// Marion Crane, a platinum-blonde officeworker, is trusted by everyone who knows her as an honest, decent good woman. However, on her lunch breaks she rushes immoral activities with her lover, who is broke due to paying out alimony to an ex-wife. Desperate to marry him, Marion is handed $40,000 from a flirtatious old client. Unable to resist temptation i.e. the urge to solve her problems with her lover, she flees back to her apartment with the money. After some mental backtracking and imaginary scenarios, Marion ignores her desires and drives into the night, waking up to a suspicious policeman, whom follows her as she trades in her car to throw him off the trail. On the highway to Fairvale, Marion stops off at the empty, decrepit Bates motel; so secluded that her presence will not be noticed by the police. Upon her arrival though, she doesn't bet on the proprietor - intense, jumpy and withdrawn young man Norman - and domineering mother to make sure she truly regrets her moment of madness and want to return the money. But it is too late; she is stabbed to death in the shower by a completely shadowed figure strongly resembling invalid mother from the overlooking draconian house. Marion's lover Sam and her sister Lila become suspicious along with Arbogast, a hired private investigator who leads them to the motel and the shocking truth...
Widely regarded as Hitchcock's best film, Psycho is certainly his most imitated and perhaps his most influential. Constantly twisting and turning, it opens as a romance, then turns towards a crime, ostensibly Grand Guignol, and finally switching to Freudian thriller in its last scenes. Redefining cinema, Psycho managed to spark controversy with its infamous shower scene - which remains one of the most iconic in screen history - not only for killing off its star half-way into the film and then focusing on another character for the rest, but for its shots of a flushing toilet, stabbing motions, nude body, bloodied bath, plug hole, and dead eye. Although it is only implied (no visible stabbing of flesh is shown) the murder was shot featuring 77 different camera angles, running three minutes including fifty cuts most of which are extreme close-ups; the stabbing of the flesh is audibly detailed (a knife plunging into a melon) and definitely so convincing it really doesn't need to be seen, probably why censors had so many problems with it. With Bernard Herrmann's screeching, all-string soundtrack flaring wildly, the succession of close shots combined with their short duration makes the sequence feel more subjective than it would if the images were presented alone or in a wider angle. If so pivotal to the film, what is the meaning behind that fateful shower? Subtracting the total of expenditure from the $40,000, Marion was going to come clean the next morning and accept whatever consequences lay ahead. She could no longer abide with the immorality of her well-intended actions, so stepping into the shower represents baptismal water to cleanse her sins; the spray beating down on her was purifying the corruption from her mind, purging the evil from her soul. She was like a virgin again, tranquil, at peace, smiling. We as an audience are at once alienated by Marion's death, the apparent centre of the film, and her washing away of guilt is the catalyst for her subsequent absolution, even if it is particularly terrifying and brutal. Hitchcock is effectively abandoning religion by killing off Marion prior to her repentance, Freudian psychology is the solution for the crimes of profit and passion, as always; the inexorable forces of past sins and mistakes crush hope for regeneration and resolution of destructive personal histories. Each character to enter the motel is at least once or twice reflected by glass or mirror and this alludes to both Norman's duality and good and evil altogether; everyone has two sides to their mind, and as Marion's bad deed transformed into an evil act of destruction by the hand of Norman's mind, she is absolved in the wrong way. Exiting the sweltering, unsatisfying, banal current existence in Phoenix, Marion enters the reality of crime and corruption, leading her into another world of paranoia, deceit, perversity and violence. Marion's deprivation of love, home and marriage are the elements of human happiness, wherein also lies within Psycho's secondary characters a lack of familial warmth and stability, which demonstrates the unlikelihood of domestic fantasies. The film contains ironic jokes about domesticity, such as when Sam writes a letter to Marion, agreeing to marry her, only after the audience sees her buried in the swamp. Sam and Marion's sister Lila, in investigating Marion's disappearance, develop an increasingly connubial relationship, a development that Marion is denied. Norman also suffers a similarly perverse definition of domesticity. He has an infantile and divided personality and lives in a mansion whose past occupies the present. Norman displays stuffed birds that are frozen in time and keeps childhood toys and stuffed animals in his room, where he still he sleeps in a children's bed. He is hostile toward suggestions to move from the past and remains firmly jealous of whoever enters this world he has grown to inhabit so deeply and yet comments to Marion that he only says he wants to leave; so does he or mother contradict his decisions? Light and darkness feature prominently as a result of this ambiguity, the film's dominant theme. The first shot after the intertitle is the sunny landscape of Phoenix before the camera enters a dark room where Sam and Marion appear as bright figures. Marion is almost immediately cast in darkness; she is preceded by her shadow as she re-enters the office to steal money and as she enters her bedroom. When she flees Phoenix, darkness descends on her drive. The following sunny morning is punctured by the watchful police officer with black sunglasses, and she finally arrives at the Bates Motel in near darkness. Bright lights are also the ironic equivalent of darkness in the film, blinding instead of illuminating. Examples of brightness include the opening window shades in Sam's and Marion's hotel room, vehicle headlights at night, the neon sign at the Bates Motel, the glaring white of the bathroom tiles where Marion dies, and the fruit cellar's exposed light bulb shining on the corpse of Norman's mother. Such bright lights typically characterize danger and violence in Hitchcock's films.
As effective as it is playful, Psycho is a genre piece so gripping and irrevocably gruesome it will stay ingrained in the mind longer than a dozen other similar films. It remains a true masterpiece, never to be bettered.