by KE Monahan Huntley

I had always attributed the odd feeling of Psycho to the conventional explanation-Hitchcock killed off his star and story's heroine early into the film, a stunt heretofore unheard of, and, as it was a psychological thriller, one could only expect a weird vibe. Now, taking in Gus Van Sant's stylish shot-for-shot remake from a Dramatica point of view--a method in the madness is discerned.

As a main character, Marion Crane's departure from the story is not abrupt--it makes perfect sense as her throughline has come to an end. From the start, Marion is concerned with her status (mc domain-universe) as a single gal in a no-win relationship and ten years on a dead-end job. Marion's emotional sensibility is that of desperate ennui (mc symptom-feeling), challenged once her boss hands over a client's $400,000 in cold, hard cash with the directive to bank it immediately (story driver-action). The temptation (mc problem) is just too much-an apparent answer to her dreams (mc critical flaw). Marion's linear way of thinking (male mental sex) is detrimental to her logic (mc direction) as she barrels down the highway towards her lover (mc approach-doer)--leaving behind an obvious trail for the people who are really only interested in her safe return and recovering the money (objective story concern-obtaining).

"Check in. Relax. Take a shower." The Bates Motel neon vacancy sign winks at Marion to do just that, and exhausted, she pulls in for the night. Norman Bates (her influence character) is Marion's disarming host. He graciously invites the weary traveler to dine with him on sandwiches and milk, up in the forbidding house on the hill, but as she freshens up Marion can hear him from her window, lambasted by his sick, old mother (ic problem-oppose). Embarrassed, he serves her in the front office, where, in the company of taxidermy objects (Norman's "curious" hobby), they engage in conversation about traps of the psychological kind (relationship story domain). Norman, contradictory and strange as he is, has enough of an impact on Marion to effect a change (mc resolve). She makes up her mind (mc thematic issue-choice) to stop (mc growth) running and drive home (mc solution-conscience), and steps into a nice hot shower to wash her wickedness away down the drain (mc judgement-good).

Well, mama goes mental and the rest is film history. From this set-up another story takes over the film with Norman as the main character and mother as his influence character. Although lightly illustrated (except through backstory exposition at the end of the film), it is this portion of the film that relays the complete account of Psycho.

For Gus Van Sant, time is on his side, as seedy motels are still in existence and retro style is quite the fashion. Visual insights into the killer's mind are a deft and subtle addition to Hitchcock's film--a "dangerously disturbed" Dramatica grand argument story seriously twisted in its presentation (storyweaving).

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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