A Retrospective View of Psycho

striking counterpoint – brunette, unassuming, and deferential, though inquisitive—investigates Marion’s disappearance. After Marion’s death, she also figures prominently in the narrative. In other words, Psycho is very much a film about women.

Other than Norman, who’s rendered shy and effeminate, the only strong “male” presence in Psycho is Marion’s lover, who, significantly, ends up the film’s “hero” by saving Lila from being killed by Bates. Even an intrepid if bumbling male private investigator (Arbogast, played by Martin Balsam) ends up getting killed—by Bates, dressed as his mother. Still, the film seems to end by restoring the “patriarchal” universe by reaffirming the power of strong and “healthy” heterosexual men while contrasting them to a “feminized” man like Bates, or a woman like Marion who seems to aspire to a bold and free-wheeling “male” independence – and pays a heavy price. The film’s coda, in which the manly no-nonsense detective played by Simon Oakland explains Bates’ twisted personality and his psychopathic “motive” for killing Marion, seems to confirm this traditional gender role “restoration.” So does the saving of Lila. The non-threatening “good” sister is “rewarded” with survival.

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That’s the feminist reading, but it’s not entirely convincing. Hitchcock seems to confound that reading in several ways. Marion, it turns out, doesn’t intend to go through with the robbery, and right before taking her fateful shower, makes a decision to return the money she’s made off with. Hitchcock portrays the shower, prior to the murder, as luminescent and spotless; and Marion seems to rejoice in what appears to be a moral as well as physical “cleansing.” However, it’s not enough to “save” her. Is that because she’s a “bad” or “fallen” woman? Perhaps, but in the moments leading up to her death, she hardly seems different from any other person, man or woman, who has given in to temptation or sought an easy, self-serving way out of a life predicament (embezzlement), only to come to their senses and regain their ethical bearings.

There’s also a strong hint of attraction and even fondness that Marion appears to develop for Norman in their early dialogue and scenes together, which one commentator has compared to a “dance.” In some ways, they both seem to be misfits, each struggling with a profound sense of loneliness and detachment. When the touchy subject of Norman’s mother comes up, Marion all but volunteers that she has issues of her own in this area, noting that she would have to “turn the picture of her mother against the wall” to truly enjoy a life of her own. She may not act “possessed,” but in Hitchcock’s portrayal, she seems just as much at the mercy of her nervous psyche as Norman is. In fact, for much of the trip out of Phoenix, she… TURN PAGE >>

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