Psycho, the psychological horror filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960, is a recognized masterpiece. Its main character is Norman Bates, the owner of the motel where Marion Crane stops while trying to hide from the police after the theft she committed. A timid and handsome young man turns out to be a maniac with a split personality; he kills Marion and, as it turns out later, several more people before her. This essay focuses on birds as the principal motif of Hitchcock’s film. In Psycho, Hitchcock artfully uses them to help the viewer understand the real character of Norman Bates.
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As a motif, birds are presented in the very first shot of the film. The location where the story begins is called Phoenix; in Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a bird that burns down and is reborn from the ashes. The characters’ names also contain allusions that are related to birds. When Marion arrives at the motel, the viewers learn her last name, Crane (a family of birds known for their beauty and grace). In its turn, ‘bate’ describes when a falcon flaps its wings as if it wants to fly away from a perch. In the same way, Norman is trying to free himself from the dark side of his personality that his mother represents.
In Norman’s parlor, numerous stuffed birds reflect the ugly and complex inner world of a maniac. Two of these birds – a giant stuffed owl and a pheasant – play an especially important role in the story. Both of them appear on the screen in the scene where Marion and Norman have a conversation. A clumsy and straightforward pheasant symbolizes the bright side of Bates’s personality, while an owl is a dangerous predator that hides in the depths of his psyche and ultimately wins.
In the motel room, where Marion lives and where she will be killed, there are two images of ducks that also foreshadow the events that will follow. The viewers see these birds in the scene when Marion gets undressed, and Norman is eagerly watching her through a hole in the wall. Norman knocks off the wall one of two almost identical pictures when he takes out from the bathroom Marion’s corpse wrapped in a shower curtain. Hitchcock includes a close-up of Marion’s empty and invisible eyes in this sequence; she has become one of Norman’s many stuffed birds. What is the mystery of the practically identical second image that stays hanging on the wall? The very next scene answers the question, introducing Lila, Marion’s sister, who resembles her and who is also attacked by the maniac.
This essay focused on birds as a motif in Psycho, a recognized masterpiece filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960. In The Birds (1963), the director will show them as an immediate threat, while in Psycho they are skillfully used to uncover the true character of Norman Bates and to foreshadow the events of the film. The stuffed pheasant and the owl that are to be found in Norman’s parlor symbolize the two subpersonalities that fight in the depth of his psyche. In their turn, the two almost identical images of ducks that hang on the wall in Marion’s room represent her and her sister, Lila; the latter will miraculously survive at the very end of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).