On Psycho, Bates Motel and Our Inclination to Find Connections Even When We Can Only Surmise
Psycho is a film that should be and is in the knowledge of all serous lovers of cinema. I find Vertigo to be a superior film personally, both in its intellectual concepts and in the humor of its ending, but Psycho is regardless a cinematic classic that I shouldn’t waste any time celebrating for it is already well-received in most worthy of its original structure and intelligence. What makes the film even more of a joy to watch though is the new show on A&E Bates Motel which is a type of prologue depicting the adolescent years of our loveable boyish Norman Bates.
Of course one of the most obvious reasons why the show is interesting for a lover of Psycho is it is the first time – I’m unaware of the Psycho sequels but I’ve heard they aren’t nearly as well-made as the original and most-likely in the same line as Nightmare on Elm St. V or Halloween VII – we see Norma Bates for who she really is, not how Norman’s madness portrays her as. The show creates a realistic portrait of a woman perhaps a tad too clingy and at-times neurotic; an archetype of a loving mother who in-a-sense loves too much and smothers her son in the process. How Norman converts this perception of his mother to a hateful possessive crow is certainly something that Freud would have a field-day over. Though of course a rationalization of why Norman perceives Norma as he does would be merely that – a attempt at explaining why the mind works as it does making leaps-of-reason rather than relying purely on evidence and sound steps in reasoning confirmed by more evidence – it seems that since we perceive a mal-intent in things that either have no intent or malice – “the sky looks angry” – or have a intent but isn’t at-all malicious or not how we suspect – children who may half-believe their parents dislike them because they are strict and disallow them from doing something regardless of whether their parenting is sound or not – it would be rational using a more rationalist epistemology to suspect or believe that Norman “believes” subconsciously that his mother is spiteful and wicked because she prevented him – so he feels which is in-part true – from achieving his full potential or fleeing the nest due-to her own insecurities and need of smothering. The psyche depicting Norma Bates as wicked to protect Norman from the ambiguities of having a mother who isn’t monstrous but merely human and flawed harming or hindering him in some way. He is compelled through social expectation and being alone with his mother for so long to love her even though she puts unreasonable expectations and unhealthy forms and levels of affection unto him; therefore he is made sick by loving that which he reasonably would be repulsed by. Once again this is a psychoanalytical analysis of Norman’s illness; “real” or far-more valid fields and perceptions of Psychology would first-and-foremost explain Norman’s illness through physical defects in the brain which could have been caused by trauma or a multiplex of conditioning but in-terms of schizophrenia is very-largely genetic and is triggered by large amounts of stress – or at-least such is the case according to my understanding of the modern major consensus on the illness. Some illnesses are more genetic while others formed by factors of development but most involve both in differing ways and degrees.
But of course if we follow this logic there will be an increase in tension and conflict. Norman is forced not only to act as if he loves his mother, but to actually love her since the person he is most desperate to convince, though he may be largely unaware of this turmoil, is himself. The reality of the unhealthy and preventative nature of their relationship and his need to alter himself to be the model son for a plethora of reasons will inevitably come and escalate more-and-more into conflict until at-least in some ways the tension is released. This is seen in Norman murdering his mother – we’re told with her lover which we’ll assume to be true for the time being. The very nature of the murder represents the duality and confliction of his psychology. He very-likely feels some degree of resentment for his mother but he also needs her. He murders her both – potentially – to end the tension and expectations that she thrusted upon him and because she broke his trust and understanding of their relationship of being in a sense monogamous or rather exclusionary by loving another man in a way that he could never provide for her in his role as her son.
Once again I would like to reiterate that this film is a work of psychoanalysis and not psychology in the strictest sense. Its rationalism is inaccurate to productive models of research and present notions of illness; but Rationalism and intellectual theory divorced from proper methods of deduction and study make great literary works in a way that a more Humean representation of knowledge and understanding would be lacking in. There is a type of loss in grandiose tragedy and notion of self when we come to the conclusion that madness results as chemical imbalances in the brain and who we are is just as-much a product of our material natures as they are our up-bringing if not more-so. Of course when we analyze this feeling we find it to be nonsensical; there is no reason why we lose any notion of self by believing we are the products of cause altering our given material essence, but this does not change the inclination to posit the “self” as a thing in-itself divorced from all the parts and factors of ourselves just as we wish to attribute the ocean to be a singular thing which of course ignoring all the life forms, geology and hundreds of tons of garbage within or on it – or include it if you like – it is nothing more than a large accumulation of water. Holism is nothing but a psychological perception that is quasi-Existentialist in its inclination for the human condition to escape Materialism or Determinism in some perceptions seen for example in the writings of Sartre.
To get into the particulars of Norman’s dialogue with Marion, it seems at-least at-first to myself that Norman is lying to her when he says that his mother built and ran the motel because of her being convinced to do so by a gentleman caller or lover. It seems one is led to assume this when contrary knowledge is given in Bates Motel, because we are essentially told that the drama is a prequel to Psycho and an accurate depiction of Norman Bates adolescent life; we are led to believe he is lying, but have no definitive proof or even strong evidence of this claim that would rule-out or be superior to any other explanation. After we consider this possibility, if one follows the path of possible explanations, what will be very-likely the next explanation for the confliction is that Bates Motel altered things to have Norma without a lover as the show premieres so a development of Norman being jealous and potentially murderous over Norma’s new lover can happen later into the chronology of the show while still showing the iconic house and not having Bates Motel without any motels – at-least run by the Bates – for a great stent of the show. But once again we have no evidence that this is the case and this is merely a perceived cause for the discrepancy. The last easily thought of reason one will think of is that Norman is delusional and due-to his delusions has a false impression of his history at-this point for his madness has clearly become extreme. If we are to perceive his illness the way the psychoanalyst would, this would seem less likely for there is no clear reason for his psyche to have him believe his mother only built the motel once convinced by her lover. Unless perhaps his psyche made it another result of his mother’s love affair which he clearly felt strong negative emotions about; this would seem somewhat reasonable – assuming that one has the theory that his illness is a causal mechanism for his own protection – given that he very-likely loathes the financial burden and duty of maintaining the motel that he feels condemned to by his mother. But of course people have failures of memory and misconstructions of reality as result of illness or basic human error without having any utilitarian or preventative aspects to the individual; mental illness of course being a result of biological variables in the brain rather than the subconscious mind elaborately altering one’s mind to produce coping and defense mechanisms. Here too there is no evidence, asides from the fact that Norman is mad, that his utterance of both the reasoning behind the construction of the motel and the age he was when his father died is wrong not because he lies out of some compulsion but his mind has a fundamentally inaccurate perception of these matters due-to his illness whether one wishes to look at it psychoanalytically or neurochemically.
This of course is an excellent depiction of Hume’s criticism of causation as something that fundamentally for human beings is something we infer rather than experience. Our perception and interpretation of human motivations is another fine example. For when we hear that a man kidnapped animals from a pet store, we may assume various things the four main one’s being that he was a petty thief in search of profits, a Nihilist in search of kicks, a destitute man down on his luck and in desperate need of income or perhaps animal companionship, or that it was done for political reasons. One’s particular attitude of the reasons and causes for theft are largely based on one’s psychology and politics – politics being largely derived by one’s psychology – and not on reason though one could have the psychology to search diligently for the “correct” reason based on evidence and fair reason rather than quick rationalizations and leaps of logic that don’t require much thought and are at-least somewhat persistent in most citizen’s opinions and notions of the world and reality. The larger point being that we have no evidence of anything that would prove without a reasonable doubt what the motive was for this robbery knowing only that it took place. And then of course there are the material and deterministic reasons behind his motivations. The same is so behind the discrepancies between what Norman tells us of his past in Psycho and what is portrayed in Bates Motel.
We simply cannot know at-this-point what the case is and wouldn’t unless in the show we see Norman become mistaken about basic facts of his life – proving more-or-less the third possibility – or we see him become a compulsive liar when it doesn’t benefit him in the slightest to tell falsehoods – not exactly proof but strong evidence for the first possibility – or the writers or creators of the show telling us that this is an alteration of the life of Norman Bates though I personally dislike the creators of any work telling us what the truth is rather than displaying it intelligently in the creation itself for us to witness as one would in reality. This would be comparable to the makers of Total Recall telling us, “oh yeah, it was all in his head the whole time; sorry people who thought it was real.” I don’t think I need to tell people who love these types of movies – or rather this aspect in some movies – how disheartening and outrageous this would be and how invalid it would seem and is. For I suppose the creator of something could tell us Dumbledore is gay, but if there is absolutely no evidence in the work for us to extrapolate Dumbledore’s homosexuality, then one is essentially conceding to an argument from authority in-that all creators have immediate knowledge of the smallest or most significant facts of the character and setting as long as it does not contradict what is stated or portrayed in the work itself. From this reasoning one could deduce that every author writing any and every novel where the sky is not stated to be blue can state that the sky is in-fact green in this world, even though more-than ninety-nine percent of the stories take place on Earth in relatively speaking modern day. Therefore I find that the second reason given for why there is a confliction ‘tween what Norman said and what is depicted in Bates Motel can only be a possibility based on the lack of any other reasonable explanation being proven or having a substantial amount or degree of evidence validating it.
It is possible for us to know relatively speaking the cause behind something or for us to understand the mechanics of something, but we must always be ultimately skeptical in not believing anything until there is thorough evidence for something and not making the leaps of logic or evidence based on past experience (the fallacy of induction) that is only quasi-valid in its powers due-to the nature of repetition seen in human motivation, organisms and physical laws having a general constancy that is of course not without exception and requires a thorough understanding of the thing itself before one can make absolute claims of possibility. For example, if one understands why a goose’s feathers are the color that they are (genetics; though causally randomness and natural selection will very-likely play a great deal as-well) and once thoroughly examining the possible alleles of the goose determine that the goose can only be white (naturally; we all know that it could be painted and so on) then one can make the inductive claim: All geese are white – for this particular reason – therefore all geese are white. There are however of course genetic mutations which is an essential aspect of evolution as-well. Therefore all-other-things-constant we could deduce that this particular species of goose can only have white feathers, or that flamingos can only be pink; but we must remember that flamingoes weren’t forever on this Earth and that they are the child-species of a bird that was unlikely the same vibrant color that the species is known for. Therefore we must always curb absolutist statements and say, “all-other-things-constant” things are as they are and not something else – but then one is essentially stating a logical truism and saying nothing about reality as it is in its multitudes of consistencies and plethora of phenomena.
But returning to the psychology and logistics of Psycho, when Norman is confronted with his mother’s death, does he at that moment recognize she is dead or does he believe that they are under a misapprehension? I.e. – his mother faked her death. Since we see a clear progression in Norman’s illness, did he murder his mother in a black out and then afterwards degenerate to the point of for great stretches of time believing to be his mother or was he already at that point? We see him for about a minute believe to be his mother when confronting his uncle who supposedly raped his mother, but we have no idea how close this is to his mother’s murder for she has not started to date the sheriff yet – yes we all know by now that he’s going to be the lover that is murdered by Norman, or at the very least he and Norma will have some romantic tension increase in the next season or sometime after. It seems likely – though we don’t know enough about Norman’s state of mind at the time of the murder and shortly after to presume much – that Norman first killed his mother and her lover in one of his blackouts and then began to progressively believe himself to be his mother afterwards. What state of mind he is in when he replaced her corpse with a weighted coffin and in various points in the movie is hard-to-say. For example, after he kills Marion believing to be his mother, how does he find blood and presume his mother had killed someone? We know from the season two finale of Bates Motel that he believes from then-on his mother is a murderer, but did he find the blood on himself or the clothes that he uses to dress up as his mother which he believes belongs to her or somewhere in the house? Also though this is clearly a literary device of foreshadowing, it does seem that he has some self-awareness of his illness when he shows contempt for Marion when she suggests he putting his mother in an institution and possibly also when he says, “I don’t hate her; I hate the illness. I hate what she’s become,” though likely this is nothing more than well written foreshadowing. It is clear that he doesn’t often associate with anyone at-all, let-alone those who would know his mother, so it seems that he wouldn’t often be confronted with this reality though if so it is difficult to determine how he would cope with this outside of how it is treated in canon. However such an example exists neither in Psycho nor in Bates Motel to my recollection though the series seems to point towards a psychoanalytical stent which would have us conclude it to be more likely he believe that his mother faked her death. Rationalizing the psyche as protecting the person that it exists within – though mental illness is not often as convenient as Freud would have us believe.
Another great Humean notion portrayed in the Psycho universe is that of self. We believe that we have a “self” that is continuous, but we know of course that we change and the self is not set-in-stone. Then what is the self? Clearly it is our consciousness, but what exactly is that if not just moment-to-moment thoughts and perceptions tied to our bodies experiencing its perception of the world changing according to largely predetermined materialist (or physical) law. We have constancy in our genetic makeup and close to constancy in our biological being, and due-to this we have certain regularities in our psychology and consciousness. But one’s state-of-mind can change even to one’s own confession and knowledge, and with this alteration comes a change in self. When one takes drugs not only does one’s perception possibly change, but one’s emotions, attitudes, thoughts and essentially any other aspect of psychological being being privy to change depending on the individual and the substance. Also because our memories are flawed and are attention to minute detail limited in both scope and duration, we could most certainly experience a shift in self that is gradual that we are entirely ignorant to. In fact, many who are unreflective, those who are “asleep” and are basic non-intellectual simple-minded cattle responding to stimulus very seldom notice their “selves” at-all in the way that an Existentialist is likely to.
One of the most fascinating transitions and sentiments we get from our coupling of Bates Motel with Psycho is the total destruction of the self from illness when we saw it do quite the opposite previously when it seemed to almost protect its possessor – like a parasite who keeps his host strong so it may grow and ultimately burst out of its food source’s stomach killing it in the process. This is seen in Norman’s psyche protecting him by having him believe that Norma murdered his teacher; but at the end of Psycho, we see his illness consume him entirely by sacrificing himself for the benefit of his illness. Or rather him in-a-sense depicting things accurately when he believing to be his mother tells the police that he killed all-of-those people when as his mother he believes that “she” did it. How his illness has warped his perception of his mother is brilliantly made into contrast by having his mother constantly protect him and decry that he is innocent and not guilty for the crimes he commits as result of his mental illness. That he does what he does without knowing and would only be put under duress, harmful medication and operation in a mental institution. However in the iconic scene in Psycho, we hear him believing to be his mother thinking, “He was always bad,” having his mother condemn him when it was she who protected him for years; and this is made even more tragic when we remember that he murdered his mother. Therefore we see his illness which she protected not only destroy her but her son’s perception and feelings of warmth towards his mother, the person that both allowed him to be free physically but also condemned him towards the state-of-mind he now currently resides in – condemning herself and others in the process – as a type of prison and torture. Norman was born in his trap, but it was his mother who allowed him to stay trapped in it and eventually he became the warped perception of she who both was his source of love and illness and ultimately of life and self-destruction.