In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Psycho, we will explain the film’s ending.
The end of Psycho explained
The very ending of Psycho consists of three parts. First, there’s the events that take place at Bates Motel. Lila is in the basement of Norman’s home when she discovers what she believes to be Norman’s mother—but really, it’s just a skeleton of the mother. Then Norman runs through the door wearing his mother’s clothing, yells, “I’m Norma Bates!” and lunges at Lila before being tackled by Sam.
Then we cut to a police station, where a psychiatrist explains to Lila, Sam, and a collection of police officers that Norman suffers from multiple personality disorder. Because Norman’s mother was jealous and possessive, Norman embodies her vindictiveness and lashes out at anyone whom she feels endangers Norman, threatens her moralistic values. On top of it all, we find out that Norman killed his own mother after finding her in bed with a man that wasn’t his father. So on some level, he has recreated his mother out of guilt.
Then we cut to Norman, who sits in a room by himself at the police station. To close the movie, we hear internal dialogue from his mother, who says:
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 but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t 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. I’m not even going to 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…”
Between these three parts, there is constant change in energy. When Lila discovers Norman’s dark secret, the atmosphere is intense, chaotic, terrifying. But in the police station, normalcy sets in when the psychiatrist explains everything to Sam and Lila. The climate is calm, meditative, logical. And then we finally cut to Norman, whose sinister story has been revealed. The aura then becomes chilling, alluring, villainous.
This unnerving environmental flux is very purposeful on Hitchcock’s part, meant to toy with the audience and our perception of madness. Norman’s psychosis is clear, as he believes his dead mother’s spirit inhabits his body. He seemingly switches between himself and his mother’s persona without thought or rationale, truly believing that he is both himself and Norma—this is not the behavior of a sane person.
But there’s more to Norman than meets the eye. Yes, he is psychotic. But as we discussed in the Themes and Meaning section, Norman was driven to madness because of unfortunate circumstances in his life. The isolation he experienced at his hidden motel made him irrevocably lonely, and the sadness and guilt he felt after losing his mother wore on him over the years, driving him to a point where he recreated his mother to combat the lonesomeness, the depression. Because nobody was there for him, he went a little mad.
“Mad” is a key word in Psycho, as we discussed in the Title Explanation section. In defending his mother to Marion, Norman says, “It’s not as if she were a maniac, a raving thing. She’s just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” This serves as a wake-up call to Marion, who realizes that she indeed went a little mad when stealing the money.
In both Marion and Norman’s cases, they were driven mad because of the circumstances they were stuck in. For Marion, it was the lonesomeness she felt in society. But for Norman, it was the emotional isolation he felt by having nobody else around. In both cases, the cruel realities of the world drove them to commit immoral acts.
Yet…nobody is evaluating Marion and her crime. She realizes she went a little mad, that she was being pushed down the same path that eventually drove Norman to insane levels. But Norman is the one that’s evaluated, that’s normalized, that’s given thought and reason for his crimes. Because Norman was so lost and rejected that he committed murder, he became fit for study and reason. The psychiatrist’s conclusion feels sound and rational, putting us and the characters at ease.
But the psychiatrist doesn’t really understand Norman, does he? It’s all nothing but words and analysis. The psychiatrist doesn’t know the true darkness that lurks within Norman. We saw the frustration Norman felt when mental institutions were mentioned; we saw Norman spying on a beautiful woman as she changed her clothes—something his mother would have deeply disapproved of; we understood the deep, emotional attachment Norman shared with his mother during that conversation with Marion. We saw the tics and spasms, the impassioned turmoil of a man who so deeply missed the most important person in his life.
The ending then becomes a challenge to the viewer. Maybe Norman is a “psycho.” But couldn’t anyone be driven to this state? Anyone who’s lost a loved one and felt they couldn’t recover; anyone who’s felt immense loneliness and solitude; anyone who committed a terrible crime and felt they could never amend for their sin…like Marion. Norman and Marion lost touch with reality because reality lost touch with them. They became outsiders who could never feel at home because society rejected them for what they had become.
So when Norman sits there at the end of the movie, imagining what his mother would say, he’s hopeful that people will see him refusing to swat the fly. He wants to give off the image of normalcy, that he can be cured. But we know it’s an act. We know the madness that lurks beneath—the madness that’s become so unhinged that it feels irreversible. Until this kind of pain and hurt is truly understood—until people like him and Marion are vindicated for their sins—it’s hard to believe they can find a place in this cruel, confusing world. True understanding requires society to evaluate itself as well as the people affected by its rules.
We can study madness all we want. But madness, inevitably, persists. And our inability to find the root of madness will forever drive us…well. You get it.
What are your thoughts?
Is there more to the ending that you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Psycho? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider adding them.