When asked what they remember from the original Psycho, most people would say that the shower scene was the part of the film that they remembered most. In this essay I will be analysing this famous scene but from the remake directed by Gus Van Sant. The remake of the film, created in the nineteen ninety’s, has many differences from the sixties version. This is advantageous to the production. Examples of this are the use of colour and modern camera techniques that can be used to create tension, fear, anxiety, and psychological horror.
A result of the use of modern camera techniques is that the director can diversify the camera shots which allows the audience to seemingly see through Marian Crane’s eyes and allows the audience to seemingly see through the eyes of an unseen voyeur. This diversity, which is used throughout the film, creates atmospheres of tension and at parts makes the viewer feel intrusive; this is achieved as a part of the modern usage of the cameras was that they could show intimacy within the shots.
Gus Van Sant directs the cameras in was to create certain effects. He does this throughout the film to make the audience nervous and in the shower scene he uses the cameras to maximum effect to make the audience feel extremely uncomfortable, involved with the character, intrusive and at points terrified. Gus Van Sant uses these methods (of directing by using different shots) to make the viewer feel as though they are looking through Marian Crane’s eyes, the murderers eyes and also eyes of an unwilling and unseen witness to the event.
At the beginning of the film Van Sant uses the unseen voyeur to forcefully make the audience intrude on Marian Crane, making them uncomfortable and uneasy. The viewer is almost made to feel involved with Marian Crane’s theft as they have followed her from her work, to where she traded her car and finally to the motel room where the audience watch her work out how to repay the money she spent on the car. This uneasiness is also caused by the fact that Marian is in her dressing gown and in her bedroom. This makes the audience feel intrusive and involved, they are also aware of the vulnerability of Marian at this point in the film.
The audience watch her tare up the paper which is used to write her repayment sums on, which, to the audience is seen as evidence of her crime and if it was found she would be caught. This representation of her crime is presented to the audience as it illustrates evidence of her crime which again implements the audience in her criminal activities because they have witnessed the crime and the evidence. This makes the audience feel almost guilty but also anxious to be so involved with Marian and the emotions are magnified as the audience empathise with her.
Marian Crane gets up out of her chair as she destroys the evidence but instead of moving to another shot Van Sant uses the same camera to pan across the room and follow her. The camera shows a shot that encroaches on Marian as it is very close to her all of the time. It is intended to make the viewer feel very uncomfortable as they see the whole thing through the eyes of the unseen voyeur; however the shots associated with the unseen voyeur have usually been in Marian’s car during her journey to the motel.
The voyeuristic style camera shot in the motel room however is somewhat different to the rest of the film, this is because previously the voyeuristic camera shot had been stationary but now it seems that the voyeur has progressed from its stationary position and has become more real and intrusive. This intrusion is illustrated when the camera follows Marian across the bedroom and into the bathroom where we witness the destruction of the evidence as she drops the paper into the toilet and flushes it away. The flushing away of evidence is to become a motif throughout the scene.
The viewer has just witnessed the evidence being destroyed and in a sense the viewer becomes more comfortable as the focus is taken away from the crime and onto a new topic. The emphasis of the scene is now switched to something which makes the viewer, once again, tense with a feeling of immense intrusion. This happens as Marian slips off her shoes. At this point the viewer feels very uncomfortable as the intimacy with Marian is increased and the viewer delves further into her life as they watch her take her dressing gown off and step into the shower.
At this point Van Sant forces the viewer into the role of the unseen voyeur. The viewers feel that they should look away but Van Sant’s methods force them to watch through their own curiosity. As Marian Crane is in the shower she pulls the shower curtain across which blocks out the voyeur and creates a sense of relief due to the break in intense camera shots. Van Sant uses this point in the scene to make the viewer even more involved and at the same time he makes the viewer feel a lot less comfortable.
Marian closes the curtain to block out the viewer but, as the camera changes shot to show her inside the shower, it is though the unseen voyeur is inside the shower with her but totally uninvited giving the audience a sense of intrusiveness as they are present in the shower but without permission to be so. This is emphasised by the fact that it is one of the most private intimate parts of the film. In the scene the audience has a sexual link with Marian; this has become a motif as it happens throughout the film.
First it occurred right at the beginning as the voyeuristic opening showed her in a sleazy motel and again, after she had stolen the money when she was packing her bags the viewer had a sexual link with Marian because at this point in the film she was only wearing her underwear. The repetition of the sexual link shows that Van Sant found the link effective. Throughout the scenes with sexual links, the colour red has been prominent as the colour red has a sexual nature and this nature is used by Van Sant in scenes with sexual links with the viewer in the form of red nail polish, red shoes or blood.
The colour red has become a motif as it is repeated throughout these scenes. The fact that the audience has had this sexual link with Marian makes the scene more effective as the viewer is more intimate with Marian. This motif of sex throughout the film emphasises the fact that throughout Marian has not been innocent and doesn’t have the usual characteristics of a main character. From the point Marian turns the shower on, the camera keeps changing shots from the shower head down to the naked body and seemingly from Marian up to the shower head.
These shots alternate and the individual shots last for a shorter and shorter period of time which creates tension and suspense. After a few seconds of this the viewer sees a shot of the translucent shower curtain and this gives the viewer the advantage of visual irony over Marian because they see a dark figure in the room. This advantage makes the suspense grow and tension mount as our relationship gained throughout the film with Marian has involved the viewer with her and so our concern is greater than if we had no relationship at all.
The figure eventually reaches the curtain and aggressively pulls it back and at this moment Van Sant uses the camera to portray an image of horror and desperate need as he shows a close up of Marian’s face which reflects a mood of terror. Following their shock at what has just happened the viewer becomes more terrified as the dark figure begins to continually stab Marian in her most vulnerable state. A motif is created within the scene at this point as the viewer has seen contrast occur, both with the bright bathroom against the dark hotel room and also the dark figure contrasted against the bright bathroom.
The motif continues in the scene with the contrast of the dark knife against the white of Marian’s skin. This creates the effect of horror as the things that are important to the scene stand out which emphasises the horror the viewer feels. The horror of the viewer is magnified as the camera changes shots quickly. This gives a mood of panic and frenzy. The concern of the audience for Marian and the desperate situation she is in becomes more real as the camera takes frequent shots of her face which emphasises the terror in her eyes.
Eventually, when the maddened stabbing stops, we see Marian reaching out as if for help, only managing to grab the shower curtain, her desperate plight for life becomes real to the viewer but only after a haze of unexpected and savage violence. Throughout the vicious stabbing the viewer sees through the murderers eyes which disturbs the viewer, the viewer sees through Marian Crane’s eyes which horrifies them. The audience also sees through the eyes of the unseen voyeur which gives the viewer a feeling of desperation, as if they are in the room watching.
Throughout the stabbing there are other incidents that add to the motif of contrast within the scene. These are the blood against the clinical white of the shower wall, the red fingernails against the white surroundings and also the bright strikes of lightening against the dark sky during the shots of the storm outside. The lightening when seen in context with the rest of the scene, can be likened to the knife that the murderer uses, and the blood draining down the plughole can be likened to the evidence that previously drained in water which creates a motif within the scene of the destruction of evidence.
As well as these motifs the red fingernails can be taken as an implication that Marian isn’t totally innocent as they give the viewer an image of sexual implications. When the stabbing ceases and the murderer leaves, we watch Marian slide down the wall and Gus Van Sant uses frequent shots of blurry vision of the murderer leaving, keeping the identity of the culprit anonymous. The vision is blurry as this emphasises the fact that we are seeing through Marians eyes and have been throughout the scene.
She falls onto the floor and we a shot of the plughole with blood being washed away, merging with a shot of her eye. This merging represents the life being drained out of Marian. Everything becomes still and quiet. The audience are alone to come to terms with the fact that Marian is dead. Gus Van Sant holds this shot to let the viewer’s horror and shock continue. This is an effective use of camera work which makes the scene fell more tragic. And makes the viewer realise that the woman they thought was the main character who they would follow to the end of the film, is dead.
As well as camera techniques that have made the shower scene effective, there are the ambient sounds and the musical score which are essential to making the mood of, tension, horror and suspense in the scene. We enter the scene with no orchestration to create moods with music but there are ambient sounds such as rain and thunder, which, straight away sets the way for something alarming to happen. As the scene progresses we hear other sounds such as Marian writing and Marian tearing the note paper. The lack of orchestral sound at this point in the scene keeps the focus on Marian, which keeps the viewer very intimate and close with her.
We hear the same sounds until the toilet is flushed, which again a sound of water which within the scene is a motif as it is continued when the shower is turned on. Prior to the shower being turned on, the viewer hears the sound of the shower which is a high shrill sound. This sound is a foreshadow of the music that will later accompany the stabbing. Up to this point in the scene there is no music added, but as the dark figure enters the room, music that has been played throughout the film to highlight dramatic parts begins.
The music has a fast tempo and high pitch which comes on very suddenly and shocks the audience. The high pitch creates a mood of anxiety and horror which is realised as the images unfold. The shrill, discordant sounds of the strings which accompany the stabbings create anxiety, shock, horror and tension. These are important sounds which create the perfect atmosphere to accompany what the viewer is seeing. The stabbing is accompanied by sound effects of the metallic, clinical and harsh sounds of the knife. This somehow makes the makes the stabbing more horrific and real.
After the murder and stabbings are over, the mood and texture of the music changes to a more dramatic and low pitched sound to illustrate the desperate state of Marian. The tempo lessens to create a solitary mood as the viewer witnesses the life being drained away form Marian. Gradually, as her life drains away, the music follows suit and dies also. The viewer is left with the sound of rain and shower water which almost creates a cycle within the scene as the sounds are exactly the same but in more tragic circumstances.
After the frenzied music, the contrasting lack of sound indicates to the viewer that the struggle for life is over and finalises Marian’s death. The use of music in this scene is very effective as the music is in perfect correlation with the visual images and so the audience cannot get confused. Throughout the film Gus Van Sant has made the shower scene effective by using a range of camera shots. These include long pan shots, short quick shots or long close ups to create many moods and atmospheres which can make what is happening visually seem more real and dramatic.
As well as good camera techniques Van Sant has made the scene effective by linking frames with appropriate sounds such as ambient sounds like the rain with resulted in brilliant effect. Also a solitary mood was created as well as an anxious and horrific atmosphere by orchestral sounds which had equal effect but they illustrated frenzied panic. An amazing composition with good harmony between sounds and images has really made this scene effective which is why the scene is so widely known. While writing this essay I had the benefit of seeing the whole film.
If this section of the film was seen in isolation I believe that certain motifs wouldn’t have been so apparent. An example of this is that the audience would not have been as comfortable with the scene if they had viewed it in isolation as they would not have seen the parts of the film that contained sexual images. It would have been the first time that the viewer would have seen the intense and indeed intrusive camera shots; whereas when the scene is viewed in context with the rest of the film the camera shots are not new. All these reasons I believe add to the scenes excellence whether seen in or out of context with the rest of the film.