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Film Critique

There are many powerful aspects to the film Psycho and Night of the Living Dead which focus on social issues of the time. There are social messages portrayed in this film which were breakthroughs at the time in the film industry. These include the idea that psychotic people were living among us, that anyone was vulnerable to becoming like them, and that the hero did not always win. The sexuality and violence the two films offered viewers accompanied these notions, breaking the traditional American values.

The film Psycho received a good portion of its criticism based upon the fact that it had openly portrayed sexuality and violence in a manner which was unheard of at the time (Milne). Prior to the 1960’s, America had immersed itself in “traditional family values” which upheld the American Dream, in an attempt to ward off the violent aftermath of the Second World War. Families clung to public religious values and as such, sought only wholesome films which did not start with a scene showing an unmarried couple in bed, partially clothed (Psycho).

The director was particular clever in his creation of the viewing process. People were allowed to watch the film from beginning to end only so that they would not become desensitized to the psychology behind the film. The main theme is multiple identities. This is portrayed through the main character, Norman Bates and his split personalities (Psycho). This was a shocking social message because it demonstrated that psychopathic killers could be living amongst us.

The film played off of the fear which had accompanied World War II propaganda: spies were living among us. Even more terrifying was the light shed on traditional roles. The characters encompassed multiple roles the same as the psychotic main character, bringing the reality that people portrayed in the film were the same as one of the audience members closer to home (Elshtain 7).

The film shows Marion Crane who appears to be a humble and wholesome secretary. However, she fulfills another role which opposes traditional religious and family values as she meets with her lover to have sex outside of marriage. Even more upsetting to standard social roles was the transition Marion played, as she eventually shows viewers that she has a double-sided relationship to her mother, and at the end, adopts a new identity when she trades in her car and signs the name Marie Samuels on the motel register (Psycho). This reflected upon the idea that even the most respectable men and women were capable of such drastic changes immediately. It was terrifying to many to see that American traditional values and morals could be so easily permeated.

This was a particularly shocking component of the film in that it played upon the fears that many had of secularism. It was thought after the Second World War that secularism would eventually replace religion and any upstanding morals. This theory was discussed in many forums through politically minded people, published in books, and now shown in this film. Bringing live tape of what could happen was shocking to viewers. Possibly one of the most terrifying aspects for audience members was learning that the film Psycho was adapted from the story of a real-life serial killer.

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