Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Psycho (1960)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Lila and Sam wait apprehensively in the hardware store for the detective's return later that Saturday, realizing that it has been three hours since Arbogast last called [just before his unexpected, horrific murder]. Lila admits being impatient to the procrastinating Sam: "Are we just going to sit here and wait?...Patience doesn't run in my family, Sam." When she demands to go to the motel, Sam volunteers to go by himself. A dark silhouetted Lila, with a cold wind blowing through her hair, dissolves into the figure of Norman, standing by the swamp [after sinking Arbogast and his car?]. He hears Sam's off-screen call for Arbogast, but doesn't respond. Norman's sinister look into the camera dissolves back into an image of Lila waiting in the back office of the hardware store. When Sam returns, she rushes forward to the camera [her dark, silhouetted image recalls Marion's first image of the murderer in the shower scene]. He reports his findings: "No Arbogast, no Bates," but he saw a "sick old lady unable to answer the door, or unwilling" in the second floor window.

[Saturday night]

The two decide to talk to Fairvale's Deputy Sheriff Al Chambers (John McIntire) and his wife (Lurene Tuttle) at their home - they find them in their night-robes. They explain that Lila's sister ran away from Phoenix (because "she stole some money...forty thousand dollars") and was traced to the Bates Motel by private detective Arbogast. Mrs. Chambers is dumbfounded when they mention a "Mrs. Bates" - "Norman took a wife?" An over-anxious Lila believes "there's something wrong out there" because Arbogast has inexplicably disappeared after reporting he was "dissatisfied and he was going back there." The common-sense country sheriff is also suspicious, but questions the integrity of the detective. He speculates that Arbogast might have obtained a "hot lead" from Norman, stalled them with a phone call, and then took off alone after Marion:

Well, I think there's something wrong too Miss, but not the same thing. I think what's wrong is your private detective. I think he got himself a hot lead as to where your sister was going, probably from Norman Bates, and called you to keep you still while he took off after her and the money.

The sheriff believes that Norman didn't answer Sam's cries deliberately: "This fellow lives like a hermit. You must remember that bad business out there about 10 years ago." Lila persuades Chambers to call Norman on the phone to confirm the sheriff's theory. Norman answers and supportively explains that Arbogast was there but left. There is a particularly stunning set of remarks made by Sheriff Chambers and his wife when they dispel the claims of both Sam and Arbogast about Norman's living 'mother.' In a double murder-suicide ten years earlier, Mrs. Bates poisoned her unfaithful lover and then took her own life:

Sheriff: This detective was there. Norman told him about the girl. The detective thanked him and he went away.
Lila: (disbelieving) And he didn't come back? He didn't see the Mother?
Sheriff: Your detective told you he couldn't come right back because he was gonna question Norman Bates' mother, right?
Lila: Yes.
Sheriff: Norman Bates' mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cemetery for the past ten years.
Mrs. Chambers: I helped Norman pick out the dress she was buried in - periwinkle blue.
Sheriff: It ain't only local history, Sam. It's the only case of murder and suicide on Fairvale ledgers. Mrs. Bates poisoned this guy she was involved with when she found out he was married. Then took a helping of the same stuff herself. Strychnine. Ugly way to die.
Mrs. Chambers: Norman found them dead together - (whispering) in bed.
Sam: You mean that old woman I saw sittin' in the window out there wasn't Bates' mother?
Sheriff: Now wait a minute, Sam. Are you sure you saw an old woman?
Sam: Yes! In the house behind the motel. I called and pounded but she just ignored me.
Sheriff: You want to tell me you saw Norman Bates' mother?
Lila: But it had to be, because Arbogast said so, too. And the young man wouldn't let him see her because she was too ill.
Sheriff: Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates, who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery? -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

With a determined look on his face, Norman leaves the motel office and goes up to the house and stairs (walking effeminately with shifting hips) to the second floor bedroom - his 'mother's' bedroom. He tells her that it is time to move her to a new location - the fruit cellar. The cackling old lady protests vehemently with a macabre joke as he explains the necessity of the move:

Norman: Now mother, uhm, I-I'm gonna bring something up...
Mother: Ha, ha, I am sorry boy, but you do manage to look ludicrous when you give me orders.
Norman: Please, mother...
Mother: No! I will not hide in the fruit cellar! Ah ha! You think I'm fruity, huh? I'm staying right here.This is my room and no one will drag me out of it, least of all my big bold son.
Norman: They'll come now, mother. He came after the girl and now someone will come after him. Mother, please, it's just for a few days. Just for a few days so they won't find you.
Mother: Just for a few days? In that dark, dank fruit cellar? No! You hid me there once, boy, and you won't do it again. Not ever again! Now get out! I told you to get out, boy.
Norman: I'll carry you, Mother.
Mother: Norman, what do you think you're doing? Don't you touch me! Don't! Norman! Put me down! Put me down! I can walk on my own.
-- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

During their argumentative dialogue, the camera pans up the stairway to above the bedroom door and then to a disorienting, spiraling overhead shot as Norman emerges with his mother in his arms and carries the frail figure down the staircase to the basement fruit cellar. [The audience is equally imbalanced and disoriented - who is the woman that he argues with and carries downstairs, immediately after the Sheriff revealed that Mrs. Bates is buried in a grave?]

[Sunday, December 20]

Churchbells sound to indicate the end of the Sunday services at the small-town Fairvale Church. On the steps in front of the spire-topped church, the Sheriff tells Lila and Sam that he found "nothing" but Norman at the Bates Motel when he visited earlier in the morning:

I saw the whole place, as a matter of fact. That boy's alone there...You must have seen an illusion, Sam. I know you're not the seein'-illusions type, but no woman was there and I don't believe in ghosts, so there it is.

The Sheriff suggests that they file a "missing person" report later that afternoon in his office: "The sooner you drop this in the lap of the law, that's the sooner you stand a chance of your sister being picked up." To "make it nicer," his wife suggests they do their reporting at their house around dinner time.

Disbelieving and unsatisfied, Lila and Sam decide to return to the motel on their own to see if Arbogast ran out on them. To "fool" Norman, they plan to register as guests - as "man and wife" - and then "search every inch of the place, inside and out." After they arrive at the motel, Norman spies on them from the upstairs window and Lila notices someone there. When Norman speaks to them about registering for a room, they explain that they are journeying to San Francisco, but don't like the looks of the weather: "It looks like a bad day coming, doesn't it?"

Sam and Norman face each other tensely across the front desk. Appearing assertive and insistent, Sam signs the register and demands a "notarized" receipt because his trip is: "90 percent business." Without luggage, Sam reminds Norman that it's odd that they don't have to pay for their room in advance. After paying ten dollars for the room and showing themselves to cabin number ten near the end of the porch, Lila wishes to search cabin number one where Arbogast told her Marion stayed: "No matter what we're afraid of finding or how much it may hurt."

Lila is suspicious that Norman, the motel manager of this "useless business," had a motive "to get out, to get a new business somewhere else - 40 thousand dollars." They are both anxious to search for clues that Arbogast had uncovered and evidence of the missing $40,000:

There must be some proof that exists now, something that proves he (Bates) got that money away from Marion somehow...He (Arbogast) wouldn't have gone anywhere or done anything without telling us unless he was stopped - and he was stopped. So he must have found out something.

They begin at Cabin One where they find two major clues. Sam notices that the shower curtain is missing and Lila finds a scrap of paper stuck to the inside of the toilet bowl, showing a notation - some figure has been added to or subtracted from $40,000. That might prove that Norman found out about the money. Lila is convinced that the "old woman, whoever she is, she told Arbogast something. I want her to tell us the same thing." They plan to split up and have Sam divert Norman's attention and keep him occupied within the office while Lila sneaks up to explore the house - she confidently assures Sam: "I can handle a sick old woman."

The camera subjectively tracks her climbing progress up the hill, both with eerie point-of-view shots and backward-tracking shots as the gothic house looms larger and she confronts its horror. She anxiously enters the solemn, archaic hallway of "Mother's House." In this final scary sequence, with parallel editing cutting back and forth between the motel office and Lila's assault on Norman's private world in the house, Sam abrasively corners Norman in the motel office's entrance. He aggressively and mercilessly banters away with the much-quieter, timid motel manager - challenging ('baiting') him to confess that he would "get away" given the right chance:

Sam: You are alone here, aren't you?
Norman: Hmm, hmm.
Sam: It would drive me crazy.
Norman: I think that would be a rather extreme reaction, don't you?
Sam: Just an expression. What I meant was, uh, I'd do just about anything to get away, wouldn't you?

[Lila explores the house in three areas - the bedroom, the attic, and the cellar - all parts of Norman's segmented personality.]

Lila first sees a black cupid statue in the hallway, and then a painting of a maiden at the top of the stairs. She enters Mrs. Bates' Victorian, baroque, stuffy, upstairs bedroom. She notes the ornate fixtures and strangely preserved, Victorian artifacts including an antique dry washbasin, a nude goddess statuette, a cold fireplace and empty chair, an armoire-wardrobe with old-fashioned, high-necked women's clothes neatly hung, a vanity table with large mirror, hairbrush and comb. There's also a jewelry box (a bronzed sculpture of two crossed, lace-cuffed hands clasped in prayer) on the dressing table. She gasps, seeing herself in multiple reflections in an opposing full-length mirror, but is relieved that the nightmarish apparition is only herself. She touches the deep-curved, indented imprint of a single reclining figure in the large double bed - Norman's "only world."

In the office, Sam doubts Norman's contentedness and acceptance of his poverty - assuming that he would "unload this get out from under" if he had the money:

Sam: I'm not saying you shouldn't be contented here. I'm just doubting that you are. I think if you saw a chance to get out from under, you'd unload this place.
Norman: This place? This place happens to be my only world. I grew up in that house up there. I had a very happy childhood. My mother and I were more than happy.

On the third floor, Lila enters Norman's little-boy's room containing a mysterious, aberrant combination of children's (boy's and girl's items) and adult's things [signifying Norman's stultified personality development]. The isolated room contains a rocking chair; another stuffed bird; a doll, a model car, a toy schoolhouse and a stuffed teddy bear in a pile on a wall shelf; a stuffed rabbit on Norman's slept-in single bed; a phonograph record of Beethoven's Er-o-ica [one letter short of erotica] Third Symphony on a box-like turntable; and a world globe and small piggy bank safe next to a stack of books (one of the books has no title or author on its cover). She turns open the book cover to inspect its contents [is it pornographic, a book of black magic, Norman's diary perhaps, or is it an album that contains pictures of the Bates family?].

The shot cuts back to the motel office, where Sam continues his pleasantries to question a now-frightened Norman who stands confrontationally across from him [they are remarkably similar - almost mirror reflections of each other as they stand across the counter from each other]:

Sam: You look frightened. Have I been saying something frightening?
Norman: I-I-I don't know what you've been saying.
Sam: I've been talking about your mother. About your motel. How you're gonna do it?
Norman: Do what?
Sam: Buy a new one in a new town where you won't have to hide your mother.
Norman: Why don't you just get in your car and drive away from here, OK?
Sam: Where will you get the money to do that, Bates? Or do you already have it, socked away?
Norman: Shut up!
Sam: A lot of it, forty thousand dollars. (He pursues Norman into the parlor.) I bet your mother knows where the money is and what you did to get it. I think she'll tell us.

Realizing that the girl Sam came with has disappeared (he deduces that she may be in the house) and that he has been set up in a diversionary trap, Norman struggles with Sam, knocks him out, and races up the hill. As Lila is coming down the stairs, she looks out the curtained front door window and sees Norman rushing toward her. She runs around and hides behind the stairs in the stairwell leading to the basement steps - she is framed behind the 'bars' of the stairs. As Norman goes upstairs, Lila decides to tiptoe down into the darkness of the cellar [symbolically going deeper into the hidden secrets of the psyche or Psycho-path] - sensing that Norman's mother might be located there.

She enters a basement door, and then proceeds through a second creaking door into the fruit cellar, where she sees a lifeless, silent figure (with her hair drawn back in a bun) facing away from her in a chair - seated under a glaring bare-bulb light fixture. She walks up to the body, calling out "Mrs. Bates?" and taps the woman's shoulder. The body slowly swivels in its chair and jiggles back and forth as it completes its turn. She has discovered Norman's perverted and terrible secret and penetrated into his deadly world where she has found "Mother" - Mrs. Bates - a stuffed, dried-up, shrunken and withered mummy's skeleton with empty eye sockets and a wide, toothy grin. Horrified, Lila's wide-open mouth screams at the preserved corpse. As she draws back her hand, it hits the suspended light fixture, setting it swinging. It adds an unsettling set of dancing shadows of light and dark to the scene. As she screams, violin screeches match her own shrieks as she turns toward the sound of heavy footsteps.

A grey-haired woman with a knife wielded in the air suddenly jumps into the open fruit cellar door frame. 'Mother' pauses there for a moment and then steps forward to strike. Sam appears behind the matronly old woman, and grabs, overpowers, and subdues the knife-brandishing attacker. In the film's dramatic climax, Norman is metamorphosized and revealed as his "Mother" [Norma?] when his drag disguises (the wig and dress) are stripped away and ripped off. His body convulses and spasms (orgasmically?), his eyes squint, and his face grimaces in pain when his decaying illusion is exposed. His fingers claw upward and cling to the knife as he collapses to the floor. The 'Norman' self completely dies, while his macabre 'Mother' self is brought to life - illustrated by the cadaver's hysterically-laughing face, with its mummy's eyes 'moving' - animated and resurrected by the light. The 'living dead' eyes of the corpse that see Lila mock her - they appear lifelike but they are indeed lifeless. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

The mummy's face dissolves into the next scene set in front of the County Court House - the face appears imprisoned behind the four white pillars holding up the establishment's law and order building.

[This final sequence or epilogue has been criticized as being too talky, and an over-explanation of the film's plot. However, Hitchcock was known for providing expositional content in other films, such as in his US remake The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), North by Northwest (1959) and Rear Window (1954).]

Sheriff Chambers remarks: "If anyone gets any answers, it'll be the psychiatrist. Even I couldn't get to Norman and he knows me." As a footnote to the entire series of events, the smug and officious police psychiatrist, Dr. Richmond (Simon Oakland) in the Office of the Chief of Police reconstructs or 'explains' the mystery of Norman's schizophrenic psychosis after questioning 'his mother' [Was he 'made a fool a woman'?] - since Norman Bates no longer exists.

[A wall calendar behind the psychiatrist reads '17', a discontinuity error and a Hitchcockian self-reference to his earlier film Number 17 (1932). The date of the final scenes of Psycho should be December 20. In her first scene, Lila told Sam that Marion left Phoenix "a week ago yesterday"; the plot climaxed the day after that, which would be Sunday the 20th.]:

I got the whole story, but not from Norman. I got it from his 'mother'. Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half-existed to begin with. And now, the other half has taken over, probably for all time.

Lila asks if it is true that Norman actually killed her sister. The psychiatrist first answers "Yes...and no," but then confirms that Norman was the murderer of Marion, Arbogast, and possibly other individuals (in unsolved missing persons cases) who registered at the hotel and were deposited in the swamp in the vicinity of the motel. Then, he goes on to explain how a "disturbed" Norman had an incestuously possessive and jealous love for his mother, so he poisoned both her and her lover after he discovered them in bed together. [It has been speculated that there's another likely possibility - Mrs. Bates may have killed her own husband and then killed herself. Norman's delusional mind, with his accusatory 'Mother' enshrined inside, may have caused him to become mad to rid him/herself of guilt. The 'Mother' part of him directed him to commit the murders.]:

Now to understand it the way I understood it, hearing it from the mother, that is, from the 'mother' half of Norman's mind, you have to go back ten years to the time when Norman murdered his mother and her lover. Now he was already dangerously disturbed, had been ever since his father died. His mother was a clinging, demanding woman, and for years, the two of them lived as if there was no one else in the world. Then, she met a man and it seemed to Norman that she threw him over for this man. Now that pushed him over the line and he killed them both.

To wipe clean and obliterate the unbearable, intolerable crime of matricide from his conscience and consciousness, a remorseful Norman developed a split personality. In this way, he could keep the illusion that she was still alive. To make that illusion a physical reality, he dug up and stole her body, and used his taxidermist skills to preserve and stuff her corpse, keep her 'alive,' and then he would ease his loneliness by lying with her in bed:

Matricide is probably the most unbearable crime of all - most unbearable to the son who commits it. So he had to erase the crime, at least in his own mind. He stole her corpse. A weighted coffin was buried. He hid the body in the fruit cellar, even treated it to keep it as well as it would keep. And that still wasn't enough. She was there, but she was a corpse. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

In his diseased imagination, he would play-act and fantasize that he was his mother - and that she was as jealous of him as he was of her. When attracted to a young woman, Norman would completely become his mother and be jealously and pathologically mad. His "mother" side, escalated to full reality, would stab to death the females he was attracted to - and commit the horribly violent crimes. After the murders, Norman would awaken and appear horrified by his 'mother's' crimes. However, from Norman's pathologically-crazed point of view, the murders were symbolic sexual acts of rape/revenge - his knife a potent phallic symbol against his 'Mother'.

So he began to think and speak for her, give her half his life, so to speak. At times, he could be both personalities, carry on conversations. At other times, the 'mother' half took over completely. He was never all Norman, but he was often only mother. And because he was so pathologically jealous of her, he assumed that she was as jealous of him. Therefore, if he felt a strong attraction to any other woman, the 'mother' side of him would go wild. (To Lila) When he met your sister, he was touched by her, aroused by her. He wanted her. That set off the jealous 'mother', and 'mother' killed the girl. Now after the murder, Norman returned as if from a deep sleep, and, like a dutiful son, covered up all traces of the crime he was convinced his 'mother' had committed!...

He was a transvestite - "but not exactly." He would act out the "mother" side of the split personality, donning her clothing to keep his illusion of her being alive. Following the disclosure of Norman's crime, his weakened self-identity had been so completely and totally absorbed and possessed by the "mother" side of his split personality that his male Norman side no longer existed. When his two personalities fused, he became his dominant mother's final victim:

In Norman's case, he was simply doing every thing possible to keep alive the illusion of his mother being alive. And when reality came too close, when danger or desire threatened that illusion, he'd dress up, even to a cheap wig he bought. He'd walk about the house, sit in her chair, speak in her voice. He tried to be his mother. And, uh, now he is. Now that's what I meant when I said I got the story from the 'mother'. You see, when the mind houses two personalities, there's always a conflict, a battle. In Norman's case, the battle is over, and the dominant personality has won...These were crimes of passion, not profit.

A policeman brings a chilled Norman a blanket ("He feels a little chill") - off-screen, a woman's voice responds gratefully: "Thank you." As Norman sits still - staring out into space in his box-like jail cell [a bare "place" with "cruel eyes studying you" - Norman's words to Marion], he is wrapped and insulated from the world and huddled in a blanket. His frail character and self-identity have been fully possessed by his mother. As the camera slowly tracks toward Norman, the voice of "Mother" speaks in Norman's head, and condemns her son for the crimes, while she claims that she is harmless:

(off-screen) It's sad when a Mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son, but I couldn't allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They'll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end, he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man, as if I could do anything except just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. Oh, they know I can't even move a finger and I won't. I'll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

[The police and, more directly, the film's audience are 'watching' him/her through the peephole of the door. This scene recalls the scene of the policeman with dark sunglasses gazing at Marion with his "cruel eyes." The prison guard is an uncredited role for Ted Knight, the Ted Baxter character of the popular TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show.] With darting eyes, he/she watches a fly crawl across his/her hand, displaying his/her innocence by sparing the insect's life. [One can only recall that Marion's life wasn't spared.] As he looks toward the camera, a grinning smile slowly creeps over his face - subliminally superimposed by and dissolving into the grinning skull of his mother's mummified corpse:

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.' -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

The film ends with a dissolve into the dredging of the swamp - Marion's car with her body and the almost-$40,000 in the trunk is hauled trunk-first from the muck by a heavy clanking chain on a winch - she is liberated, withdrawn and reborn from her grave. Horizontal black bars partially, and then completely, cover the final image.

Previous Page