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Unit Learning Intentions. To learn / revise film language, To study and analyse key scenes from the film, To explore characterisation, themes, motifs in the film, To write a critical essay on the film. Film Language. Learning Intentions:

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unit learning intentions
Unit Learning Intentions
  • To learn / revise film language,
  • To study and analyse key scenes from the film,
  • To explore characterisation, themes, motifs in the film,
  • To write a critical essay on the film.
film language
Film Language

Learning Intentions:

  • To learn / revise important terms for discussing films.

The acronym MUSCLE is a way of remember the significant features of film that you should discuss:

M – Mise-en-scene

U – Use of Camera

S – Sound

C – Colour

L – Lighting

E – Editing

before watching the film
Before watching the film

Given that this film was made over 50 years ago, most of you will have at least some knowledge or pre-conceptions of the film.

In your groups or pairs, discuss the following questions:

  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “psycho”? Does this tie into any knowledge you already have of the film?
  • What knowledge do you have of Alfred Hitchcock and his films?
  • From the font and image at the start of the PowerPoint, what assumptions can you make?
background information
Background Information

This was one of the most ground-breaking films ever (even to this day). More detail is supplied on your hand-out, but here is an overview of why it gained this landmark status:

  • At the time of release, people could go into the cinema whenever they wanted as films played on a loop. Hitchcock would not permit anyone to enter the cinema after ‘Psycho’ had started.
background information1
Background Information
  • It pushed the boundaries of what the censors would allow:
    • The image of blood (Hitchcock felt that the image of red blood would be censored which is one of the reasons the film is in black and white),
    • The image of a nude woman,
    • It was the first time the word ‘transvestite’ was spoken on film,
    • It was the first film to show a flushing toilet.
background information2
Background Information
  • It challenged traditional American values e.g. motherly love. Hitchcock destroyed the stereotype of the loving, caring home-maker.
reasons for its success
Reasons for its success

‘Psycho’ is believed to be so successful and popular because it tapped into our commonly held fears:

  • Fear of the police,
  • Fear of committing a compulsive crime,
  • Fear of becoming a victim.
narrative structure
Narrative Structure

Learning Intentions:

  • To develop understanding of the story of the film,
  • To understand why the story is told in the way it is.
narrative structure1
Narrative Structure

The story is told in a very specific order. However, this is not the order the events happen in.

In pairs, refer to the ‘Narrative Structure’ sheets in your hand-out and work through the tasks in them.

Make sure your notes are detailed – these will serve as your only revision material for essays and the exam.

task one
Task One
  • The film does not follow the Classical Hollywood Narrative Structure. The way the plot (the actual events that occur) is presented to us is carefully manipulated to create impact on the audience.
  • Lylaand Sam have heroic qualities but are not the main characters. The film is really about Norman. Our sympathy is split between all of the main characters, including the killer.
task two
Task Two
  • The story actually begins around the time of Norman murdering his mother – ten years before the film is set – but the film itself begins with Marion stealing the money. This creates mystery and suspense in the film as we are unaware of Norman’s psychosis until the end and in fact sympathise with him a great deal throughout the film.
chronological order
Chronological Order
  • Norman’s father dies – Norman becomes disturbed
  • Norman’s mother takes a new lover
  • Norman kills both of them. The guilt forced him to recreate her in his mind.
  • Marion steals the money and ends up at the motel.
  • Norman is attracted to her but the ‘mother’ side of his personality is jealous, leading to Norman (‘his mother’) to kill Marion.

The chronological order from this point is the same as in the film.

task three
Task Three
  • Hitchcock has cleverly manipulated the audience through his use of narrative structure to make us relate to Marion, when in actual fact the story is about Norman.
  • By killing what we believe to be the main character less than half way through the film, our expectations are turned on their head and Hitchcock creates confusion and unease in his audience.
  • By showing events from the point of view of different characters Hitchcock frequently puts us in a position with more knowledge than the characters, for example, when Arbogast and then Lila and Sam are exploring the motel suspense is created as we know they are in mortal danger but they are unaware.

Learning Intentions:

  • To explore Marion’s character and how she is presented to us,
  • To start studying key scenes of the film
  • To identify some of the motifs used.

Alfred Hitchcock makes us identify with Marion from the outset of the film. This makes her murder all the more shocking and disturbing to the viewer.

task one see handout
Task One – See Handout

Watch the first scene of the film again when Marion and Sam are in the hotel. Consider the following:

  • How does the director’s use of camera movement and editing focus our attention on Marion?
  • How does the director establish a sense of documentary style realism and why does this make us care more about the characters, specifically Marion?
  • How is Marion dressed? What does this suggest about her personality at this point? How is this significant later on?
task two1
Task Two

Now watch the scene where she is at home after stealing the money. Consider:

  • Her clothing now – what does it suggest?
  • Look at the camera shots that are used – how do they help us identify with her?
  • How are we given clues as to her intentions?

A motif is a recurring image, idea or theme in an artistic text.

In this film there are many motifs (which we will explore later) , but the one to focus on just now is the recurring idea of light and dark.

light and dark
Light and Dark

The contrast between light and dark features over and over again in this film (so keep your eyes open!) This is another of the reasons for it being filmed in black and white – the contrasts are sharper.

Marion’s underwear highlights the two sides to her personality: the white underwear representing her innocent side; the black underwear showing her darker side.


Another recurring image is mirrors. These also work to create the impression of there being two sides to people.

Watch the scene in Marion’s room again, and this time pay particular attention to the sequence in the mirror.

  • What is the significance of it here?
  • How is Marion’s reaction important?

Watch the scene when Marion checks into the motel.

  • How does the placement of the mirror relate to what is going on in the scene?
  • How is it different to the use of the mirror in her room?
task four
Task Four

Watch the scene with the policeman again.

  • How are we made to sympathise with Marion?

By allowing us to sympathise with Marion and identify with her from the outset, Hitchcock is able to disorientate his audience when she is murdered. This clever narrative trick is one of the reasons this film is so compelling.

Once Marion is killed, our focus shifts to Norman – the actual main character of the film.

key scenes
Key Scenes

Learning Intentions:

  • To begin analysing some of the key scenes of the film,
  • To understand the significance of the key scenes.
key scenes1
Key Scenes

When looking at past papers, questions on a “particular sequence” crop up again and again.

This means a particular scene or part of a scene that is significant for whatever reasons.

Sometimes the questions will specify “opening sequence” or “closing sequence”.

key scenes2
Key Scenes

The key scenes of this film are:

  • Credits and opening scene,
  • Norman’s parlour
  • The famous shower scene.

We will take each one in turn.


We have already looked at the opening sequence when we studied Marion’s character. Today we will look at the opening credits.

If you were to answer a question on an opening sequence, it’d be wise to include the credits in your discussion.

opening credits
Opening Credits

Learning Intentions:

  • To watch the opening credits again,
  • To focus in particular on the music, the images and the text,
  • To consider how these techniques provide clues about the film’s plot and how they create an atmosphere.
opening credits music
Opening Credits - Music

As you watch the opening credits again, focus on the music in particular. Consider:

  • The instruments you can hear,
  • The effect created by these instruments,
  • Any connotations the music suggests or similarities between it and anything else.
opening credits images and text
Opening Credits – Images and Text

We will watch the opening sequence again.

This time, focus on the images and the credits.

  • How does the design of the credits themselves reflect the content of the film?
  • How does the fact the film is black and white add impact to the credits?
norman s parlour
Norman’s Parlour

Learning Intentions:

  • To watch the scene in Norman’s parlour,
  • To focus in particular on the lighting and mise-en-scene of the scene and camera angles,
  • To examine how Norman’s personality is portrayed through the use of these techniques.
norman s parlour1
Norman’s Parlour

The scene in Norman’s parlour is very important to the audience’s understanding of Norman’s personality.

norman s parlour lighting
Norman’s Parlour - Lighting

As you watch the scene again, focus on the lighting.

  • Compare the lighting of Marion and Norman.
  • How does the director want us to perceive each character?
norman s parlour camera and mise en scene
Norman’s Parlour – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

This time, focus on the use of camera angles and the mise-en-scene of the sequence.

  • When Marion enters the parlour, we get two POV shots of the stuffed birds. What is the significance of this? How does it make Marion appear to the viewer?
  • How is Norman framed when the camera is on him? What angles are used? What else can you see in the shot? What is the effect of all of this?
norman s parlour camera and mise en scene1
Norman’s Parlour – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

Look at the following still from the parlour and consider the mise-en-scene.

norman s parlour camera and mise en scene2
Norman’s Parlour – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

Look at the following still from the parlour and consider the mise-en-scene.

norman s parlour camera and mise en scene3
Norman’s Parlour – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

This is a still of the picture that is hiding Norman’s peep-hole. What do you notice about it?

norman s parlour camera and mise en scene4
Norman’s Parlour – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

This is the POV shot of Norman watching Marion. What is the significance of the black underwear here? Notice the pictures on the wall?

another motif
Another Motif

As well as the recurring images of mirrors and ideas of dark and light, this scene highlights another – birds. Some interesting things to note:

  • Marion’s name is Crane,
  • Norman tells her she eats like a bird,
  • In the shower scene, Norman knocks one of these pictures off the wall (we’ll cover this later).
shower scene
Shower Scene

Learning Intentions:

  • To examine the famous shower scene,
  • To focus on mise-en-scene, the use of camera, editing and sound (both diegetic and non-diegetic).
shower scene1
Shower Scene

This famous scene took a week to film with around 70 different camera set ups – all for around 45 seconds of finished film. It is a classic example of Hitchcock using the camera to tell the story and suggesting what is happening while actually graphically showing very little.

shower scene mise en scene and lighting
Shower Scene – Mise-en-Scene, and Lighting

As you watch the scene again, consider the following:

  • How is Marion lit? What does this signify?
  • What do we see Marion doing? How does this tie in with the rest of the narrative?
  • When the killer enters, how is he (she?) lit? Why has this been done?
shower scene camera and mise en scene
Shower Scene – Camera and Mise-en-Scene

Think about the various shots we get during the shower scene.

  • How does the camera help us to empathise with Marion further?
  • Identify at least 2 other significant close ups from this scene and explain their purpose.
shower scene editing
Shower Scene – Editing

The action in this scene happens very quickly through the use of straight cuts.

  • What do you notice about the timing of the editing and the slashing of the knife?
  • Do you notice any interesting editing techniques being used towards the end of this scene?
shower scene sound
Shower Scene – Sound

shower scene sound1
Shower Scene – Sound

The sound used in this scene is one of the most powerful techniques Hitchcock uses to create tension and drama.

  • Describe the non-diegetic sound (music) that is used. How does is this successful in making the scene so powerful?
  • Consider the diegetic sounds you hear. How do these add to the atmosphere that is created?