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

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two-lane country road, with its old family-owned backwater motels, to the emergence of a new, more dynamic postwar America, with life—and even space—defined by the automobile, symbolizing American “mobility.” Much of Psycho, in fact, transpires during automobile rides, and as if to highlight their importance, Marion, impulsively trades in her car for a new one shortly after she escapes. In the final scene, we see that same car dredged up from a swamp, strongly suspecting that Marion’s body is inside. The vehicle that aided her flight to an illusory “freedom” has been transformed into her “coffin.”

Here again, though, Hitchcock offers no convenient parable or morality tale that might allow us to escape the ineffable horror. Marion’s sister Lila and Marion’s own lover, both single and perhaps distraught, do not, as one might expect, find consolation in each other at the end. Once Norman is caught, they simply disappear. Hitchcock clearly isn’t interested in tying up loose ends—emotional or otherwise, or in reassuring us—as Marion was—that “all will be well.” The film, released in 1960, is really the first – and for some, the best – “slasher” movie ever made. Yet in watching Hitchcock’s camera pan across the Phoenix skyline in the opening scene, one almost gets the impression that had the camera landed on a different window—other than the one in which Marion and her lover are enjoying their lunch-time tryst – the story it told might have been far different from Psycho.

So, was Hitchcock really a “misogynist” hoping to inflict his own psychic pain on women through his films? Hardly. Hitchcock was clearly fascinated by women—one author, drawing on one of the director’s film titles, has used the term “spellbound.” He was also keenly aware of women’s power to captivate, to trigger unconscious longings, and dark and confusing desires. However, in the end, the vortex he depicts—in the swirling water of the shower or in the deceased Marion’s eye in close up, has no beginning or end, and no real meaning, either. Once set in motion, its force becomes inexorable – all of us become its victims—and its voyeurs. BACK >>

Written by: Stewart Lawrence

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