Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho


 

There is no doubt that you have heard of Hitchcock and his films before. But perhaps you have not seen them, and maybe you are not in the right state of mind to see them now. If you haven’t seen them, just make mental note of this, do not read the rest and come back after seeing the films. Any and all spoilers should be avoided for Hitchcock films because they have a most detrimental effect on the experience of the film.

Rear Window (1954)

Of these three films, what is different about Rear Window is that it has a happy, feel-good ending. It is less dramatic and less frightening than the films that follow. What it holds in common with Vertigo and Psycho however is the fantastic use of the camera. In an interview, Hitchcock talks about how he doesn’t have a page to fill, but rather a rectangle. This phrase in itself explains Hitchcock’s outlook on cinema and how much importance he gives to how visuals are displayed on our screen. And maybe that is why he is so good at it. In Rear Window, from that one window of the protagonist, many lives come to life. Just like Jeff himself, we become more concerned about what is happening in other people’s lives than his own. In the very end of the film, when Jeff is in his chair, this time with two broken legs, rather than one, we are left with a comforting feeling, a kind of peace that the routine of a chaotic neighborhood brings about.

Vertigo (1958)

The main theme of Vertigo, that an ex-police detective is requested by an old acquaintance to follow his wife believing that she has been possessed by a ghost, was both surprising and also welcoming to me. It was surprising because I had not expected one of the most cherished film-makers of all time to pursue such a topic (well it turns out he didn’t after all), and welcoming because the storyline is no stranger for my psychological thriller loving mind. We all know how inclined Indian thrillers are to a supernatural aspect. So immediately, I felt like in my own turf from the beginning of the film. I did not expect however, the criminal and dark developments that were to follow.

Psycho (1960)

I remember a college course in which the climax scene of this beautiful black and white film was shown to us, once with the music and once without, to explain the influence of music on cinema. Now I realize how rude that instructor was to release such a spoiler to me before I saw the film. What strikes me in this film is how common-place the events seem until the climax arrives, and how Hitchcock manages to express decisions, events and emotions without using much dialogue. It only occurred to me after seeing the film that I understood the character’s decision in the scene in which she is packing her bags, by the movement of the camera rather than dialogue. The camera simply moves between her face, what she is doing and what she is looking at. It becomes clear that her thoughts repeatedly move back to the bundle of money, and she continues to pack her suitcase. If this had been any other film, we would have given a paragraph of dialogue explaining what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. Suddenly, it is all unnecessary, and all can be done in a scene without any dialogue whatsoever.

Another thing that starts to hit me through Psycho, and after watching Vertigo is how Hitchcock’s films appear to be about one story and one character in the beginning, only to end up being about something else completely. Normally, that’s a very tricky and difficult thing to accomplish because it can be very easy to disappoint the viewer. But his stories are so intertwined and he uses such expertise in drawing us from one character’s life into another’s, that it does not bother at all.

I also want to mention that the small little hints that foreshadow the future of the story, and that can be considered a measurement of an effective thriller, are found in Hitchcock’s Psycho. To me, this is the most vital aspect of psychological thrillers, to make the audience want to see the film again after knowing the ending, so that he or she can view it in a different light, noticing things that were not noticed before. I had earlier been astounded by Manichitrathazhu’s ability to do that, to make the hints so overtly visible and which are yet ignored by the audience until some mass conclusion tells us to think back to them. This happened to me in a scene in Psycho when the Norman Bates character walks up the stairs of his house in a most feminine fashion before we ever realize why.

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