How the narrative in Psycho and other films contributes to their overall success

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Last updated: April 4, 2019

Psycho is the creation of The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock and is one of the most celebrated films ever made. What contributes to the overall success of the film is the unusual narrative equilibrium.

Marion is having an affair with Sam and they met at a hotel every lunch break when he is in town. Sam is divorced and heavily in debt. So they cannot afford to get married. Marion goes back to work as a secretary where her boss asks her to bank $40,000 in cash. But she runs away with it instead. As she drives out of Phoenix to meet Sam she is stopped by a patrolman and has to exchange her car to avoid detection. She later stops at a motel run by Norman Bates who unknown to Marion is schizophrenic. Marion is brutally murdered in her shower.

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Norman finding her body, puts it into the car along with the money which he then pushes into the swamp nearby. The rest of the film is about Marion’s sister, Lila and Sam her lover, frantically searching for Marion and the money.Todorov’s theory is included in this film, he believes that a film should have events that disturb the narrative. There are a lot of disruptions; one of which is Marion stealing the $40,000. This movie is similar to Secret Window; Todorovs theory is put into practice in this film, the disruptions start off minor then they become more major as you get further into the film. This can be confusing for the audience. The tension in psycho builds and expands, this is called Narrative Trajectory.Barthes believes there are 5 different codes that make a narrative.

The action code, the disruptions through out the film. E.g. when the main character is murdered. The code of enigma when the audience asks questions about the film, who murdered Marion? Why did Norman kill his mother? Why did he dress in his mothers clothes? All these questions are then answered later on in the film this is called closure. This also takes place in other films like Secret Window Why is he going back to the motel? The semic code is not used in films that often.

The symbolic code something of significance E.g. the close up of the blood running down the plug-hole symbolises life draining away.

The last code is the Cultural code which is references to, time and places. This makes the audience aware of what is happening. This is known as the alienation technique.Levi Strauss believed that there should be conflict between to qualities or terms, good verses evil, known as Binary opposites. One example is The Goonies the group of adventurous children find a treasure map. While they are following the map they run into a group of bad guys who try to steal the map off of the children but good always prevails.

Another example would be Phone booth the good guy played by Collin Pharrel is threatened and made to stay in a phone booth by an unknown gun man. Hitchcock filmed Psycho in black and white as it contributes to binary opposites.Propp examined hundreds of folk tales, he believes you can group characters and actions into eight character roles these are usually villain, victim, hero, princess, father, donor, helper and false hero.

And thirty-one functions which move the story along. For example the villain always gets punished at the end; a good example for this is Peter Pan (not the animated) as Captain Hook gets eaten by the crocodile. An animated film that shows the eight character roles well is Beauty and the Beast.Marion is the hero at the start of the film and we assume this is the role she will take through out the film but we rapidly change our minds when she steals the money her boss gave to her to put in the bank. As she changes roles her clothes change. At the beginning of the film she is innocent and has done nothing wrong so her clothes are light, but after she has stolen the money her clothes are dark, showing that the innocence has gone.German expressionism is used to show emotions or atmosphere through camera angles and light.

This is a style of film common in Germany in the 1920s, image represented by the dramatic lighting, distorted sets, symbolic action and characterisation. For Example at the end of the film when Lila is in Normans Basement she finds the corpse of his mother, she screams and hits the light bulb it then begins to swing which makes the corpse look as though it is blinking.There are some unusual camera angles used in Psycho. One of the most unusual Camera angles is the one used in the murder shower scene the camera focuses on Marion’s screaming face and then to the blood running down the plug hole. This signifies life draining away.

Another camera angle used is high angle shot, this is used when Arbogast walks into Norman Bates house and he looks up the stairs the camera is looking down on him making him look small and vulnerable. Another unusual camera angle is when Arbogast is stabbed and falling down the stairs. The Camera stays focused on his face and follows him falling down the stairs until the last few steps. I have never seen this angle before as usually the camera moves away and watches the person falling down the stairs from a distance.The Shower scene only runs for less then two minutes but it looms fearfully large in the collective memory.

The shrieking violins in the background of the murder shower scene add to the atmosphere of tension. Hitchcock wants to keep reminding you that you are watching a film. So you don’t get to involved, you are alienated. Hitchcock does this by putting himself in the film for a split second. He walks past the window of where Marion works. Another way he alienates the audience is by not showing the murderer, you only see the outline through the shower curtain and the knife coming down towards the victim. This film is part of mainstream cinema as Hitchcock hides all workings of the film for example microphones.

In conclusion I believe that Hitchcock is indeed the master of suspense. Although the film has got props that don’t look real like the corpse and the stabbings, in 1960 this looked quite real. The stabbings looking unreal is a way of reminding the audience that they are only watching a film. Although this film was made in 1960 it is still a big success.

All films no matter what genre have near enough the same structure, whether it is mainstream or counter cinema.

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