‘Psycho’ is built on the principle of conflicted duality. The main tension is situated between life and death. The whole story is infected with the permanent presence of death. Sick, marked by stigma of inanity psyche of Norman (Anthony Perkins) is the most perfect embodiment of this relation.
Alfred Hitchcock starts ‘Psycho’ from a very simple story: Marion, a young secretary, steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by Norman, a young man under the domination of his mother. The director didn’t want to impress us with the originality of his narrative. He wanted to kill us by the spectacular originality of his vision of madness.
Although we learn about Norman’s madness in the last scenes of the movie, the director from the beginning plays the sophisticated game of contrasts, and adds more and more fire to the conflict of dead and living matter. You can see it at both levels – narrative and aesthetic. What’s important – the aesthetic value doesn’t seem to be sovereign element, but it’s more like a child of symbolism. We are dealing with the figures of two protagonists, each of which belongs to a different order. Marion is on the side of life (Eros), Norman represents death (Thanatos). This is an obvious reference to the classic psychoanalysis, but – what’s interesting – Hitchcock made the Freudian theory of the eternal struggle between desires a background of his ‘Psycho’ (desires of the characters determinate the development of the action). That’s why we can’t accused him of using pure illustrativeness. Hitchcock wasn’t trying to tell the story of contradictions in our life. He used psychoanalysis as a formal gimmick to build a drama based on contrast.
At the aesthetic level this crucial for ‘Psycho’ tension manifests itself when Hitchcock is using the relation between movement and stillness. He highlights the creative, maybe even manipulative, potential of cinema. You can observe it for example in the scene of the water flowing out of the bath. This picture of outflow is juxtaposed with the image of a dead eye, which camera shows as it was turning around to the rhythm of spin. Ostentatious artificiality of this movement is contrasted with the surprising vitality of non-viable water, which increases the terror of death. Moreover, when the body dies, the performance of things begins. Inanimate matter tells the parallel story.
‘Psycho’ seems to prove Laura Mulvey’s thesis that cinema is a medium that exists in a strange space between life and death. The tension in ‘Psycho’ is also metaphysical and leads to the question about the nature of the tenth muse (the problem of re-presenting absence and propelling motionless). In this context, stuffed birds (Norman’s hobby) seem to be another symbol of a desire to extend life or even to stay alive forever. Being on the side of Thanatos, Norman lives in the imaginary order, but his actions affect the order of reality (he rubs real blood, not its illusion). Hitchcock gives as an intense, important lesson about the liquidity of borders between imagination and reality, being and dying.