Norma & Norman Bates (Psycho)

psycho

In the Horror film Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1960, Norma is the emotionally abusive mother of Norman. The latter was not allowed to have any friends and was made to believe that all women, except her, were whores. When Norma has a lover, Norman gets jealous and kills both of them making it look like suicide. Feeling guilty and to repress the memory of the murder, Norman brings his mother back to life in an alter ego: This mental disease is called DID, dissociative identity disorder.  It usually arises it people who have had traumatic childhoods and want to repress certain memories: they pretend they are someone else. Norman therefore brings Norma to life. He often dresses as her and talks to himself like she used to (he screams at himself) and she has the same abusive behavior she had when she was alive. Norma is physically present as Norman digs up her corpse and mummifies her, she sits in a chair at the window: we see her “shadow” throughout the film. When Norman meets Mary who is running away with her stolen money, Norma gets jealous and kills her while she is in the shower. A series of murders follow this first one. Mother is therefore alive through her son which qualifies her as a “walking dead”.

The character of Norman bates was inspired by a real life criminal: Ed Gein. The fact that the monsters that we see in movies or in books are inspired by humans is terrifying, for it makes the viewer question who the real monster is and whether or not it is among us.

Norma(n)’s monstrosity is in part due to his gender and sexual ambiguity. As Cohen’s puts it: “The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis”. Indeed, when the alter ego of the mother takes over, Norman’s voice completely changes and becomes one of a woman, creating a character as oppressive and abusive as the dead mother, thus bringing her back to life. This incorporation of both genders in one single body not only blurs the categories, but also castrates Norman and deprives him of his manhood when mother is in control. Norman then becomes a sort of Hermaphrodite similar to Josephine/joseph in Freaks. Also, the murders were committed when mother was in control, while Norman had to clean up afterwards. This relates to the concept of Female monstrosity described in Huet’s article. Psycho poses the mother as incapable of controlling her passions, especially her jealousy and rage which create her monstrosity.

Works Cited:

Freaks. Dir. Tod Browning. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture (Seven Thesis),” In Monster Theory, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1996): 3-25

Marie-Helene Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993) 1-35.

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One response to “Norma & Norman Bates (Psycho)

  1. This is such an interesting take on the walking dead. I like how you take a metaphysical concept of taking the personality of the dead and put a fresh coat of undead paint. Also, the living shadow of the mother’s silhouette that is actually Norman is an extremely clever piece of evidence that is very effective. Great job!

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