Study Guide

Psycho What's Up With the Ending?

What's Up With the Ending?

The last, famous bit of Psycho is Norman sitting in his cell, with his mother's voice (or Norman speaking in his mother's voice) nattering on and on about how she "wouldn't even hurt a fly." This is topped off by a creepy, creepy smile and a ghostly image of mother's skull superimposed over Norman's face.

But the very, very ending of the film, after that smile and the promise about not even hurting a fly and the skull, is a scene of Marion's car being pulled out of the swamp.

So, why end there? It seems like it would make more sense to fade to black on Norman smiling. The shot of the car is unnecessary, and much less dramatic than Norman's monologue.

The scene of the car, though, does two things. First, it shows that order has been reestablished. The police are in control; they have dredged up the truth, and Marion's body. Norman's mother, hiding inside him, determines to stay still so the watchers will "see what kind of person I am" —that is, a harmless person. But that car coming up shows that the police see the unseen; the law knows that Norman is not harmless. Norman's psycho psyche has come into the light.

So the last image shows that order has been reestablished. But it also could be seen as showing that order has not really been established—or that that order doesn't help things that much. Poor Marion, after all, is still dead. Norman has been stopped, but the police can't undo the damage he's done.

And if this evil can be buried for so long, how many others are out there, beneath the mud? The final, ominous sawing of Bernard Hermann's score doesn't suggest a happy resolution, so much as an ongoing anxiety at what, next, might be hoisted up into the light.

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