SPOILER ALERT! The movie Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, does not have a happy ending. The movie Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi — the story, purportedly, of the making of Psycho — does. Unlike Psycho, Hitchcock is a pleasant motion picture which provides all of the comforts of the classical Hollywood narrative: shot and edited to achieve the illusion of the continuity of time and space and to clarify psychological motivation, propelled by a deadline, and featuring a heterosexual couple whose marriage, though troubled by temptations and mistrust, is ultimately saved by a re-affirmation of mutual affection and respect.
Psycho, released 52 years ago, is widely regarded as a decisive break with those conventions. Sick of furtive meetings with her lover, Sam, who cannot marry her because he is sunk in debt, Marion Crane, a clerk at a Phoenix real estate office, impulsively steals $40,000 in cash after her boss entrusts her to deposit it in the bank. She escapes town but not her guilt, which, along with the cash, is the baggage she bears when she checks into the Bates hotel and encounters the troubled proprietor, Norman, whose mother is a shrill and dominating (but unseen) presence. After talking to the pathetic Norman, Crane decides to return the money. In the middle of a purgative shower, and only 30 minutes into the movie, Crane is shockingly stabbed to death by a shadowy figure resembling an elderly woman, presumably the jealous mother. Norman cleans up. Eventually Sam, Marion’s sister Lila, and Arbogast, a detective, return to investigate the mystery of Marion’s disappearance. In a stunningly inventive sequence, Arbogast is stabbed on the stairs of the Bates house. In an even more stunning finale, the sister discovers the mother’s corpse in the cellar just as the cross-dressed Norman, with knife raised to strike, discovers her. Norman is disarmed at the last moment by Sam. Norman is incarcerated, diagnosed, and, finally, comfortably reunited with his mother, who has taken full possession of his mind.
Psycho glories in narrative fractures and perverse behavior; it subverts the expectations of an audience already habituated to Hitchcockian suspense by pushing even further, masterfully administering a dose of sheer shock. Hitchcock, on the other hand, struggles to arouse even suspense. When Alfred Hitchcock (impersonated with corpulent brio by Anthony Hopkins) meets Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), who will star in Psycho as Marion Crane, we are led to suspect that he might lavish on her the same obsessive interest that he has shown towards what his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, who plays her as even more elegantly self-possessed than Queen Elizabeth), mockingly calls his “fantasy blondes.” By the movie’s end, however, Alma congratulates Leigh on her professionalism. Rightly so: as we know, nothing happened between her and Hitch. Hitch, for his part, spends much of the movie indulging in almost frantic jealousy that his wife is carrying on an affair with the unctuous screenwriter Whitt Cooke (Danny Huston); he ends by apologizing for his suspicions. Rightly so: as we know, nothing happened between Alma and Whitt. The premiere of Psycho is a triumph. Nothing happens that we've feared; nothing happens that we might secretly desire.
With the crucial exception of the sentimental Alma subplot, Hitchcock the film is more or less faithful to Stephen Reb...read more