Psycho: The Uncanny Approach

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a film that has innovated cinema and has flourished through the years after it’s creation. Although there are countless interpretations floating through the imaginative minds of society, I believe certain aspects are overlooked.


With many reviews praising the film as a “horror masterpiece” I believe we’ve forgotten to ask the question “why has it become such a successful horror film?” Perhaps it’s due to the perfectly strummed scores, the seamless camera shots, and well-executed characters and narrative, however, I believe it’s time to delve deeper.


It was only when I went to type Psycho into my search bar and saw suggestions to “psycho-analytics” connections were made clear, allowing me to probe into the deep depths of the movie itself, both on a critical level and psycho-analytic level as well.


Later, I learned that Psycho was in fact, the first most successful psychoanalytic film, reassuring me that the links and connections are valid. However, I feel that perhaps it is the psychoanalytic traces that allowed it to reach success.


Hitchcock was able to revolutionise the horror/mystery genre, obviously exemplified through Freud Sigmund’s psychoanalytic theory. Once noticed, the film is covered in theories and ideas that surround psychoanalysis. One that came to my mind immediately, is the Pyche Theory, which surrounds the human mind, body and spirit. The three levels of the Bates home (Top floor, ground floor and the basement) mirror Freud’s model of the psyche. Subsequently, the ground floor of the Bate’s home signifies the ego (the realistic part of the consciousness). The top level signifies the superego, (as the public somehow sees it, and the superego incorporates the values of morals of society). Whereas the basement is the hidden part of any home, under the surface where everything is hidden, your fears, sexual desires, fantasies, just like the ID.


With correlation to Freud’s theories, I believe the most prominent and overlooked theory is The Uncanny. This particular Freudian concept explores and questions comfort, where the familiar becomes foreign and frightening. Although he might not have intended it to be funny, Freud amusingly makes links to The Uncanny by refering to the female genitals, as it is both familiar and unfamiliar; as we all inhabited the female organ, however, may not feel certain hominess towards it. Which is something the audience experience greatly whilst watching Psycho. Examples of these concepts are scattered all over Psycho, you just need to know what you are looking for. In the very first scene, the audience become victims to this uncomfortable “uncanniness.” Hitchcock allows audiences to invade the bedroom, in which seems to be a quiet personal and intimate and we are invading their privacy. Perhaps not a very strong example, however with Hitchcock’s positions the scene without any familiarity of the characters, introducing the audience to a scene of intimacy, we find it quite strange and discomforting. Adding to the discomfort from the way Hitchcock pans the city, with shots creeping closer and closer into the window of Marion and Sam, making us feel like prowlers that are viewing the scene ironically through a peephole.

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Another clear example is when Norman Bates invites Marion into his lobby, and there are stuffed animals hanging from wire: foreign and frightening. To see an owl in the night sky is graceful and beautiful, however once it is hanging from the roof of a lonely man’s lobby, you start to feel a sense of slight apprehension. With distraction from the mother of Bates, the taxidermy is unsettling.



In addition, the uncanny theory also covers the “uncanny double” or commonly known as, Doppelgänger. This aspect is interestingly shown throughout the film, and there are many ways to interpret it. Many know the doppelgänger as a look-alike, yet it covers a much more paranormal approach. As the familiarity is almost ghostly and/or can usually be seen as bad luck. And in the case of Psycho, Hitchcock covers the Uncanny double creatively, by using mirrors, reflections and correct positioning to magnifies the emotions surrounding the characters, for example,Marion is shown through mirrors a lot at the time when she meets Bates.



Which brings me to my final point. The similarities between Marion and Bates are awfully alarming once you take notice. When Marion has fled with stolen money, to be reunited with her lover Sam, Marion seems to gain a level of demanding un-consciousness. As she imagines what the people back at home are saying, she is dazed. This scene is almost mirrored with the final scene of Bates. After he has been captured by authorities and put into a white-washed room, he is also un-consciously imaging the voice of his mother. Both scenes finished with a smirk that essentially changed the film.

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Through these uses of the Freudian theories, and great attention, the audience is left to think who is the real psycho? Is it Bates, and Bates alone or perhaps it’s both of them.

Hitchcock thrills the audience with the use of the familiar’s unfamiliar, with mirror and peepholes. Hitchcock showed reality through the eyes of the uncanny.

Said by the man himself, Freud explains “It is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in from the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation” (p.6, Freud) Expressint the ideas that we the audience are subconsciously unsure between reality and fiction, which makes the film all the more impacting.



Frued, S, 1919, The ‘Uncanny’. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Frued, An Infantile Neurosis and Other Words, The Hogarth Press, London.
Arnzen, M, 2003, ‘Hitchcock and the Uncanny Object,’ The Popular Uncanny, Vol. 42.

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