Let me explain. I won't be the first one to break any new ground here, as anyone who's ever taken a rudimentary film course is likely to have come up against this interesting phenomenon. Nevertheless, I've always been fascinated by it, and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to expound upon it. What I'm talking about is Hitchcock's very apparent avian obsession. Because there is a bird motif about a mile wide running through his 1960 masterpiece.
Hitch was a master of symbolism, and he weaves it all in with great dexterity, but it's there--watch the flick closely a couple times and the bird imagery will start hitting you in the face like guano from the sky.
Let's break it down, shall we?
- The opening shot of the film appears to occur in mid-air, as we approach the window-ledge of an apartment building. Like a bird flying over the city.
- Our story begins in the city of Phoenix. Phoenix, get it? The legendary bird that rises from its own ashes? Myth and folklore majors, quit looking through the unemployment section and help me out here.
- Our main character (well, until she's bumped off halfway in) is named Crane.
- This same woman is later described as "eating like a bird" by Norman Bates.
- Speaking of Norman, and this is a bit more abstract, but Anthony Perkins actually is somewhat bird-like in his physical features. I'm willing to bet this was a conscious casting criterion. (Oooh--alliteration!)
- OK, where was I? Oh, Norman. Yes, our favorite momma's boy has a creepy little hobby, doesn't he? Taxidermy! Specifically, stuffing dead birds. Many of which are birds of prey.
- My favorite of all: During Norman and Marion's lunch conversation, Norman turns away from her and twists his neck in a very odd way to look up at something. The camera shoots him at such an angle that the silhouette of his neck, chin and nose actually resemble the head of a bird. Check it out if you don't believe me -------->
- During conversation, Norman mentions that his mother is "as harmless as one of these stuffed birds". Hence directly comparing her to the predators.
- Bernard Herrmann's famous score, with its instantly recognizable screeching violins, literally sounds like birds attacking. And when do we hear it most prominently? During the shower murder scene.
- And finally, what was Hitchcock's next movie? Yeah, I think you know.
And there's lots more too, including the picture of the bird that Norman knocks off the wall upon "discovering" Marion dead in the bathroom (oops, spoiler y'all! *rolls eyes*). It's all there right in front of you--birds, birds, birds. But what's it all mean?
Well, this is where the wonderful world of film criticism comes in. I'm firmly of the belief that as long as you can back it up with evidence, then any theory of interpretation is valid--whether the filmmakers intended it or not. So I can't speak for Hitchcock, or even Robert Bloch for that matter, when trying to analyze this movie. Who knows why he did it, but I do not I have my own theory.
More than anywhere else, the bird motif seems to hinge upon Norman himself. Marion may be the one with the bird name, but Norman is the one actually represented as a bird-like character. Yet, he's certainly not a mature bird--rather, he's more a child, a weak little chick, who needs to be protected by his momma, the mother bird. The mother who is not only compared to a bird, but literally stuffed like one by Norman.
This mother bird is, even after her death and living only in the mind of her offspring, out to shelter and protect him from the harsh outside world. The home, or nest, is high on a hill, elevated off the ground like an actual nest. And it's most imperative that Norman, the baby bird, be kept in that nest, that he not leave and go out into the world to become a mature adult. In this way, the bird motif serves the purpose of driving home the relationship between Norman and his mother, how it warps his development, and how it informs his sublimated murderous rage.
Just a theory, but I'm pretty convinced of it after repeated viewings. Let me know if the bird thing has ever occurred any of you as well. And if it has, what's your take on it?