Psycho- The Male Gaze and the Shower Scene

9 12 2011

In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey describes something known as the “Male Gaze.” She basically says that movies are filmed from a man’s perspective, gives examples how this is done, and explains the psychology behind it. Women are viewed as weak and vulnerable and serve as eye candy for a film. The majority of movies throughout the history of cinema are filmed from a man’s standpoint. One reason behind this is that most directors from the past and present have been males.

Alfred Hitchcock was a very interesting, some might even say disturbed, individual. His directing style was distinct and he used recurring themes of the morbid variety- sex, death, murder, suspense,  and voyeurism.  The movie Psycho demonstrates these themes perfectly. The first 20 minutes or so of the film focus on Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, as the audience is tricked into believing she is the film’s protagonist. Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for beautiful blonde women with problems or irregularities, as displayed by this film and others (The Birds) . At first we as the audience think Marion is an “in charge” and powerful kind of woman (seductress of sorts, wearing only undergarments, having sex when she is unmarried, stealing money) but as her life is about to come to an end in “The Shower Scene” we see this is not so.

The Shower Scene

Moments before this clip, we see Norman Bates spying on her through a peephole, so we know there is a huge possibility she is being watched. The scene opens and we see a medium shot of Marion Crane in her rented room-cut to her writing something about the stolen money- cut back to Marion.  She looks distressed. When people are distressed, their minds tend to be at their weakest, which brings the concept of “the Male Gaze” and women seen as helpless to another level.

MS as she tears the paper into pieces. Then she suddenly stops, and with wide eyes, glances around the room. It looks as if she realizes she is being watched, especially because the camera and Marion pause at :28. Marrion is in the center frame and seems to make “eye contact” with something out of screen and it seems as if Marion is realizing at that moment Norman Bates is going to attack her. Instead, the camera follows her with a continuous MS shot of her back (tracking shot) as she goes into the bathroom- since we are following her back instead of her front it creates even more of a sense of voyeurism, as if we are Norman Bates following her and she has no idea.

The lighting in her room wasn’t dramatic but it was pretty low lighting- until she steps in the bathroom. Of course, bathrooms are normally the brightest rooms in houses but with this high lighting, we will see Marion’s body better when she takes her shower. There was high-pitched music playing up until around :30, and now the sound effects (turning of the shower knob, closing of the curtains, water pouring down) have a higher volume while there is no music, as if to draw our attention more to her body. :42- :43, close-up shot of Marion as she closes the bathroom door, giving it a quick glance, as if she was inspecting the door to make sure it would protect her in privacy. People close doors for privacy or safety, but ultimately it did not give her any kind of protection against her ill fate, emphasizing the fact that women are powerless.

Marion then takes off her robe and, without really exposing anything, she exposes everything . :46 MS of her back jump cuts to :47, a shot of her robe around her feet. This is to give an effect “checking her out”- her middle is not exposed but since we saw her disrobed back and bare feet, it was enough to give us the same effect then if she had been in the nude. When Marion takes off her clothes, she is creating both sexuality and vulnerability. Clearly this is a scene made from a male point of view. Her taking a shower represents two things- 1) Because she is nude, it represents how vulnerable she is- there is nothing to protect her body (clothes) so there is nothing to protect her and 2) in western culture, being naked is seen as an extremely private thing. We as the audience are intruding on her private moment- voyeurism.

She is washing herself sensually, (close-ups of her face and cuts of the shower head) and making faces as she does this. Alfred Hitchcock is bringing out the sexuality aspect of this scene by making it look like very soft-core porn, because I certainly don’t wash myself with that much pleasure. She is cleansing herself of her misdeeds and becoming “pure and vulnerable”, but at the same time she is being so sexual that it supports Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze as it shows a woman being sexualized and feeble at the same time. 1:23- 1:36- MS of Marion in the right frame, camera uses rack focus to make the shadow in the left frame clearer, zooms in on it, and boom. Norman Bates dressed as his mother. A lot of shots of Marion- mainly low-angle, some close-ups of face, extreme close up of mouth, close-up of feet, shots of side-boob as she is getting killed. Getting killed is about as weak as someone can possibly get. In her final 2 seconds of life, she grabs the curtain and it falls around her. Metaphorically, she realized she was being watched by Norman Bates (or the audience) and we are all intruders. She covers her body as if to say “I know you’re here, you can’t look at me any longer.” And finally, the last shot is an extreme close up of an intense gaze into her cold, dead, eye. She is “onto us” and won’t let us be intruders, and she gives us that stare to back us away. We do back away as the camera zooms out, pans to the right, and focuses on a shot of a newspaper.

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3 responses to “Psycho- The Male Gaze and the Shower Scene”

14 12 2011
  YINI (21:45:32) :

Here, you choose the same scene as Joanna’s. Believe me, you two have different standpoints and styles. And what’s more, you mention in Joanna’s comment that you post it up in the last few minute. But, what I just read is a specific persuasive essay.
I must say that Hitchcock is a genius. Even I don’t know why he shoots birds in “Psycho”.
I like the way you analyze the shower scene, pretty specific. Especially Hitchcock convey the male gaze to us by showing the lady being felt that she is looked at. What’s more, unlike in “Rear Window”, what we watch in our English, the main character use his camera to watch his neighbors, we know the movie is told by a male perspective by the murder watching the lady through a key hole. I didn’t realize that until read your paper. At that moment, What I felt is the man is really a phycho…
Beautiful job!

16 12 2011
  Amy Herzog (05:07:33) :

Carolyn, this is an amazing analysis!!! You did exactly what I was hoping this class would enable you to do– to combine a detailed and precise visual and sonic breakdown of a scene with a convincing and sophisticated analysis of what this all means. You make it clear how the camera moves control our own emotional perspective. I’m very impressed– thank you!!!

3 07 2015
  female (04:24:34) :


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