Hitchcock uses vertical and horizontal lines to give the world of Psycho the feeling of being contained within a grid. This visual effect gives the film a sense of order. The grid effect begins with Saul Bass's graphic title sequence, and then re-emerges when we meet Marion for the first time, lying supine in bed with Sam's legs perpendicular to her. The Bates Motel is a horizontal structure, and Hitchcock frequently juxtaposes it with the Bates home next door, which is vertical.
While Hitchcock uses his grid-like frames to represent the ordered world, he indicates the breakdown of order by using diagonal lines or circles. Examples of this are Marion's windshield wipers moving diagonally as she tries to navigate her way through the storm and ends up at the Bates Motel. Also, in the shower sequence, "Mrs. Bates's" knife slashes through the frame diagonally. The circular motion of the water, Marion's blood coiling down the drain, and the spiraling zoom out of her dead eye also interrupt the grid.
Extreme High Angle Shots
Hitchcock frequently employs a "god's-eye" or "bird's eye" view to show characters who are in vulnerable positions. This particular camera angle creates this effect because it distances the viewer from the character, making the audience helpless in the face of danger. It also reinforces Hitchcock's power as a director to manipulate the world onscreen and do whatever he wants with the characters about whom we have grown to care. The most prominent example of this kind of framing occurs inside the Bates house on the staircase that leads to Mother's room. First, when Arbogast is going to question mother, Hitchcock cuts to this high angle shot just before Mother comes out and murders him. Hitchcock uses this same camera angle when Norman is carrying "Mother" down to the fruit cellar after they have gotten into a heated argument. Hitchcock has said that he used the high angle here to conceal the fact that Mother is in fact a skeleton, but it also gives the viewer anxiety because we are primed to understand that bad things happen on this staircase and there's nothing we - or, perhaps Norman - can do about it.
Hitchcock frequently uses doubles or mirror images throughout Psycho to represent the idea of human duality; that there are two sides to all of us. Besides the more obvious examples of mirrors and reflections, it is important to note that both Marion and Norman smile in the same way after getting away with their crimes. Then, the physical resemblance of Sam and Norman and Lila and Marion emphasizes that Sam and Lila are the uncorrupted versions of Norman and Marion.
Psycho Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Psycho is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.