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Explain the Plot Conflict, Narration (What Type of Narrator Is Used, What Information Is Left, Tone), and Setting of "Psycho" to Reveal the Theme of the Work

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Psycho begins with a tribute card to Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. A few seconds into the film, we get another card that reads: We are simultaneously worms and gods⁠—a quote by Abraham Maslow. A woman is shown writhing in pain. A man approaches to kill her. He takes a knife and butchers her head. It falls apart, and blood pours from her neck. In the next scene, the headless body is shown. Her mother identifies it was her daughter, seeing a mole on the leg. She doesn’t break down immediately but feels devastated

She walks farther, screams “Kadavule”. The loud sobs echo as she collapses.

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So Alfred Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut about "Psycho," adding that it "belongs to filmmakers, to you and me." Hitchcock deliberately wanted "Psycho" to look like a cheap exploitation film. He shot it not with his usual expensive feature crew (which had just finished "North by Northwest") but with the crew he used for his television show. He filmed in black and white. Long passages contained no dialogue. His budget, $800,000, was cheap even by 1960 standards; the Bates Motel and mansion were built on the back lot at Universal. In its visceral feel, "Psycho" has more in common with noir quickies like "Detour" than with elegant Hitchcock thrillers like "Rear Window" or "Vertigo." Yet no other Hitchcock film had a greater impact. "I was directing the viewers," the director told Truffaut in their book-length interview. "You might say I was playing them, like an organ." It was the most shocking film its original audience members had ever seen. "Do not reveal the surprises!" the ads shouted, and no moviegoer could have anticipated the surprises Hitchcock had in store--the murder of Marion (Janet Leigh), the apparent heroine, only a third of the way into the film, and the secret of Norman's mother. "Psycho" was promoted like a William Castle exploitation thriller. "It is required that you see 'Psycho' from the very beginning!" Hitchcock decreed, explaining, "the late-comers would have been waiting to see Janet Leigh after she had disappeared from the screen action." These surprises are now widely known, and yet "Psycho" continues to work as a frightening, insinuating thriller. That's largely because of Hitchcock's artistry in two areas that are not as obvious: The setup of the Marion Crane story, and the relationship between Marion and Norman (Anthony Perkins). Both of these elements work because Hitchcock devotes his full attention and skill to treating them as if they will be developed for the entire picture. The setup involves a theme that Hitchcock used again and again: The guilt of the ordinary person trapped in a criminal situation. Marion Crane does steal $40,000, but still she fits the Hitchcock mold of an innocent to crime. We see her first during an afternoon in a shabby hotel room with her divorced lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). He cannot marry her because of his alimony payments; they must meet in secret. When the money appears, it's attached to a slimy real estate customer (Frank Albertson) who insinuates that for money like that, Marion might be for sale. So Marion's motive is love, and her victim is a creep. This is a completely adequate setup for a two-hour Hitchcock plot. It never for a moment feels like material manufactured to mislead us. And as Marion flees Phoenix on her way to Sam's home town of Fairvale, Calif., we get another favorite Hitchcock trademark, paranoia about the police

A highway patrolman (Mort Mills) wakes her from a roadside nap, questions her, and can almost see the envelope with the stolen money. She trades in her car for one with different plates, but at the dealership she's startled to see the same patrolman parked across the street, leaning against his squad car, arms folded, staring at her. Every first-time viewer believes this setup establishes a story line the movie will follow to the end.

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What makes the movie leave such an impact is that its lead antagonist is not revealed until the final third of the film. In the rest of the scenes, he is mostly kept in shadow, allowing the audience to create their own interpretation of what he looks like and what makes him so intimidating. The high contrast between the silhouette of the murderer and the bright yet hazy environment makes the scene mentioned above surreal and, in this way, helps embrace the horror of the situation. Blending nightmares and reality, the technique used by the director can be considered revolutionary (Psycho 1960). As another example of Hitchcock’s brilliance, the editing in Psycho tricks the audience into experiencing nearly the same shock and horror as the alleged victim of the killer. The whole scene in the shower is shot in close-up, focusing mostly on the face of the protagonist. As a result, an impression of intimacy and security is created. Therefore, as the murderer assaults the lead character, the shock that the viewers experience increases exponentially. With a careful selection of intimate shots, Hitchcock creates an illusion of safety and security, thus mixing the building tension with the seemingly soothing environment of the bathroom (Psycho 1960). The violin screech that immediately gets on the viewer’s nerves, will forever remain in the gallery of iconic cinema sounds, along with the wah-wah effect (Loh-Hagan 2015)

The soundtrack contrasts with a comparatively soothing scene in the bathroom, as described above, thus foreshadowing the attack. The harmonic elements of the tune and the dissonance that the sounds of the violins bring into it, though seemingly being from two different worlds, in fact, comprise a single piece that stirs a mixture of fear and thrill in the audience, tricking them into paying attention (Psycho 1960).

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In essence, early on, a psychiatrist makes a pertinent argument about the definition of ‘psychopath’. Anyone who commits crime against humanity in the form of ‘honour killing’ ‘mob lynching’ and so on are psychopaths, she argues. But what about people and circumstances that push emotionally-distraught people into becoming serial killers, if you look at it from a holistic view? Aren’t they equally accountable? Aren’t they all psychos?

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Kiwi 2006, video recording, The School of Visual Arts, New York, NY.

Loh-Hagan, V 2015, Sound effect artist, Cherry Lake, Ann Arbor, MI.

Psycho 1960, video recording, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA.

The Birds 1963, video recording, Universal Pictures, Los Angeles, CA.

Vertigo 1958, video recording, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA.

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