Analysis Project # 2

Filed under: Analysis Project — emodjsteph at 1:50 am on Friday, December 9, 2011

In thinking of “the male gaze” and representations of gender, I decided to analyze the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. From the moment we first see Marion in the shower, the camera is the male gaze, objectifying and nearly raping her. She is naked in the shower, vulnerable and weak meanwhile still remaining sexualized. Marion is blissfully unaware of the camera’s, our and the male gaze on her, putting her in an even more vulnerable position. Marion doesn’t consent to being looked at, but the camera doesn’t care, like the unforgiving male gaze can be. More than just having the camera and the audience’s eyes on her, the killer can see Marion but she cannot see him.

In one shot, you can see both Marion and the killer in frame at the same time. They start out roughly the same size but as the camera zooms in on the silhouette of the killer, Marion becomes smaller and the killer becomes larger. This change of scale represents the killer’s physical presence over Marion, who becomes no more than prey to be slaughtered by a predator. Hitchcock uses zooming in here as well as a way to physically guide the audience’s attention where he wants it, taking advantage of the power he has as a director that means we see the story as he chooses to show it to us. The camera is aggressively guiding the audience’s eyes, asserting dominance as if it were a man controlling a woman.

The blurry silhouette of the killer through the shower curtain is a good visual representative of the fact that the audience doesn’t know who it is. As the killer approaches and gets closer, the figure becomes less blurred and when they draw the curtain back, it’s expected that their identity will be discovered. Hitchcock throws the audience for a loop by still concealing the killer’s identity after falsely promising to expose it, seeing as the killer is in shadows and is still just a silhouette. It does hint at the identity, suggesting it is the mother but it continues to remain uncertain. This is a reminder that we only see what Hitchcock allows us to see and we are passive to him, the way Marion is passive to the killer and to everyone’s eyes.

The sudden high pitched dramatic music startles and throws off the audience, just like the killer does to Marion. The controlling relationships between the killer and Marion, the camera and Marion, man and woman, and Hitchcock and the audience are all mirrored in the cluster of techniques in this one scene. The sudden cut to a close up of Marion’s mouth as she is screaming in terror is showing the male’s view on the connection between sex and violence.

When the camera is at a low angle and looking up at the killer, it puts the audience back in Marion’s position – the weak woman looking up at the powerful implied man. This low angle makes the killer seem physically imposing to the audience, making them seem more frightening. The quick jump cuts mimic the stabbing motions of the knife as well as create a frenzied feeling to the scene. The techniques Hitchcock uses all tend to effect the senses, drawing us in physically to the movie.

Shots flash across the screen almost faster than you can really make them out and amongst the shots are some from a high angle, looking down at the whole scene. Marion’s naked body is very briefly visible in quick flashes, seamlessly weaving in a sexual tone to the murder scene. There is one shot of a close up of her stomach and the knife placed awkwardly by her hip. The knife in the shot, as well as metaphorically throughout the whole scene, is a phallic symbol. Like the way a man rapes a woman, the killer is repeatedly thrusting the knife into Marion’s body against her will. Sex and violence is directly paralleled in these rapid jump cuts.

The diagonal direction the water is flowing constantly flips from shot to shot, creating visual tension – another sensual sense Hitchcock uses as a story telling technique. There is so much going on in this scene that it physically feels more tense and frightening than it may look. The way the camera looks at Marion is constantly sexualized, creating a cognitive dissonance over comparing sex to murder.

The scene ends with Marion dying in a terribly unrealistic and dramatic way – slowly, drawn out, frozen and looking beautiful even after having just been stabbed to death. The way Marion slides down the wall slowly, her face looking blank yet beautiful is a very strange way to portray a victim of a violent murder. It is this male gaze that is unable to view the female without sexualizing her that inspires this bizarre death scene.

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   Amy Herzog

December 15, 2011 @ 11:46 PM

You’ve written some amazing posts this semester, but this is such a wonderful finale!! Your writing does an amazing job of conveying the violence and staccato rhythm of the shots. I especially like how attuned you are to the power of images out of context would appear awkward or “fake.” You also do a wonderful job describing the compositional tensions (water coming from multiple directions via the cuts, and our shifting POV from the position of the victim, then the killer, but always under the control of the director). BRAVO!

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