Last week brought the end of the third season of A&E’s Bates Motel, but with this conclusion, audiences saw the beginning of the making of the notorious Norman Bates, the man the world met 55 years ago through Alfred Hitchcock’s groundbreaking artistry in his 1960 hit movie, Psycho. Up until now, the young Norman Bates we have come to know on the television series has been only but a shadow of the man we meet in Hitchcock’s film. His mental illness is there, but bottled, controlled thanks to his mother. This season, however, certain circumstances arise that drive Norman overboard to the point where he finally breaks, to the point where he is now literally of two minds: himself, and his mother. We know what is to become of Norman, and for the past two seasons, we get glimpses, quick flashes of his impending fate. The show likes to play around with themes that are present in the original movie: the peeping Tom, the overbearing mother, and the close-knit, but unusual relationship between mother and son. And they have been teasing Norman’s transformative mental state until now, where we finally witness him become his mother. There have also been several moments in this specific season that pay tribute to the original Psycho, but they saved the ultimate homage for the last scene in the last episode. With the conclusion of the third season, I thought I’d revisit the classic film that made history five decades ago, the film that redefined a genre, and most importantly, the film that was so rich in story and characters that it made this show possible in the first place, and for a new generation to check in to the Bates Motel.
Based on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name, Psycho tells the frightening story of a woman who is on the run after stealing $40,000 in order to free her lover of his debts. During her travels, she winds up at the Bates Motel where she meets Norman Bates, a man who is strangely under the control of his mother. For the first part of the film, we see everything and everyone through Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) perspective. However, the first frame of the movie unwittingly places us, for a brief instant, in a voyeur point of view. We first meet our heroine while looking through a hotel window, peeking at her and her lover, Sam (John Gavin). We are not yet in her perspective, but in the position of someone standing in, sneaking a look. This technique indicates that we as an audience are only viewers at the hands of the director, who has the power to show us what he wants, and essentially direct us. One moment we may live through the heroine’s POV, but in another instant, we may be voyeurs looking through another’s eyes. In this film, Hitchcock flawlessly manipulates us into sympathizing with Marion Crane for the first part of the film, but this first frame foreshadows his famed move of killing the protagonist three-quarters into the film, and placing us in the sympathies of another questionable character.
Before our heroine is killed off, however, we are led to believe that we will be with her for the entirety of the story. After learning that Sam needs to pay off his alimony, she makes the damaging decision of stealing a client’s money and running away with the whole $40,000 to California, where she’ll finally get to live happily with Sam. On her journey, she is paranoid and suspicious of everyone, as are we. As a cop stops her on the side of the road, our hearts stop as we think that he might see the money-filled envelope. And as she quickly trades in her car for a new one, we desperately want the salesman to make the transaction, so she could leave town. Unfortunately, she misses the main highway while it’s pouring out. Instead she’s on the road where the Bates Motel resides, and seeing as it is raining, she decides to check in.
Norman Bates, brilliantly played by Anthony Perkins, is awkward, but endearing. He quickly checks Marion in to the closest room to his office, and invites her to have dinner with him. She willingly accepts, and as she unpacks, she hears a cold exchange between Norman and his stiff mom. “Don’t bring strange girls up to the house!” she yells. Thus, they eat in his parlor in the office. The room is decorated with stuffed birds, peering down at them as they converse. She suggests he get out, leave town to get away from his overbearing mother, but he quickly defends his mother. He argues that he has to stay with her because she’s sick. “She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes,” he says. This strikes a cord with Marion, and she decides to go back to her home to undo the trap that she has placed herself in. Unfortunately, she never gets a chance to fix her wrongs because Norman’s “mother” walks in while she is taking a shower, and stabs her in the notorious scene. Skillfully edited over 90 cuts, the viewer never actually sees the knife pierce the flesh, but the final product still leaves a lasting mark. As the camera zooms out of the picture, out of Marion’s eye, out of the eye we’ve seen everything through for the past 45 minutes, the camera, unfocused, looks for a new perspective to latch onto. And just like that we become entwined with Norman Bates, and the rest of his journey in the filmA genuinely shocked Norman walks in to find the dead, bloody body on the floor of the bathroom, and he is horrified at his mother’s actions. The dutiful son he is, he cleans up his mother’s mess, places the body in the trunk of Marion’s car, and drives the car into a lake. We now see everything through his perspective, and we sympathize with him the same way we did with Marion. As the car half-sinks into the lake, he waits, and we wait, hoping that he gets away with it. For the rest of the movie, Norman finds himself visited by several people looking for Marion. Sam, Marion’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles), and private investigator Milton Arbogast all make an appearance at the motel looking for answers. The latter, unfortunately meets the same fate as Marion, and only Sam and Lila are left to figure out the mystery of Norman’s mother. Is she dead as the town’s sheriff claims? Or is she responsible for the recent murders, and is hiding up at the Bates house?
In his second shocking twist of the film, Hitchcock reveals that Norman’s mother was in fact dead throughout the whole of the story, and it was actually Norman who committed the murders. In a memorable last scene, a psychologist explains to all that “Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half existed to begin with. And now the other half has taken over. Probably for all time.” Norman is of two minds: his and his mothers. It is his “mother” who kills, and it is him who always cleans up the mess. By the end, Norman has reached a breaking point where he no longer exists, and he is completely of his mother’s mind. A haunting last shot shows Norman smiling up to the camera, and we know that smile belongs to his mother.
This is the end we are expecting of the young Norman Bates we know from A&E’s Bates Motel, and last week we saw the beginning of this end. The movie concludes with Norman wholly becoming his mother, while the season finale showed us Norman partly becoming his mother. He has finally become the man we meet in the beginning of Psycho. The series even payed homage to this fact when Norman made his first kill as his mother, and immediately cleaned up the mess as Norman. Dead body in trunk, car sinking into lake and all. That being so, Norman Bates is officially Psycho.