60 years later, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is still making waves.
I first surfed the most recent swell courtesy of The Ringer’s Big Picture podcast, where the collected talking-mouths gabbed about the movie to coronate its diamond anniversary. While mostly laudatory, they dealt a few blows against the ending, specifically the concluding monologue that seems to explain too explicitly, in psychobabble, Norman Bates’ psychological motivations.
In a Twitter response, Devin Faraci labeled this grievance as ahistorical; while the “Freud for dummies” denouement debatably puts too fine a point on the proceedings for modern audiences, we’re forgetting how differently psychoanalysis resonated in prior eras, before its decades-worth of influence over how the species comprehends cognition. Nowadays, it’s uncouth to equate Sigmund with total clarity, which is why Psycho‘s finale might ring as unconvincing.
And yet…what if that’s the idea?
Granted, this may just be my ongoing Éric Rohmer retrospective talking, because his oeuvre’s rife with unreliable narrators whose confessional voiceovers profess truths that appear to conflict with their recorded behavior; we’re inclined to believe a character when it sounds like their inner voices are laying bare their souls and psyches, but who’s to say these authorial presences are unimpeachable authorities exclusively proclaiming truths, their own or otherwise?
Which brings us back to Psycho‘s psychoanalysis. Closing with this speech lends itself to be interpreted as the final words on the displayed psychoses…BUT, just because the movie depicts and goes out on this perspective, does not mean it necessarily endorses it.
In fact, it could be just the last in a long line of instances involving Psycho‘s characters fucking up on the job:
One of the first tidbits we learn about Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is that she’s embezzling money from her company; clearly, far from a model employee. Even clearer and farther: psychotic psychopathic psychopath Norman Bates (speaking of putting too fine a point on it), who definitely shirks his responsibilities as an innkeeper, entrusted to house his guests safely. Needless to say, his parents also dropped the ball on their duty to raise a non-serial-killer child. And then there’s the private investigator, who shows up to solve the crime and stop the villain, fails to do both, and gets murdered.
Why should we assume the psychologist is the sole competent laborer in the bunch? Rather, what if we’re supposed to feel skeptical about his diagnosis as a sufficient rundown of Norman Bates’ psychosis? What if Hitch was actually ahead of the curve in throwing water on psychoanalysis offering all the answers and the only answers?
As we hear these psychological epiphanies, the camera locks in on the unreadable expression adorning Bates’ visage. Are we listening to THE summary of what we’ve witnessed and are observing, or merely ONE summary? Much like Rohmer’s work, Psycho leaves open the possibility that there’s an intentional dissonance between these words and the movie’s sights. We love to derive comfort from straightforward takeaways, but the neat-and-tidy boxes humans prefer to package their wisdom in — be they institutions of knowledge like psychology, or pieces of art like Psycho — cannot completely resolve all of life’s crucial questions.
You know, like why psychos are psycho.