Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Psycho (1960)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

[Saturday morning, December 12]

The next morning, Marion wakes up from her lying position in the front seat of her car, where she has pulled it over to the shoulder of the road beneath some bare hills to get some sleep. She is startled by rapping knuckles on her driver's side window and horrified to see a California Highway Patrolman (Mort Mills) with frightening dark glasses staring at her through the car window. His glasses reflect back her inner soul - ridden with guilt. Marion impulsively turns on the ignition to leave, but he orders her ("acting as if something's wrong") to "hold it there."

After rolling down her window, she tries to act calmly as he suggests that she would be safer in a motel [ha!]. While scrutinizing her, he can sense that she is skittish and nervous:

Patrolman: In quite a hurry.
Marion: Yes, I didn't intend to sleep so long. I almost had an accident last night from sleepiness so I decided to pull over.
Patrolman: You slept here all night?
Marion: Yes. As I said, I couldn't keep my eyes open.
Patrolman: There are plenty of motels in this area. You should've...I mean just to be safe.
Marion: I didn't intend to sleep all night. I just pulled over. Have I broken any laws?
Patrolman: No, ma'am.
Marion: Then I'm free to go.
Patrolman: Is anything wrong?
Marion: Of course not. Am I acting as if there's something wrong?
Patrolman: Frankly, yes.
Marion: Please, I'd like to go.
Patrolman: Well, is there?
Marion: Is there what? I've told you there's nothing wrong, except that I'm in a hurry and you're taking up my time.

Because she is short with him, he asks to check her driver's license. From a low camera angle facing back from the passenger's seat, she turns her back to him and digs into her purse as the patrolman is leaning on the window behind her and watching her (omnisciently). Marion removes the envelope from her purse and desperately hides it between her body and the automobile seat, and then finds her documents. He checks the license and registration (her 1959 Arizona license plate number is ANL 709 - signifying anal-obsessive behavior or something more sordid?) and lets her drive away, but follows her from behind for awhile, still suspicious, while the jarring music plays. [Through subjective camera movements, audience identification with her predicament results in resentment and impatience with everything that makes it difficult for her flight to succeed.] She drives through desolate desert terrain somewhere between Los Angeles and Bakersfield - and is greatly relieved (and so is the audience) when he turns off after a sign reading: "RIGHT LANE FOR GORMAN." [Gore-man, a play on words?]

In Bakersfield, California, she turns into a flashy "CASH FOR CARS" used car lot. [This is the film's sole location shoot.] While waiting for the salesman from the Used Car Department, she purchases a Los Angeles Tribune newspaper from a coin-operated vending machine and quickly scans the paper - for a possible report of her theft? (She doesn't notice the same patrolman drive up, park across the street, and stand next to his vehicle - looking very tall while leaning on his car - to watch her.) The affable, fast-talking used car salesman, California Charlie (John Anderson) greets her ominously:

California Charlie: I'm in no mood for trouble.
Marion (blurting back): What?
California Charlie: There's an old saying. The first customer of the day is always the most trouble.

Hurriedly, realizing she must exchange her Arizona-plated car for one that will not be identifiable, she asks: "Can I trade my car in and take another?" He accommodates her request: "You can do anything you have a mind to. Being a woman, you will." He intuitively grasps her feelings about her car: "Sick of the sight of it." She confirms his perspective - and reveals her life's mood: "I'm in a hurry and I just want to make a change." While a mechanic pulls her car in to inspect it before selling her a different car, she is shocked when she catches sight of the suspicious patrolman. Even though she is aware that the new car she'll be purchasing will be able to be identified, Marion quickly and irrationally decides on going ahead with her car purchase - a light-colored '57 Ford. She causes the astonished, high-pressure salesman to wonder why she is 'pressuring' him to make a swift purchase:

One thing people never ought to be when they're buying used cars - and that's in a hurry...You mean you don't want the usual day and a half to think it over? Ha! You are in a hurry aren't ya? Is somebody chasin' ya?...Why, this is the first time the customer ever high-pressured the salesman!

Without any negotiation, Marion agrees to his first offer, her out-of-state car's trade-in value (and proof of ownership) plus $700, adding warily: "I take it you can prove that car is yours." Before paying, she enters the enclosed ladies room to unwrap and handle the stolen money and to take the car title out of her purse. (Her image is schizophrenically reflected in the lavatory's mirror.) She counts out seven $100 dollar bills over the grimy rest room's sink and returns to California Charlie, who is terribly suspicious of her uneasy, atypical behavior and her refusal to take a trial spin. She defends her own impatience: "Can't we just settle this?...Is there anything so terribly wrong about making a decision and wanting to hurry? Do you think I've stolen my car?" After they have made the deal and she rushes to her new car, the patrolman slowly pulls his vehicle into the car lot. When she hurriedly begins driving off, the greasy mechanic calls out: "Hey!" giving her quite a fright - but it is only because she has forgotten her luggage. It is loaded into the back seat of her car before she drives off, leaving the dumbfounded trio (the cop, the salesman, and the mechanic) staring at her restless departure.

[Saturday evening]

Now a fugitive (or "wrong one"), she drives all day Saturday on monotonous roads as the dark night approaches. Marion is tormented even more by menacing, inner monologues from off-screen voices. Her disintegrating mental state and self-destructive conscience (and physical weariness) cause her to look inward and punish herself - as she imagines and forecasts events leading up to her capture. Headlights from oncoming cars illuminate her face like interrogation spotlights:

[Saturday - imagined]
- California Charlie: Heck officer, that was the first time I ever saw the customer high-pressure the salesman. Somebody chasin' her?
- Patrolman: I'd better have a look at those papers, Charlie.
- California Charlie: Did she look like a wrong one to you?
- Patrolman: Acted like one.
- California Charlie: The only funny thing. She paid me $700 in cash.

[Monday - imagined]
- Caroline: Yes, Mr. Lowery.
- Mr. Lowery: Caroline, Marion still isn't in?
- Caroline: No, Mr. Lowery, but then she's always a bit late on Monday mornings.
- Mr. Lowery: Buzz me the minute she comes in.

- Mr. Lowery: And call her sister. No one's answering at the house.
- Caroline: I called her sister, Mr. Lowery, where she works - the Music Maker's Music Store, you know. And she doesn't know where Marion is any more than we do.
- Mr. Lowery: You'd better run out to the house. She may be, well, unable to answer the phone.
- Caroline: Her sister's going to do that. She's as worried as we are.

[Mr. Lowery on the phone with Marion's sister - imagined]
- Mr. Lowery: No, I haven't the faintest idea. As I said, I last saw your sister when she left this office on Friday. She said she didn't feel well and wanted to leave early. I said she could. That was the last I saw - oh, wait a minute. I did see her sometime later driving. Uh, I think you'd better come over here to my office, quick! Caroline, get Mr. Cassidy for me.

[Mr. Lowery on the phone with Mr. Cassidy - imagined]
- Mr. Lowery: After all Cassidy, I told you, all that cash! I'm not taking any responsibility. Oh, for heaven's sake. A girl works for you for 10 years, you trust her. All right yes, you better come over.

[Mr. Lowery speaking with Cassidy in the office - imagined]
- Cassidy: Well, I ain't about to kiss off forty thousand dollars. I'll get it back and if any of it's missing, I'll replace it with her fine soft flesh. [Marion's own fantasy judgment upon herself is a foreshadowing of what is to come - a wish-fulfillment.]

- Cassidy: I'll track her. Never you doubt it. [Marion grins at Cassidy's raging, vengeful threat and condemning indignation at the loss of his money - and virile manhood. She fantasizes about his sadistic desire to violently murder her and erotically punish "her fine soft flesh." The grin foreshadows another similar one by Norman Bates later in the film.]

- Mr. Lowery: Now hold on Cassidy. I-I still can't believe. It must be some kind of a mystery. I-I can't...
- Cassidy: You check with the bank? NO! They never laid eyes on her? NO! You still trustin'. Hot creeper. She sat there while I dumped it out. Hardly even looked at it. Planned it. And even flirtin' with me.

Rain drops begin to splash on the windshield, as oncoming headlights blind Marion's tired eyes (she has been traveling for almost 30 hours with nothing to eat and an uncomfortable Friday night's sleep in her car). The rainstorm becomes more violent, and the windshield wipers slash back and forth through the water across her window, accentuated by the soundtrack. [A perfect visual metaphor for the celebrated shower scene to come!] Although the rain has a cleansing, climactic effect and her inner monologues cease (and the music dies down), her vision is blurred and obscured - literally - and she becomes lost and driven off the main road. Glaring car headlights (from behind or ahead) disappear. The side road she has been derailed onto is dark - suddenly up ahead, a neon "BATES MOTEL VACANCY" sign appears (seen from her point of view) - almost conjured up like all her other interior imaginations. Her flight is aborted. She pulls in to the out-of-the-way, deserted, and downbeat roadside motel - a modest but seedy looking place.

As the rain is beating down, she parks in front of the motel office and gets out of her car. The office is lighted but unattended. Then, from the motel porch, she peers around the corner of the motel, looking up at the gloomy, gothic-style Victorian house behind the motel on a hill. The stereotypical horror movie's 'old dark house' looks like a giant skull with lighted windows/eyes. In a lighted second story window, she sees the silhouetted figure of an old woman pass in front of the window. She honks her horn a few times to signal her presence.

The nervous, gangly thin, shy, peculiar but likeable caretaker, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) breathlessly bounds down the steps on the hill in the rain (carrying an unopened umbrella) - smiling and greeting her with the words:

Gee, I'm sorry I didn't hear you in all this rain. Go ahead in, please.

As she enters the empty office, the camera captures her reflected image in a mirror, and then a split-second image of both of their faces in the mirror. They speak to each other in profile across the desk, prefaced by his meaningful, ironic comment: "Dirty night." According to the twitchy proprietor, the motel is completely vacant:

"We have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies. They moved away the highway."
-- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

He is delighted to see a visitor because nobody ever stops at the motel unless they accidentally get off the "main road" [another ironic comment about her waywardness]: "Nobody ever stops here anymore unless they've done that." Her handbag is placed next to her on the desk, with the word "OKAY" visible at the top of her folded Los Angeles Tribune newspaper. With frayed nerves from her experience, Marion awkwardly registers in the guest book under a false identity as Marie Sam-uels [a reference to her unfulfilled wish to marry Sam] from Los Angeles after a glance at her paper. The motel keeper banters on with a significant statement:

There's no sense dwelling on our losses. We just keep on lighting the lights and following the formalities.

At the same moment that she lies about her address, the attendant hesitates when he reaches for the room key to Cabin 3. Turning slightly sideways, he selects instead the key to Cabin 1 - the room that adjoins the office: "it's closer in case you want anything." She learns she is only about 15 miles from Fairvale, Sam's town. He takes her bags from the back seat and leads her to her room. As he shows her the interior of the room, he comments on its smell - another richly-textured line: "Boy, it's stuffy in here," and opens the window. In a charming, friendly, eager-to-please way, the uptight proprietor meticulously shows Marion where everything is, pausing on the word "mattress" [a word remarkably similar to the word matricide], possibly because he is nervous about being in the bedroom alone with a pretty woman:

Well the, uh, mattress is soft, and there's hangers in the closet and stationery with 'Bates Motel' printed on it, in case you want to make your friends back home feel envious. -- -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

Framed bird pictures adorn the drab walls. But he stammers as he turns on the bright bathroom lights and points her to the "and the, uh, over there" (she must provide the word bathroom for him as if it was a forbidden, dirty word), the white-tiled bathroom. He offers his services: "Well, if you want anything, just tap on the wall. I'll be in the office."

When she learns his name - it's not "Mr. Bates" he suggests, but a more personable "Norman Bates" - her image is reflected in the room's mirror, clutching her purse with the stolen bundle of money. He shyly and humbly invites her to dinner in his house: "Would you have dinner with me? I was just about to myself. You know, nothing special, just sandwiches and milk...I don't set a fancy table, but the kitchen's awful homey." [His own self-deprecating opinion of himself is that he is "nothing special."] She agrees and he tells her to wait in her room and he'll be back "as soon as it's ready" with his "trusty umbrella."

While he is gone, Marion places both her handbag and suitcase on the bed. She takes the money from her handbag and looks for a better place to conceal the money - she opens up three drawers. She finally decides to wrap it up in her Los Angeles newspaper and place it in plain view on the bed nightstand (the word 'OKAY' is ironically still visible in the headline). [As she sets the paper down, it's as if a voice she hears saying "NO!" from the house judges her guilty action.]

Through the window (that Norman conveniently opened) facing the old house, Marion hears voices - an argument that Norman is having with his shrill-voiced, domineering mother (voice of "Mother" by Virginia Gregg) over his "cheap erotic" dinner invitation to the young woman [the film's voyeur theme is reinforced by the idea of Norman's mother 'peeking' into her son's life with her ears]:

Mother: No! I tell you, No! I won't have you bringing strange young girls in for supper. By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap erotic fashion of young men with cheap erotic minds.
Norman: Mother, please!
Mother: And then what - after-supper music, whispers?
Norman: Mother, she's just a stranger. She's hungry and it's raining out. (Marion turns away from the window)
Mother: (mocking him) 'Mother, she's just a stranger.' As if men don't desire strangers. (Marion turns back and eavesdrops some more) Oh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things because they disgust me. Do you understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she'll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food or my son. Or do I have to tell her, because you don't have the guts? Huh, boy? Do you have the guts, boy?
Norman: Shut up! Shut up! -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

Uncomfortable, she turns away from the window until she hears the door shut. She watches Norman, who has defied his mother, carrying a tray of sandwiches and a pitcher of milk down the hill. Marion waits outside her motel door, and moments later sees Norman turn the corner onto the porch: "I caused you some trouble," she apologetically states. As they stand together on the porch, the camera photographs them as if they were the two sides of the same coin, and Norman's image is reflected in the glass window behind him - and symbolic of his split personality. Crestfallen, Norman tells Marion that his mother is extremely disagreeable. She resigns herself to 'eat'-ing his "fixed" supper:

Norman: No. Mother, my mother, uh, what is the phrase? - she isn't qu-quite herself today. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho
Marion: You shouldn't have bothered. I really don't have that much of an appetite.
Norman: Oh, I'm sorry. I wish you could apologize for other people.
Marion: Don't worry about it. But as long as you've fixed the supper, we may as well eat it.

As she leans back with her hands folded across her front and invites him into her motel room to eat, Norman steps forward and backward one step, stiffens uncomfortably and lowers his gaze, and then proposes that it would be "nicer and warmer" in the motel office. She is amused by his bashfulness and pathetic self-consciousness - and sympathetic to his nervous awkwardness around her. And because it is "too officious" in the office, he suggests the darkened parlor (with only one Tiffany lamp) behind the office: "I-I-I-I have the parlor back here."

[The ominous invitation into the parlor recalls the words of Mary Howitt's 19th century poetic fable, The Spider and the Fly - an excerpt follows below:

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly;
"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."...

And then, in the conclusion:

...He dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den -
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!
And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counsellor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the spider and the fly.

The parallel to the fable is even more prophetic when one recalls the final ironic words of Norman (or his alter ego): "I'm not even gonna swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They'll see. They'll see and they'll know and they'll say, 'Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly.'"]

The parlor is decorated with his stuffed [stuffy, but in another sense] trophy birds mounted on the walls or on stands - an enormous predatory, nocturnal owl with outstretched wings, a raven [a bird with a knife-like beak that preys on carrion (Marion?)], a pheasant, and a hawk - and classic paintings of nude women being raped. As he sits straight up and leans forward as in a toilet-like position while she nibbles on a sandwich (but doesn't drink any of the milk from the large pitcher), he looks on, fondles a stuffed bird, and talks about his "uncommon" and "cheap" hobby "to pass the time" - his interest in avian taxidermy:

Norman: It's all for you. I'm not hungry. Go ahead. (He intently watches her first bite.) You, you eat like a bird.
Marion (looking around): You'd know of course.
Norman (stuttering): No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression, 'eats like a bird' it, it's really a fals-fals-false-falsity because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But I don't really know anything about birds. ['Birds' also connotes 'women'.] My hobby is stuffing things. You know, taxidermy. And I guess I'd just rather stuff birds because I hate the look of beasts when they're stuffed. You know, foxes and chimps. Some people even stuff dogs and cats but, boy, I can't do that. I think only birds look well stuffed because, well because they're kinda passive to begin with. (She tears the piece of bread in her hands, ending up with typical 'bird' food - bread crumbs!)
Marion: Strange hobby. Curious.
Norman: Uncommon, too.
Marion: Oh, I imagine so.
Norman: And itsa, it's not as expensive as you'd think. It's cheap really, you know, needles, and thread, sawdust. The chemicals are the only thing that, that cost anything.
Marion: A man should have a hobby.
Norman: Well, it's, it's more than a hobby. (He fondles a stuffed bird on the bureau next to him.) A hobby's supposed to pass the time, not fill it.
Marion: Is your time so empty?
Norman: No, uh.

He dutifully confides that he doesn't have other friends - his "best friend is his mother." Their conversation leads to speaking about how human beings become imprisoned "in our private traps" - in a narrow and minimal existence - in the course of their private lives. Marion sees parallels in her own life - she is caught in a degraded and draining relationship with a weak-willed Sam, similar to how Norman is debilitated by his enforced caring for his mother:

Norman: Well, I run the office and uh, tend the cabins and grounds and, and do a little, uh, errands for my mother. The ones she allows I might be capable of doing. (He smiles to himself.)
Marion: Do you go out with friends? (He brings his hands back to his lap.)
Norman: Well, a boy's best friend is his mother. You've never had an empty moment in your entire life, have you? -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho
Marion: Only my share.
Norman: Where are you going? (She appears stony-eyed.) I didn't mean to pry.
Marion: I'm looking for a private island. (He leans forward.)
Norman: What are you running away from?
Marion (frowning): Wh-why do you ask that?
Norman: People never run away from anything. (changing the subject) The rain didn't last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and, and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho
Marion: Sometimes, we deliberately step into those traps.
Norman: I was born in mine. I don't mind it any more.
Marion: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
Norman: Oh, I do. (Laughs and shrugs) But I say I don't.

Assertively, Marion insists that he can free himself from the traps that he feels have possessed him since birth - in actuality, she is in the process of healing herself and ready to renounce her own madness. She can't believe that he is traumatized so harshly by his mother - and suggests he should break away from her. According to Norman, he was raised by his widowed mother after the age of five. He was the central focus of his mother's attention until she fell in love with a man who talked her into building the Bates Motel. When his mother's lover died under unusual circumstances and she was bankrupted, "it was just too great a shock for her" and she went insane:

Marion: You know, if anyone ever talked to me the way I heard the way she spoke to you...
Norman: (positioned in front of his stuffed owl) Sometimes, when she talks to me like that, I feel I'd like to go up there and curse her and, and leave her forever. Or at least defy her. (He sits back passively like a little boy.) But I know I can't. She's ill.
Marion: She sounded strong.
Norman: No, I mean ill. She had to raise me all by herself after my father died. I was only five and it must have been quite a strain for her. She didn't have to go to work or anything like that. He left her a little money. Anyway, a few years ago, Mother met this man, and he talked her into building this motel. He could have talked her into anything. And when he died too, it was just too great a shock for her. And, and the way he died. (he smiles broadly at the thought) I guess it's nothing to talk about while you're eating. Anyway, it was just too great a loss for her. She had nothing left.
Marion: Except you.
Norman: A son is a poor substitute for a lover. [The film's suggestion of incest!]
Marion: Why don't you go away?
Norman: To a private island, like you?
Marion: No, not like me. (Marion's pose is similar to the one of the nude woman in the painting in the far left background behind Norman.)

Norman was forced into the role of nurse-maiding his deranged and invalid [mentally - "ill" ?] mother after his step-father's death. He erupts with furious intensity when she suggests that his mother be committed "someplace..." Marion is slowly made aware of how Norman's imprisoning predicament and treatment by his mother is far worse than her own situation. After Norman has sympathetically told her the story of his mother and their hard lives, Marion is compassionate but incredulous regarding his passive acceptance of his duty, his unhealthy, troubled devotion to his mother, and his sexual repression:

Norman: I couldn't do that. Who'd look after her? She'd be alone up there. The fire would go out. It'd be cold and damp like a grave. If you love someone, you don't do that to them - even if you hate them. You understand that I don't hate her. I hate what she's become. I hate the illness.
Marion: Wouldn't it be better if you put her - (she pauses and avoids speaking the obvious word) someplace ...
Norman (leaning forward with a mad look on his face, both angry and defensive): You mean an institution? A madhouse? People always call a madhouse 'someplace,' don't they? Put her in 'some place.' -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho
Marion: I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to sound uncaring.
Norman: (He grins) What do you know about caring? Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing and the tears! And the cruel eyes studying you. My mother there? [A foreshadowing of the film's climax.] But she's harmless! She's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds! [literally!]
Marion: I am sorry. I only felt - it seems she's hurting you. I meant well.
Norman: (bitterly) People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest oh-so-very-delicately. (He leans back and turns back into his affable self.) Of course, I've suggested it myself, but I hate to even think about it. She needs me. (He leans forward again.) It's not as if she were a maniac, a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. (He leans back, smiles, and relaxes.) Haven't you? -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho
Marion: (firmly) Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough. Thank you.
Norman: Thank you, Norman.
Marion: Norman. (She stands to leave his company.)

At the conclusion of their discussion, he attempts to solidify their first-name-basis intimacy, but she is only thankful that she has learned a lesson from their talk. [Marion's admission that she has sunk to neurotic depths ("we all go a little mad sometimes") parallels Norman's own psychotic, pitiable trap in which he is hopelessly caught.] Marion realizes how horrible life can be when one is trapped in a situation without escape. In the mad act of stealing her boss's money, she has placed herself in such a trap.

Benefiting from Norman's example and trapped, self-sacrificing condition, he has provided or suggested a way of liberating salvation for Marion - and she gratefully thanks him. Regaining her sanity and rationality, she is resolved to extricate herself from her own self-imposed "private trap back there" due to lack of money and a frustrating romance. She will return to Phoenix to turn herself in "before it's too late":

Marion: I have a long drive tomorrow, all the way back to Phoenix.
Norman: (incredulously) Really?
Marion: I stepped into a private trap back there and I'd like to go back and try to pull myself out of it before it's too late for me to.

Marion forgets, however, that she has signed the register with a fake name and fake home address, and now tells Norman that her name is Crane. Norman watches her return to her cabin, and then takes another look at the register, smirking at the false name and location. [Norman Bates' hobby, "baiting ," snaring and trapping birds for stuffing - such as the "crane' woman from Phoenix - another legendary bird - has again found a suitable match - and he is amused by it.]

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