Psycho (1960)

It took me until I was 28 to see Hitchcock’s Psycho. Because of that, it’s hard to write about, because I see it now having seen thousands of other movies, many of which were inspired by this one. It’s not a bad thing to catch up on canon films, to be sure, but its hard when a movie is as ubiquitous and over-discussed as Psycho is. Watching it was the most ‘cultural vegetables’ experience I think I’ve ever had, which lead to my impressions being skewed in ways they shouldn’t have.

I didn’t even know there was a plot about missing money. It’s the big surprise about Psycho as someone going into it, that the whole Norman Bates plot is a total misdirection that doesn’t even show up until well into a different movie about a woman who takes off with some money her boss told her to deposit into the bank. It’s the classic red herring, of course, but Hitchcock is a master of red herrings, and honestly watching Janet Leigh drive around in increasing states of paranoia was (because of the aforementioned lack of knowledge) more interesting than any of the slasher stuff or the mystery of Mrs. Bates. It seems ridiculous to say it, but that’s my gut reaction, because I was surprised by how surprised I was by the thing they probably sold the movie on when it first premiered. I’m sure the second half was all kept secret, but that’s the stuff that’s been talked to death.

And honestly, it’s hard to feel much about that sort of thing anyway. I once tried to do a project where I watched and wrote about every one of Hitchcock’s films and got about twenty movies in before I had to bail out. Hitchcock is a strange director, a master of maneuvering plot beats but totally inhuman when it comes to expressing actual genuine emotions or creating empathy. And I think that comes back to bite him in Psycho. The Norman Bates stuff is appropriately creepy, don’t get me wrong, but the whole thing then begins to destabilize when they try to explain it in both psychological terms or in Norman’s own feverish rationalizations. It’s just boring, a lot of dated psychology and really wooden character insights. The interior lives of his characters are never Hitchcock’s strong point, minus a few exceptions that prove the rule, and the movie suffers for it.

But what am I even talking about? It’s Psycho. It’s one of the most impactful movies ever made, influenced a ton of people, and is seen as a classic. Sadly, it’s one of those classics that’s hard to come to from the other end and really appreciate. There’s no tension and no mystery, only filling in the gaps of the bits you haven’t seen and haven’t been talked to death, between the stuff that became so iconic. Psycho, at this stage, to someone who hasn’t seen it, feels completely bled dry.

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
This entry was posted in review, the movies of 2014 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Psycho (1960)

  1. Jon Abrams says:

    That’s too bad. For me there are several moments that still give me chills, and it’s a master class in building suspense from surprising places. There are moments Hitchcock makes you sympathize with Norman far more than you might Marion, and if that arguably doesn’t have the same impact today on the viewer, it’s still instructive for any budding filmmaker as far as technique goes. As for the jargon at the end, after Norman is caught, the way it was explained to me was that Hitchcock included all the babble knowing full well how the audience would be feeling at that point. In 1960 an audience would still be terrified and freaked-out, and the psychiatrist who seems to go on and on is actually a device to help the audience cool down before they have to go out and face the world, the way a roller coaster has several yards of level track after the main drops and before it lets you off. It’s true that Hitchcock is something of a cold director, which has always been what keeps him from being a personal favorite, but he’s still crucial to have as a point of reference. He may not create much empathy but he’s peerless at creating sympathy — a master manipulator who knew exactly how to use movies to play the moviegoer.

  2. filmlobisi says:

    when i see motel somewhere i feel weird after this movie 🙂

  3. danpryce26 says:

    I once attempted the same thing. Tried to watch every (watchable) Hitchcock movie over a long summer and hit the same cinematic wall. He IS an expert at plotting and suspense and yada yada and it’s enjoyable to watch a Hitch movie every so often. But 9 in a row?

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