I taught a film unit to my highschool English students using the movie Psycho. I wrote a series of articles for my classes to explain some of the themes and ideas in the film and to show them what a master film maker Hitchcock was.
Birds and references to birds are everywhere in Psycho. Is it just a coincidence that Marion the main female character’s last name is Crane or that the film opens in Phoenix, a city named after a mythical bird?
In the very first scene we are drawn into the window of a hotel room after the camera has circled us down over the city much like a bird in flight.
Norman, the film’s villain, has the middle name of Francis and St. Francis was the patron saint of birds. Alfred Hitchcock was born in Britain. British slang for a young woman is ‘bird’. A young woman or ‘bird’ is killed in Psycho.
Norman is a taxidermist who stuffs birds for a hobby. The parlor of the motel where he lives is decorated with his stuffed birds. Norman invites Marion to have dinner in his parlor. An owl with its wings spread out and a large black crow or perhaps a raven, first catch Marion’s eye as she enters the room.
She sits down and begins to pick away at the sandwich Norman has brought her, which leads him to comment that she “eats like a bird.” He then goes on to explain that birds actually eat a lot more than people think. There are smaller stuffed song birds on the table near Marion and a pointy beaked bird and a pheasant on the bureau behind Norman. Two large predatory birds are on either side of the ‘peep hole’ that Norman will use later to spy on Marian.
At one point during their conversation in the parlor Norman places his hand almost affectionately on a stuffed bird near him. He talks about his mother saying she is “as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.”
Norman makes another bird allusion when he expresses his disgust with people who give unwanted advice. “They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads”, he says. Marion and Norman discuss the traps that people can get caught in during their lives and Norman, using bird references, describes people who try to escape those traps. “We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. “
During their dinner conversation Norman’s head is framed by two birds and when Marion gets up to leave the parlor the beak of a stuffed crow is pointed directly at her neck.
In Marion’s hotel room there are pictures of birds on the wall and when Norman is cleaning up the room after the murder he knocks one of those pictures askew. Norman is munching on corn candy when he talks to the detective Arborgast, and he eats it just like a bird would eat corn.
In the hardware store where Sam, Marion’s boyfriend works, the rakes are cleverly photographed to look like bird talons.
At the end of the film Norman says in his mother’s voice, “as if I could do anything except just sit and stare like one of his stuffed birds.”
Alfred Hitchcock made the movie The Birds right after Psycho. Some of his biographers say he had a morbid fascination with birds throughout his life.
Other posts about movies……..