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Women and Obsession in Alfred Hitchcock’s America: A Retrospective View of Psycho

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falls prey to a cacophony of inner “voices,” just as we see Norman do (more completely) with his mother in the final scene.

Norman’s killing of Marion isn’t pre-ordained, either. He makes an impulsive decision – no less impulsive than Marion’s to steal the money – to place Marion in a room where he can view her undressing. As one commentator notes, though Hitchcock seems to be embracing Freudian explanation of human behavior in his films, it was largely a ploy to draw in audiences familiar with and comforted by “psychoanalytic” explanations. Those explanations seem to make “rational,” or at least intelligible, what Hitchcock, in fact, viewed as fundamentally irrational, unpredictable, and unknowable.

Some feminist critics have made much of Hitchcock’s use of Freud as evidence of Hitchcock’s gender bias. Freud, of course, is notorious for his treatment of “Dora the Hysteric,” and for seeing pathology in the basic emotional make-up of women. Others, drawing on the very Freudianism they detect in Hitchcock, believe his film portraits of women derive from his personal experiences, starting with his troubled relationship with his mother. However, Hitchcock actually abhorred all “theories” of human behavior. Sources of malevolence are everywhere but are triggered by random causes and events, like Marion’s decision to pull off the main road and stop at a certain hotel after a policeman caught her napping in her car. Why the Bates Motel? Pure chance, Hitchcock seems to suggest.

In fact, Marion almost decides not to stay at the Bates Motel. She senses something foreboding about the place, but then feels reassured by the shadowy presence of a female figure in the house behind the hotel – not knowing that the figure is actually Norman. It’s that sense of reassurance, and Norman’s genuine friendliness, including the meal and pleasant conversation they share, that seems to trigger Marion’s reassessment of her decision to steal the money and flee. However, even reassurances can trigger unexpected reversals and disastrous outcomes, Hitchcock suggests. Feminists are wrong: it’s not Marion’s non-conforming nature that “dooms” her; it’s nature’s own inherent non-conformity. No one—not even our own deepest intuitions—can be trusted, it seems.
Was nature—either our own human nature, or the external nature of the world— always so? Perhaps, but Psycho does seem to draw our attention to a particular time and place in American history. It’s alluded to in the dialogue between Marion and Norman, when Norman recalls that “they moved the highway further out.” He’s referring to the transition from the era of the one or… TURN PAGE >>

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