Monday, October 17, 2011

Scariest Characters in Cinema #17 - Norman Bates

Psycho is one of those movies I avoid writing about in this blog because, really, there's nothing I can say about it that you don't already know ("This just in: The Godfather is great!"). And yet this list wouldn't be complete without Norman Bates, so I'll just talk about my favorite thing about Psycho - namely, the accumulation of details pointing to its macabre punchline. There's Norman's bedroom, with its collection of toy horses, classical records and children's wallpaper, seemingly unchanged since his childhood. Or Norman's meal for Marian - sandwiches and milk - that he feels would be most comfortably enjoyed in the parlor. The way he trips over the word "invalid" when talking about his mother. The candy corn he munches compulsively during his interrogation by Detective Arbogast. And my favorite, the three (at least) meanings of the line "My hobby is stuffing things." All of these little details that seem at first endearing, once you've seen the film, reveal themselves on repeat viewings to be unmistakable signs of Norman's deeply repressed, nature and their manifestation in his relationship with his mother.

I don't mean to sound like Simon Oakland, but while Psycho is hardly a film of psychological realism (nor is it meant to be), it does pay fantastic attention to the details that make Norman, and what happens to him, completely believable and compelling within the context of the movie, as well as being darkly hilarious. Anthony Perkins is amazing as Norman, completely mesmerizing in the wordless sequence where he cleans up the mess Mother has made in the shower, culminating in that wonderful moment, before Marian's car fully submerges in the swamp, when we share Norman's tension that it will not sink, then realize how perversely Hitchcock has twisted our sympathies. As I said, you know this already, but Psycho is one of those rare movies that actually gets better with age and familiarity.

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