Study Guide

Psycho Madness


NORMAN: [suddenly angry] People always call a madhouse "some place," don't they? "Put her in some place!"

MARION: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so uncaring.

NORMAN: What do you know about caring? Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing, and the tears, and those cruel eyes studying you? My mother there?

Norman shows compassion for the mentally ill here. But this is also the first moment when he exhibits mental illness himself; he gets too angry too fast, and seems like a threat for the first time. His insistence and weird intensity rather undercuts what he's saying. Psycho, as it turns out, is not actually very sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill. It mostly sees them as dangerous, frightening, and bizarre.

NORMAN: It's not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?

MARION: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough.

Marion sees her decision to steal the money was madness; a temporary insanity. But was it? Marion's motives seem quite rational, even if misguided. The parallel between Marion and Norman is a bit forced. The film seems to think that any deviation from normality and strict morality leads to the same bloody shower stall.

MARION: You know... if anyone ever talked to me the way I heard... the way she spoke to you...

NORMAN: Sometimes... when she talks to me like that... I feel I'd like to go up there... and curse her... and-and-and leave her forever! Or at least defy her! But I know I can't. She's ill.

Norman hates his mother and loves his mother and pities her. But there is no mother. So the person he hates and loves and pities is himself. He's saying he wants to leave himself forever—but he can't, because he's ill.

SAM: You are alone here, aren't you? It would drive me crazy.

NORMAN: That would be a rather extreme reaction, wouldn't it?

Sam and Norman here raise a good question—what causes mental illness? The psychiatrist seems to suggest that Norman's lack of a father, and his mother's new boyfriend, perhaps pushed him over the edge into insanity. But surely a stable person wouldn't see that as a reason to murder his mother. The film makes mental illness rational; it explains it. But mental illness doesn't follow rational logic, surely. It's, by definition, an "extreme reaction." Does Hitchcock want you to accept the psychiatrist's explanation at face value? Or is it supposed to feel a bit hollow?

NORMAN: [voiceover as his mother] They'll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man... as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can't move a finger, and I won't. I'll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do... suspect me. They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

Norman, as his mother, is terrified here of being seen and watched. Earlier in the film, Norman spies on Marion—and then kills her. The real madness here could be seen as a disorder of looking, and a fear of being looked at. Madness and voyeurism go together —at least when you're at the movies watching Psycho.

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