"In 'Psycho' how has Alfred Hitchcock created tension throughout the film and what effect does it have on us as viewers

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“In ‘Psycho’ how has Alfred Hitchcock created tension throughout the film and what effect does it have on us as viewers?”

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock created a powerful, complex psychological thriller. Psycho is now regarded as the ‘mother’ of all modern horror, suspense films. The film had a huge impact on the British public; this was mainly due to the fact that it was one of the first films to depict violence in a graphic manner.

It was a low budget movie based on the book by Robert Bloch. However it has now become a world-wide phenomenon, owing largely to the inspirational directing by Hitchcock.

Throughout the film Hitchcock uses a variety of techniques to keep the audience engrossed but the method I will be focusing on is tension. Tension can be used to great effect, primarily to emphasis the horror of certain scenes. Also it allows the audience to anticipate what is going to happen, forcing us to empathise with the characters.              

Some of the most famous suspense scenes include, the stealing of the money, the shower scene, the killing of Arbogast, and the ending in which Laila discovers Mrs. Bates.  

The first scene in which the tension is built up is the stealing of the money. The first time we are shown the $40,000 is whilst the business man is brandishing it in front of Marion. This emphasizes the importance that the money is going to have on this scene.

It is significant that when Marion is at work, whilst playing the reliable secretary role, she is wearing a white outfit. On the other hand, in the scene where she is packing her things to leave town and insert shots of the envelope of money are shown, she is wearing black underwear. This reveals her darker, more dishonest side. Marion also displays signs of duality in her. Mirrors and reflections in windows are a device that Hitchcock uses to symbolize split personality. There is a shot of Marion in the office, holding the money and deciding what to do with it. We see her reflection in the mirror, creating two Marion's. One is the innocent ordinary secretary that would not commit a crime. The other is the darker side of Marion that would steal the $40,000. Another shot of Marion and her reflection in a mirror is at the reception desk of the motel. On one side of her, we see her bag with the newspaper she is carrying, and in the reflection, we see the envelope of money she has stolen, showing her corrupt side.

Hitchcock also uses close-up shots of the money to show that the $40,000 is Marion’s prominent thought, also the fact that she is constantly glancing at the envelope adds to this effect. We are then shown a close-up of her suitcase this indicates that she is leaving. This tells the audience that Marion is intent on stealing the money which begins to make the audience question where she is going. This adds a mysterious side to Marion. Having stolen the money Marion is stopped by a suspicious police officer. This scene cuts to Marion and then to the officer many times. The camera shows a subjective shot, from Marion's point of view so when he is looking at her it appears to the audience that he is looking at us. This use of empathy forces us feel what she does. Dark sunglasses blank the police officer's eyes out so we cannot tell what he is looking at. This suggests that his eyes are emotionless. As the officer questions Marion, she portrays herself as being nervous by giving short, breathless answers. This adds tension for we are worried that Marion is going to give herself away. She acts suspiciously when saying 'why do you want my license'. The camera then films a privilege shot, so we can see everything that the officer cannot, Marion hiding the stolen money. Again, the camera moves into a subjective shot, when we can see the view from her point as Marion watches the officer look at her license, to feel her fright and distress.  

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Throughout the entire film, Hitchcock drops subtle hints that Norman is very disturbed via media techniques. This then creates tension because it almost appears that Norman is hiding something from the other characters and us.

It is almost as though Hitchcock changes the mood when shooting Norman. Very low angle shots are used. This has the effect of suggesting that Norman's world is off balance. This is a very uncomfortable shot for the audiences because it is not a view which we would see in every day life. The camera frequently shoots just one side of Normans face, ...

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