In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for Psycho, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
Psycho | Questions and Answers
Why do we need the psychiatrist’s explanation at the end?
This is a funny question, because it doesn’t pertain to understanding something about the plot. Rather, this question is in response to a common complaint about the film—that the final few minutes are completely unnecessary. After Norman is apprehended, we are subjected to a longwinded explanation from a psychiatrist about Norman’s multiple personality disorder. It’s all expository information, never really telling us anything we didn’t know—besides the fact that Norman killed his mother years ago. For many viewers, this talkative ending strips away the intensity of the film’s climax.
But there’s a very important reason Hitchcock included this section in the film. First and foremost, it was done for practical reasons. Hitchcock believed Psycho would never make it past the censors to be shown in theaters, and as a result would only exist as a two-part episode for his TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This explanation from the psychiatrist was meant to bring normalcy and sensibility to Norman’s condition, to show that the film was making sense of an illness as opposed to exploiting it.
In addition, Hitchcock knew this his audience—which largely consisted of older married couples ingrained with moralistic values from the 1950s—would appreciate the detailed, logical explanation of what they just witnessed. The psychiatrist’s entire speech was purely intended to calm the waters of what he believed (and he was correct) to be a provocative, button-pushing film.
But looking beyond practical reasons, the psychiatrist’s speech actually reinforces the film’s entire ideological focus. For the second half of the movie, people are trying to chase Marion down, to figure out why Norman Bates is so strange. These people are depicted as small-town folks with a black-and-white view of life. They like the comfort of their humble, well-to-do communities, and could never imagine something so heinous happening in their own backyard. So when something terrible does happen, they try to make sense of it within their reality.
Hitchcock was aware that these very characters were reminiscent of the people who would see his movie. He knew they needed a simple, digestible answer for Norman’s lunacy, so he gave it to them. Sam, Lila, and the policemen—as well as everybody in the movie theater—are all very satisfied with the psychiatrist’s well-reasoned evaluation.
But…then we cut back to Norman at the end of the movie (you can read a deeper explanation of the ending here). And his mother is giving an internal dialogue. In this moment, we realize the darkness that lurks within Norman is much deeper and much murkier than we or the doctor could have ever imagined. We’ve only received a glimpse into the twisted mind of Norman Bates.
So, in effect, the psychiatrist’s explanation becomes a commentary on our observation of madness. As we discussed in the Themes and Meaning section, societal pressures and rigid communal rules can drive people to manic places. Marion had a moment of madness, while Norman was truly, irrevocably mad—all because of the cruel circumstances of the world that had stretched their minds to unhealthy levels. As viewers, we like to sit back and pretend we understand these characters. But so much more exists beyond the confines of the screen, beyond what we can see.
Why does Marion steal the money?
Marion feels backed into a corner in her daily life. She wants to marry Sam, but can’t because of his debts. So they sneak around and secretly have sex in hotel rooms where nobody can find them. She’s also annoyed with Tom Cassidy, the rich man who flaunts his money and ego in Marion’s face. At the price of $40,000, Tom plans to purchase the Harris Street Property as a wedding gift for his daughter. Downtrodden with her life circumstances, Marion decides to steal the money and manifest her own version of the daughter’s happy, easy life.
What happens to the money?
The great trick of Psycho is the irrelevance of the money—aka the “MacGuffin.” In narratives, the MacGuffin is a device that sets the plot in motion and motivates the characters, but is ultimately meaningless to the true thematic focus of the film. In the end, the story has nothing to do with the money, but instead figuring out what drove Norman to insanity. The MacGuffin is used to disarm the audience to believing the movie is about one thing—before ripping the rug from beneath and revealing the true intentions.
It should be noted, however, that the money is found at the end of the movie. Norman threw the money in the back of Marion’s car, and her car is eventually pulled up from the swamp pond.
When does Alfred Hitchcock make his cameo?
Hitchcock’s cameo happens at the beginning of the movie. He’s standing outside Marion’s bank.
What questions do you have?
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