’s theory on castration and anal compulsive character traits.

Analyzing the Freudian psychoanalyses in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)

Freud used the concept of uncanny to describe the feelings caused by something familiar or strange at the same time (Dowbiggin, 2011). Therefore, the uncanny is both frightening and attractive, and it is said that it originates from the repressed memory (Zizek, 1992b).

Anal compulsive behavior

David Sterrit suggests that the Psycho unearths the director’s preoccupation with anal-related behavior. In his interviews with Truffaut, Hitchcock reacted to the allegations by claiming that his desire was to produce a film which begins with the arrival food in the town and ends with the sewers, and this was a form of illustrating the society as a process from digestion to defecation. Although this statement seems to extend Hitchcock’s pre-occupation, there is no clear evidence to support this statement.

In obsession neurosis, Freud also argues out that the regression of libido to the preceding stage of the sadistic anal setup is the most contagious factor that determines the form taken by the symptoms. The psychic drive to love must, therefore, mask itself under the sadistic urge. “The obsessive even thought of like murdering you” (Rebello, 1998). This had a hidden meaning that he would like to enjoy love of him.

Freud also portrays the shower sequence as a form of symbolic rape basing his argument on Marion Crane and Norman both taking supper in the motel cafe, and Norman sits in a position suggesting that he is defecating. Just before this scene, the mother had chastised her son with references to the digestion process as follows, “Go and tell her she will not be appeasing her greediness with my food or my son” (Santas, 2001).  According to this statement, the greedy appetite for food is used to refer to Marion’s appetite and her sex.  It is beyond doubt that the couple had been enjoying sex, and the perception is on Marion’s metabolic appetite and sexual appetite. The relationship between Marion and the anal compulsive character is much evident than in Norman. The several numbers of shots of bathroom in the film Psycho occur in the presence of Marion, at her house, phoenix hotel, and the Bates motel.

Castrator and Castrated

The theme of oedipal in Psycho is pushed forward by Hitchcock as he also uses a contradiction in Freud’s own analysis to undermine it (Zizek, 1992a). This is evident when Freud describes the son as a poor substitute for a lover. Norman implies that the son is a substitute for a lover whichever the case. It seems logical to make the assumption that it was Norman who killed his mother’s lover. However, the Freudian psychoanalysis claims that it is the father who is castrating influence within the family. Freud had clinical evidence that some children saw their mother as the castrator of the family, for instance, the little Hans. The absence of Normans leads us to the oedipal scenario where the son replaces the father.

The film Psycho treats both the males and female as equal. In the early stages of this film, we see Marion discussing with Sam about seeing each other. Here, Sam has been designed the power of a male when he asks whether he can see Marion in the future. The author of the play portrays that Norman is castrated by his mothers tongue such that he could not speak before Sam. Another good example of this is when Marion sees her employer after she had embezzled all his funds.

We should also note that the two possible alternatives to this given by the Freud’s psychoanalytic theories negate each other. The rear window is an example of an analogy assuming the procedure of the psychoanalytic process as protagonist Jeffries assumes the role of a therapist. He relates the view of the world through the rear window of his apartment as his patient. The plot of the film follows Jeffries as he analyses his neighbors through observing their behaviors, trying to identify their patterns, and giving them suggestions of a hidden truth. The whole film is greatly informed by the science of psychology.

This paper explores Alfred Hitchcock’s use of Locanian psychoanalysis in a good number of his films like the Psycho (1960) (Zizek, 1992b). In my opinion, the films demonstrate that Hitchcock was by far convinced of the validity of the psychoanalytic theory. However, he greatly accredited the magnetism of the psychoanalytic process and the overall charm of Freud’s conceptual world. Hitchcock’s most recommended film Psycho was launched in 1960 and has remained popular up to date. This is why Hitchcock kept on returning to Freudian aesthetics throughout his career. It is very important to understand how Hitchcock came to master this hate or love relationship is the main reason as to when and why his films succeeded or failed. This paper ends with an analogy between Freud’s attitude to Hitchcock and that of Ludwig Wittgenstein with the aim of evaluating some of Freud’s most significant ideas.

With a very shocking end, he undoes any damage to the profession of psychology done with spellbound and prompts the viewer to appreciate psychologist’s ability to make “sense out of the senseless” (Rebello, 1998). It seems that the author of the film Psycho had a love of abnormal psychology. Hitchcock’s grasp of human psychology was mainly intuitive, in that he did not embrace any specific psychological phenomenon, and his vast knowledge of both medical and academic disciplines’ eventual growth was fairly limited. He opted to read both the factual and fictional accounts of murders and thefts which he frequently ‘fell in love with’. Hitch got most his psychological perception intuition by putting together his direct study of criminal lives with the day to day observation of the behavior of those close to him, and some good obsolete introspection.

Zizek defines the Hitchcockian blot/stain as the interpretive moment when the viewer becomes unaware of some things that phallically sticks out of the expected fabric of the film (Zizek, 1992a). A familiar or natural situation turns out to be uncanny full of both horrors and frightening possibilities. In this way, everything appears to contain some hidden meaning that is to be unfolded by the Hitchcockian hero (the man who knows too much) (Zizek, 1992a). The blot can be explained as the point of anamorphosis which does not oddly stick out at the first view, but when looked at from another direction it becomes apparent.

There is no shadow of doubt that the master of suspense had a clue about the psychology. Of course, it is invincible that a film director, having the ability to treat the audience just like Hitchcock could remain a stranger to the human psyche. Despite the fact that Hitch didn’t take the subconscious too lightly, in his private life he tirelessly avoided the psychologists or doctors of the mind as he referred to them (Santas, 2001). This clearly shows that he must have found something important thing in what he read. Most of his films including the North by North west of 1959, vertigo, notorious, and the 39 steps hinted at the Freudian.

Elsewhere the central plots of three are externally couched in psychoanalytic terms. Examples of such films were the psycho, spellbound, and Marnie which were collectively defined as Freudian trilogy, which is not used to prompt that Hitchcock ever conceived them as such. In this way, the big questions remained, why did Hitchcock return to Freud every time if he never took his work seriously? From my own opinion, he was often drawn to Freud’s theories because they are more charming than being theoretically persuasive (Freedman, & Millington, 1999). Hitchcock once commended that television has done a lot for psychiatry by spreading all the information concerning it, and improving the need for it. In a greater part of Hitchcock’s career, Freud’s theories were dominant although, he was skeptical of psychoanalysis. 

It should be put into consideration that Psycho is a film produced with some sense of amusement. In my own opinion, it is a fun process through which we take the viewers. “Psycho is a very interesting construction and games with the audience are very fascinating. I was directing the viewers and one could say that I was playing them like an organ”(Santas, 2001). Psycho film is centered on the encounters between Marion Crane (secretary) and Norman Bates who was the motels owner (Santas, 2001). Marion ends up in a secluded motel after ‘stealing’ money from her employer. Psycho initially got mixed reviews, but exceptional box office returns which led to a four academic award nominations which also included the best director for Hitchcock and the best supporting actress for Leigh. Hitchcock was fascinated by his films popularity, but the main object of his interest was the average audience but not the delusional scholar.

After being informed about the New Yorker who had tried a rudimentary psychoanalytic reading of the film, Hitchcock replied out of anger (Sandis, 2009). He liked presenting familiar situation with people who looked ordinary and then unearth the damaged, surprising and unclean lurking under the surface.

Take for instance, in Psycho the shower scene has been the most prominent murder in the whole film. This scene lasted just 45 seconds and embraced 78 camera sets and he spent one week filming it. Not even a single time we witness the knife to penetrate Janet Leigh’s flesh and yet it remains among the most horrifying videos ever filmed. Once Hitchcock said, Always make the audience suffer as much as possible,”to an interviewer who also noticed that Hitchcock never viewed his films together with his viewers. There is no terror in the bang, only in anticipation of it” (Santas, 2001)according to this quote, it is now clear that Hitchcock had a clear understanding of the human psyche. He definitely had in mind that imagination was more powerful than any image he could display on the screen.

Surprisingly, Hitchcock continues to be a mystery and is also known for his ambivalent opinions on women.  Notably, women are the most powerful and key characters in most of his movies. “A boy’s best friend is the mum” (Modlesk, 2012) Norman Bates says Marion Crane in the film Psycho. Freuds might have conclude that Hitchcock’s attitude towards mothers and his obsession with mothers with strong figure was simply because of his mother who in a form of punishment made Hitchcock stand on the edge of his bed for a good number of hours.

Once, Hitchcock said that the only way to forfeit of his frightening experience was to write films about it; therefore, his films may be interpreted as conscious, projections of his own psychoneurosis on the screen. Critics have even assumed that Hitchcock was suffering from a severe pathological psychology. According to Freud, psychoneurosis is an intellectual defense mechanism or coping strategy, which is caused by emotions, repressed memory and triggered by events which are related to them in some way.


The Psycho offers a whole realm of happiness to the Freudian observer. This is because all what is contained in the film does not coincide with what we were expecting to find. For instance, Norman is described as a killer, both anally compulsive and he is not. The woman is also portrayed as both the castrator and the castrated the same as Norman. In this way, Hitchcock is able to bring about a level of uncertainty within the viewers ‘mind by intentionally using a prior understanding of Freud and the video. The Freudian analysis of Psycho is very confusing since he centers on the Hitchcock’s black humor as he entertains the audience, hence the simplistic Freudianism of Richmond is proved inadequate. Much of the early horror films were mainly determined by Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. Majority of horror films are in a way a representation of the process of discovery, and the discovery of the unconscious or unknown is common in horror cinema, and this is how everything connects.

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