Two Suppressed Protagonists and One Scene
In “78/52”, director Alexandre O. Philippe interviews film scholars and professionals about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Psycho”. The first half of documentary is features observations that will be familiar to Hitchcock fans. Peter Bogdanovich discusses the way the film was influentially marketed (the insistence that viewers see the film from beginning to end and promise not to divulge its secrets). We are reminded that audiences were once more casual about film-going, walking in and out of a theater and seeing only portions of movies (a culture that Hitchcock helped to do away with).
“78/52” really comes to life with the psychosexual perversity of Hitchcock’s film, which changed cinema’s relationship with sex and violence. Philippe shows how responses to the film can vary by the gender of the viewer. Guillermo del Toro speaks about the film’s Catholic guilt, observing that Marion must die for stealing money from her employer despite seeking atonement before her murder. But Illeana Douglas says that Marion is killed for sexually arousing Norman, while Karyn Kusama states that this scene is “the first modern expression of the female body under assault.” The variety of these responses shows a source of the film’s troubling power: “its simultaneous devotion to social structures (the rules of religion, work, and of puritanical sexual decorum) and awareness of the chaos that such structures ultimately fail to contain.
We see how Hitchcock prepared the audience for the shower scene that explodes social and cultural fault lines. When Marion packs to go on the trip that will doom her, we see a shower stall behind her profile. When a police officer pulls Marion over, he suggests that she sleep in a motel. Ideas of “mother”—as an epitome of 1950s entendre, surveillance, and hypocrisy are all over the dialogue. Then there is the scene between Norman and Marion in the parlor of the Bates Motel. Every line of dialogue contains multiple meanings, indicating that there will be two catharses: Marion resolves her madness while Norman surrenders to his fractured id.
These two protagonists are conjoined by variations of the same form of suppression. Norman was conditioned by his mother to fear sex and he is stranded by location at the motel. Norman Bates is a deranged relic of the authoritative family loyalty that was on television in the 1950s. On the other hand, Marion Crane engages in an affair with a married man that leaves her stymied and frustrated. Norman and Marion are both victims of disproportionate sex: One’s desexualized while the other is relentlessly sexualized relentlessly. These tensions come into conflict when Marion is stabbed to death in the shower.
Seventy-eight is the number of cuts in the shower scene and 52 is the number of seconds that the sequence lasts. Director Philippe named his film after the sequence’s DNA code and tries to break it apart to reveal the inner workings of Hitchcock. He slows the shower scene down, freezes it, rewinds it, and adds interview subjects and becomes more impressive when taken apart.
Philippe finds details that many have never noticed— Norman’s mother’s eyes as she pulls the shower curtain aside to stab Marion and the phallic knife as it rips through a curtain of water giving it a Freudian intensity. Philippe juxtaposes storyboards, script passages, and the final cut of the sequence, showing the Hitchcock’s devotion to creating a moment of brutality.
The identity of Marion’s destroyer is yet another acknowledgement of the gulf between the genders: Norman assumes the persona of a woman who enslaved him so as to enact a bitter homage and transactional revenge to his mother. Norman is patriarchy, as well as one of its many victims.
Here is an entire movie about a scene from another movie, and it comes in at about 60 times the length of the original material. We see here that “Psycho” is more than just a great film in that it’s practically the a look at the modern cultural discourse on topics from sex and violence in America.