This two-part essay basically concerns Alfred Hitchcock’s relation to Catholicism. My thanks to Senses of Cinema for allowing its publication over two issues. Its departure-point, we saw, was David Sterritt’s claim that the world of Hitchcock’s late films lacks hope, depicting “human experience as ultimately chaotic, unredeemed, and god forsaken.”1 But that is surely to misunderstand the filmmaker’s methodology and multiple “vision”. That vision approaches Robert Bresson’s.

For Part One of this essay, see:


Hitchcock’s extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines.
– Father Mark Henninger SJ2

How could I have known that such a day would have no tomorrow, that she and I had faced each other on the very verge of the visible world, over the gulf of All Light?
– Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest (Chapter V, referring to the scene with the Countess)3

What Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) and Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest, Robert Bresson, 1951) share most in common – I want now to suggest – is some form of “soul-journey”, with “redemption” posited as a possibility. Redemption is visibly signalled at the end of Bresson’s film, whose Christ-like curé (Claude Laydu) has just died: an image of the Cross lingers onscreen as a friend who was with him recalls the curé’s last words, “All is grace.” Very different is the closing shot of Hitchcock’s film, in which Marion’s car, containing both her body and the stolen money, is retrieved from the dark (cloacal) swamp. That image might almost have been inspired, inter alia, by the last shot of Luis Buñuel/Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou (1928) showing its ill-fated couple buried up to their waists in sand; only an ironic caption, “au printemps”, sounds the faintest upbeat note. Nonetheless, Hitchcock knew that a film is completed by its viewers; in giving them a gripping narrative of life/death significance, plus a cautionary ending, Psycho works the viewers over: essentially, its soul-journey isn’t on the screen but in our heads. That is, although such a journey may seem for a time to be Marion’s, then Norman’s (see, famously, Robin Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films)4, ultimately it is the viewer’s and Hitchcock’s. We have seen how Hitchcock may have regarded his film from a suitably soulful “Miltonic” perspective; there is a complementary perspective to be considered, that of the “ordinary” viewer.

Hitchcock Psycho

The end of Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951).

Hitchcock Psycho

The end of Un Chien andalou (Luis Buñuel/Salvador Dali, 1928).

In the challenging (but I think perceptive) words of Richard A. Blake, “[Hitchcock’s] characters play out their lives in a world where material beings hold sacramental value and where salvation must be sought through a communion of saints that could just as properly be called a communion of sinners.”5 For example, Blake’s interpretation of the end of I Confess subtly differs from Alleva’s, quoted in Part One. Blake writes: “When [Father Logan] embraces Alma [Keller], and then Keller, at their moments of death, his gestures represent his asking them … for their forgiveness of his self-imposed insulation from the communion of sinners.”6 Apropos Psycho, I shall argue that Norman – although a killer – performs a sacramental role for viewers. For a start, Hitchcock makes him someone who onscreen is hardly ever other than likeable or finally pathetic (the courthouse scene). He is never boring. Therefore, given accounts of the deleterious effects of boredom by philosophers, poets, and sociologists – from Schopenhauer to Baudelaire to Durkheim – Norman is on “our” side. In that sense, he is a redemptive figure, if not obviously a Christ-figure. Hitchcock, we know, considered it his duty to bring the “sluggish and jellified” viewer back to life.7 Moreover, and fittingly, our director might move in mysterious ways. This is a timely moment to mention the first of the two epigraphs at the head of this Part. It comes from the affecting testimony by Father Mark Henninger SJ in The Wall Street Journal, 6 December, 2012, referring to the last months of Hitchcock’s life, during which he and Alma received Mass at home – and at which a young Henninger assisted Father Tom Sullivan SJ. A salient point that emerges is how Hitchcock deliberately gave out the opposite of the truth, so that, in biographer Donald Spoto’s misleading account, he “rejected suggestions that he allow a priest […] to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort.”8 To begin to understand Hitchcock’s mind, start with that testimony of Henninger’s!9

Hitchcock Psycho

Alma Keller, shot by her husband, receives priestly rites at the end of I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953).

Now, like everyone else in Psycho, Norman is no angel. Or, rather, he is a severely fallen angel. Typically, the film has it all ways in its depiction of Norman. He grew up especially happy, his childhood fulfilling every boy’s supposed Oedipal fantasy of exclusive possession of the mother.10 Then, after his mother’s death by matricide – Norman’s initial act of madness11 – his one emotional release besides serial murder and taxidermy seems to have been music, and specifically a 33 rpm recording of the “Eroica” Symphony. Maybe he could have grown up to be another Beethoven, or Napoleon, but we will never know. Call him a “mute inglorious Milton,”12 with all the poignancy of that idea.

Hitchcock Psycho

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is a “fallen angel” in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960).

But Norman’s “soul-journey” does seem to be towards damnation. He feels increasingly trapped. In the parlour scene he is identified with the black bird with the knife-like beak. He is a predator, albeit haunted by a larger bird, the owl, identified with his alter ego (who announces herself with a shriek when she bursts into the cellar: “I am Norma Bates”). Furthermore, Norman is literally at home with a winged black cherub which we see when Arbogast enters the house, and whose shadow on a door, emphasising the figure’s bow poised to shoot, effectively signals the detective’s fate. During the film, Norman visibly hardens. This motif begins about the time Arbogast drives away after his first visit, and we see Norman smirk, then continues in the second scene at the swamp when Norman hears Sam calling him, and scowls. Clearly, he seems not one of the good angels. And yet, as I say, he entertains us, one way or another. Even when you know the facts, he is still, in a sense, sympathetic, and not just because he is engagingly played by Tony Perkins. Like the young hoodlum Pinkie in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938), he may never have had a real chance in life.13 Besides, as Greene knew, Catholics in particular may want to ask: who am I to judge?

Which brings me straight to another outstanding Catholic novelist, Georges Bernanos (1888-1948), who felt deeply about such matters, which go to the heart and soul of his faith. Bernanos wrote many novels and stories, such as Journal d’un curé de campagne (1936) and Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette (1937), both filmed by Bresson, and the enigmatic Monsieur Ouine (1946, 1993), which may have influenced Bresson’s Au Hasard, Bathazar.14 Bernanos once took a close interest in the case of serial murderer Eugène Weidmann, the last man to be publicly executed in France. Before the execution, Bernanos wrote an extraordinary letter to the condemned man’s lawyer: “I have no romantic predisposition in favour of criminals. Yet it seems to me that, beyond a certain degree of horror, crime somehow starts resembling an extreme form of destitution.”15 Bernanos, who had felt a “supernatural abandonment” crying out to him in a photograph of the handcuffed Weidmann,16 never lost hope that the world would one day appreciate the full significance of the Communion of Saints, and what it offered. The term recurs repeatedly in Father Peter Hebblethwaite’s little book on Bernanos, as when he notes that the characters in Monsieur Ouine, because they are ignorant of such a communion, “are isolated in their private hells.”17 The concept involves the spiritual solidarity binding the faithful on earth and the saints in Heaven. Supposedly, the damned are excluded. Nonetheless, if that is the case, novelists and filmmakers suggest the matter is not clear-cut: redemption may be available if a person is truly penitent.18 An extreme case is the end of Bresson’s last film, L’Argent (1983), whose multiple axe-murderer, straight after his crimes, confesses all to the police. Interviewed by Michel Ciment, Bresson was only apologetic that he was not able to linger “on the idea of redemption, but the rhythm of the film, at that stage, would not stand for it.”19

Hitchcock Psycho

The young axe-murderer confesses to the police in L’Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983).

Confession, and the communion of saints, are two beautiful parts of Catholic ritual and belief – I dare say20 – but both Bresson and Hitchcock were further concerned with universal human psychology. They saw good and evil to be like what Keith Reader calls “allotropic variants of one spiritual state.”21 Let’s back-track. As Angels of Sin started to show us (as I discussed in Part One), Bresson himself worked in a surreal vein at times. In Pickpocket, the thief Michel (Martin Lassalle) is, prima facie, no more an angel than Marion Crane. Yet Bresson valorises him. Michel’s is a soul-journey like those of innumerable other Bresson protagonists. We further saw last time that both the curé in Diary of a Country Priest and Father Logan in I Confess undergo their Passion. The curé’s condition represents a latter-day Imitation of Christ. In a nice touch, Bernanos in the novel has the curé specify the work of that title (c. 1418-27) by Thomas à Kempis: a copy “which [had] belonged to mother, with the scent of her lavender still clinging to it.”22 A list of the ways in which the curé and Norman Bates resemble each other may begin with how each takes inspiration from a hallowed mother.23

First, and importantly, Norman is palpably descended from the tortured character (Ivor Novello) in The Lodger (1926) whose sister (blonde, like their mother) dies in mysterious circumstances at her coming-out ball: Novello’s character is explicitly likened to Christ.24 Another resemblance of the curé to Norman is seen in their solitariness: Norman is twice called a hermit, and the fact that he ends in a “cell” is only fitting.25 Indeed, our respective last views of the curé and of Norman are when they most resemble each other: each sits in a chair with his shoulders draped in a blanket which Stefano’s script likens to a (mother’s) shawl. Another resemblance is the characters’ sense of duty. Bernanos’s curé, in pain from his stomach cancer (not yet diagnosed), worries that God will not employ him to the utmost, “as He does of the others.”26 His situation resembles both Milton’s in “On His Blindness” and that of Norman – who, although he may feel himself damned, carries on regardless, “lighting the lights and following the formalities.”27

Hitchcock Psycho

Ivor Novello in The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1926).

Hitchcock Psycho

Norman Bates with blanket in a police cell in Psycho.

Hitchcock Psycho

The dying curé (Claude Laydu) with blanket in Diary of a Country Priest.

Again, what Diary of a Country Priest does, in both novel and film, is show a community that is “bored stiff”28 and where “God isn’t loved enough”29, but whose saintly curé tries his personal best to make a difference. I find such a pattern operating in Hitchcock’s films, only it is the film itself that is held out as saviour. Of course, the curé’s soul-journey in Diary of a Country Priest – unlike Norman’s in Psycho – is not ironic, except in the incidental sense of the prejudice and blindness (even his own) that he encounters en route. Noteworthy, too, is the sudden reverse-trajectory of young Séraphita Dumouchel (Martine Lemaire), hitherto the curé’s tormentor, which is certainly one of the most moving things in the story. Hitchcock, though, brought to his films a different kind of reversal and a different kind of irony, namely, romantic irony, a rhetorical play “in which you [might] mean the reverse of what you say.”30 Such rhetoric became second-nature to him, at times making him appear something of a cynical “dandy”31 While the evidence shows that he agreed with Bernanos that the “true condition of man” is boredom32 – indeed his term “the moron millions” implied it – he dutifully took upon himself to rouse the viewer into life.

Diary of a Country Priest uses symbolism: the boredom is itself cancerous. Arriving in his first parish, the fictional Ambricourt, the novel’s curé finds its inhabitants “being eaten up by” the malaise.33 Prophetically he adds: “Someday perhaps we shall catch it ourselves – become aware of the cancerous growth within us.”34 Thus his soul-journey, while exemplary, partakes of others’ journeys. (Several characters in the novel have the disease.) It is another reason why he is like the God-man, Christ. Whereas, if there is a soul-journey in Hitchcock’s films, it is provisional; an implication of watching Spellbound and Psycho is that we may get to glimpse the “white radiance of eternity”35 – but where to next?! In the case of Psycho, “aberrant” life clearly requires each viewer to make personal accommodation. Hitchcock, on our behalf, may well set store by “love” – that is apparent in Spellbound – but he will not necessarily spell it out. It took his most schematic film, The Birds, to do that.

Hitchcock Psycho

“Poetic” whiteness in Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945) accompanies the lovers’ first kiss

Hitchcock Psycho

“Banal” whiteness, with an edge to it, in the same film’s bathroom scene, as Ballyntine (Gregory Peck) prepares to shave with a cutthroat razor

Diary of a Country Priest, in its comparative literalness, often acts like a gloss on Norman Bates. For example, it includes the equivalent of Sam Loomis’s line, “Sometimes Saturday night has a lonely sound,” when it shows the curé already in bed as young people depart gaily from a dance in a nearby hall.36 And a major Bernanos motif is that of self-hatred linked to pride – the condition that Milton triumphantly surmounted in his own way – to which the curé’s penultimate words answer: “How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget.”37 Meanwhile, the curé evokes for the Countess the horror of ceasing to be able to love. Such people are surely damned, and the curé even fears that he may be one of them. They are the living dead, as Sterritt might say.38 The curé’s words inadvertently come as close to describing the plight of Norman Bates as any words could:

Oh, prodigy! To stop loving, to stop understanding – and yet to live. The error common to us all is to invest these damned with something still inherently alive, something of our own inherent mobility, whereas in truth time and movement have ceased for them; they are fixed for ever.39

They have become as ghosts, a theme allied to madness, with which Hitchcock was often occupied, from The Lodger to Jamaica Inn (1939), and onwards.

Bresson’s religious protagonists and, to a degree, his others as well, notes Pipolo, a psychoanalyst, are driven by neither heterosexual nor homosexual impulses but “are positioned at a precarious place in the middle […] cut off before their natural desires can emerge.”40 Norman Bates is both a grotesque parody of these figures and resembles them; notably, they have relinquished other life paths, which, in the case of the curé, is the point of the scene with the virile motorcyclist M. Olivier (Jean Danet), a Foreign Legionnaire, who tells him that they “should have been friends.”41 (The corresponding scene in Psycho is again, most obviously, the “mute inglorious Milton” one. Norman’s road-not-travelled has been absolute.) Related to this is the curé’s implied descent from both the gentle St Thérèse of Lisieux – who advocated “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender”42 – and the patron saint of parish priests, St Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Curé of Ars (1786-1859), who is said to have possessed a penetrating simplicity.43 An intuitive psychologist and not without humour, he inspired some of the qualities of Chesterton’s Father Brown.44 Numerous testimonies suggest that he had telepathic powers. One is reminded of the moment when the curé intuits that the Countess’s teenage daughter, Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral), is carrying a suicide note, and demands that she show it to him. But Norman Bates, too, is a “sensitive” with above-normal powers, as when he asks Marion, “What are you running away from?” – then immediately covers up for her (and himself) with the gently sarcastic, “People never run away from anything.”

Above all, the scene in Diary of a Country Priest that is remarkable both intrinsically and for having its matching episode in Psycho is the one where the curé talks the embittered Countess (Marie-Monique Arkell) into a change of heart, and, in effect, redeems her. Its equivalent in Psycho is the parlour scene, in which Norman, drawing on his own anguish, counters Marion’s airy talk of “private islands” with his notion of “private traps,” thereby unknowingly making her resolve to return the stolen money. In actual fact, both women – the Countess, Marion – are fated to die straight away, but implicitly in a state of grace. Both scenes are ultimately focussed on the woman’s change of heart. Of the Countess, we already know from an earlier encounter in the same room that she reminds the priest of his mother,45 which obviously (further) de-sexualises what follows; presumably the same cannot be said of the Psycho parlour scene, yet while it lasts the conversation is indeed about “a boy and his mother” and conducted accordingly.46 Both scenes are about denial, the pride that prevents healing: aptly, the word “madness” is heard in both, as when the Countess, over-reacting, throws the locket containing the image of her dead child into the fire, and the curé says, “What madness […] God wants us to be merciful with ourselves.” (In “On His Blindness”, the poet’s use of “fondly” acknowledges a similar sticking-point in his relation with God.)

Hitchcock Psycho

The curé and the Countess in Diary of a Country Priest.

The scene with the Countess is where the curé pronounces her inability to love. Her heart has been hardened, both by the loss of her youngest child and by her husband’s frequent infidelities. She still keeps the outward forms of religious observance, such as attendance at Mass, but in her resentment and pride her whole relationship with God has been corrupted. Accordingly, the curé now seeks to draw on his own suffering in order to enter into hers – and to get her talking. Though she initially scorns his inexperience, his child-like sincerity impresses the “mother” in her: as the conversation proceeds, he effectively becomes the analyst “aware of the role counter-transference plays in his interactions with patients.”47 Pipolo means that although the curé recognises his own hubris, he presses on to the point where “new structures of the self can be installed.”48 “You no longer hate Him,” he says. “Now at last you’re face to face with Him.”49 In the curé’s terms, by yielding everything to God, pride included, health is restored. In effect, it is another Miltonic moment of true reckoning.

Although the parlour scene in Psycho differs from the scene with the Countess – for example, we are barred from entering Norman’s mind (or minds) in the way we do the curé’s, who twice in his scene uses internal monologue – the resemblances are striking. Marion is ready to patronise Norman as the Countess had initially patronised the curé, but both times a chord is struck and the conversation keeps going. (The parlour scene looks like it might conclude when Norman says that the rain has stopped, but then he mentions “private traps” and Marion responds feelingly, “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”) One of the speakers may become agitated, even combative, but the display of emotion is taken by its listener as honest feeling. Of course, the parlour scene is never going to break down all barriers. Yet both conversations arrive at a conclusion that at least one of the parties finds helpful, if the actual process of conversation must remain mysterious. As the curé remarks (in an observation that epitomises the paradoxical Catholic consciousness): “I believe if God gave us a clear idea of how closely we are bound to each other in good and evil, we truly could not live.”50 Hitchcock felt similarly. “Reality is something that none of us can stand, at any time,” he said after finishing Psycho.51 But in giving us the sacramental (and at times Christ-like) Norman Bates, he in effect sought to emulate the curé, in making a difference.

In the letter the Countess sends the curé following their conversation, she affirms that she has found peace. “I have lived in the most horrible solitude, alone with the desperate memory of a child. And it seems to me that another child has brought me to life again.”52 In describing him as child-like, she is thinking of his penetrating simplicity. Now, I have referred to the curé’s soul-journey, and not surprisingly his last words when he is dying bring together that journey’s motifs (love, hate, pride, simplicity, suffering, grace):

How easy it is to hate oneself! True grace is to forget. Yet if pride could die in us, the supreme grace would be to love oneself in all simplicity – as one would love any one of those who themselves have suffered and loved in Christ.53

Bresson overlays the end of his film with an image of the Cross. As I noted in Part One, Kaiser’s From Morn till Midnight had ended with an image of a crucifix plus a sardonic reference to Pontius Pilate’s/Nietzsche’s phrase “Ecce Homo” to make the point that the play’s misguided cashier is no Overman (and no Christ either). In turn, there is no crucifix at the end of Psycho, only a “mock-Resurrection”, a moment I likened to one from, most notably, Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques. But, in fact, might I not have been focussing in the wrong place? Just moments earlier, in depicting what Sterritt calls “the final obliteration of Norman’s selfhood by […] his hallucinated mother,” the film has given us an archetypal image of simplicity. To spell it out: Norman’s “soul-journey” culminates in his virtual annihilation, certainly as an adult human being. The image of him in his cell, draped in a blanket (which makes him look more monk-like than ever, as well as feminine), is a virtual parody of the lines of T.S. Eliot, “A condition of complete simplicity/(Costing not less than everything)”54 – which as one commentator says, requires “the original innocence, the ultimate reversion.”55 (The lines remind some readers of the Crucifixion itself.56) But that has been my point all along. I have suggested that the actual soul-journey of Psycho is not on the screen, but is rather a case of an expressionist artist including the audience in the creative process.57 What Hitchcock’s films show is typically one extended MacGuffin, yet invariably hinting at “ceiling and possibilities unlimited” (to quote North by Northwest). The films exist to give the MacGuffin significant form.

The very Cross itself, according to Georg Groddeck (who gave Freud the concept of the Id), is a mother-symbol. From studying Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, Groddeck was led to speculate:

The cross, the sacred love, is the mother: upon her dies the son. That is a law to mankind: the son shall not love his mother as man loves woman. Mother and son; that is for a time the closest of all love-relations, for the son lives in the mother. But human life separates them from each other, separates them more widely than any other two human beings can be separated. The Son of Man is joined to the cross, to the mother, only to die.58

But after that, notes Groddeck, “he is born again.”59 The Via Dolorosa, a form of the Dreadful Journey, holds out its promise of God’s grace.60 Unknowingly, we travel such a journey in Psycho, first with Marion, then with Norman, then in our own heads. Obviously, the non-religious are free to intone, “It’s only a movie!” Indeed, all of us are at liberty to both exult in Norman’s downfall (for whatever crimes, including possible incest, we attribute to him) and at the same time to feel compassion for the abject figure he has become. Psychologically, the two mind-states are connected. “[T]he happier our state,” wrote atheist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “and hence the more the consciousness of it is contrasted with the other man’s fate, the more susceptible we are to compassion.”61 Arguably, our finer feelings – still only latent or numbed during the courthouse scene – are more fully triggered by Psycho’s complex last shot, of Marion’s car.

The image of the Cross at the end of Bresson’s film may remind us (pace Groddeck) of how integral mother-love has been to the curé’s journeying and arrival. Minimally, the visions of Hitchcock and Bresson are alike here.62 But I cannot conclude that this is just a matter of Catholicism’s notion of the communo sanctorum, or similar. Hitchcock eschews “single vision”. He gives non-religious viewers their entry-points too. His amazingly energetic film stirs us to a purpose. Again Schopenhauer, with his notion of “Will”, offers us something we can all relate to in Hitchcock: the concept of a life/death “force” finds analogues in both film-form itself and in suspense, which in turn lets us sense the rich implications of films like Spellbound and The Birds whose essence is “pure cinema”. For example, suspense can have an ethical dimension. Schopenhauer showed how, if we suspend hostility, and turn it back on itself, it can become compassion: “the experience of being taken terribly aback from one’s instinctual drives and having them quickly dissolve, is none other than an experience of enlightenment.”63 I once likened the structure, and effect, of The Birds to Schopenhauer’s description of the cosmic Will as a cruel joke best turned against itself, notably with the help of art or music.64 Well, Psycho is that film’s immediate forerunner. In encountering the banshee-like Norma Bates in the fruit-cellar,65 and then, moments later, the saddened, immobilised figure in the courthouse cell, taken-aback viewers do what Schopenhauer predicted: we effectively experience Will turned against itself and thereby arrive at objectivity. The two-sided Norman is both symbol of Will, and its scapegoat (compare the avians in The Birds, and note that film’s principal trailer, a “little lecture” by Hitchcock on humankind’s heedless treatment of “our feathered friends”). For the audience’s part, we feel strengthened to face our lives again.

Nor, finally, can I forget that Psycho is a “shocker”. To appreciate this aspect of it, I recommend viewing Homicidal (which I mentioned in Part One). Countless attempts, especially on the web, to praise Psycho use phrases and descriptions which, it seems to me, apply equally to Castle’s “imitation” of it. In truth, I quite like Homicidal. In a largely mechanical way, it comes as close as any film I know to giving me the mental and visceral working-over that I remember from my teenage viewings of Psycho. One climactic item in particular – the sound of a mute old lady’s “tapper” (it resembles a pestle) which she uses to attract attention and which sometimes seems to have a life of its own – evokes terror worthy of Fred Walton (the noted “slasher” director, praised by Claude Chabrol for his innovative use of off-screen sound).66 I would also single out “Jean Arless’s”67 performance as Emily/Warren and how it belongs in the tradition of films like The Lodger. Characters in these films find themselves “trapped”.68 On a second viewing, the scene in which Emily destroys a set of bridal dolls (male and female) in a flower-shop approaches in poignancy the implications of the “mute inglorious Milton” scene in Psycho. On the other hand, Castle shows his limitations constantly. Early on, the murder of a Justice of the Peace and Emily’s subsequent flight, when she thinks a police car is pursuing her, are clumsily done.

Hitchcock Psycho

Emily (“Jean Arless”/Joan Marshall) destroys a set of bridal dolls in Homicidal (William Castle, 1961).

By contrast, Hitchcock was a master. He made few errors and had a first-class mind. In imbuing Marion Crane and Norman Bates with “Everyman” qualities – like those Charles Barr attributes to the possible murderer, and alcoholic, Arnold, who dies unexpectedly mid-way through Au Hasard, Balthazar – he made those characters “stand for a more general human compulsion to submit to destructive forces” – in effect representing all of us “aberrant” beings who need mercy and help, perhaps to ward off (Heaven forbid!) a love-less boredom. In this essay, I have updated Schopenhauer’s aesthetics of Will (which valorises music) to Hitchcock’s own aesthetics of suspense in film,69 with analogues in turn to what Christians feel is offered by the Communion of Saints – which may be where Hitchcock’s aesthetics sprang from in the first place. Can there be a heaven corresponding to Hitchcock’s hell? Psycho never actually says there can’t be.


Author’s acknowledgements

My particular thanks to Bill Krohn, Phil Skerry, Tag Gallagher, Stephen Rebello, Adrian Schober, Dan Shaw and Martin Paterson, most of whom receive at least one endnote in this essay.

Special thanks to Inge Pruks, Peter Tammer, Richard Allen.

My gratitude, too, to others of my online correspondents, and to members of my “advanced” Hitchcock discussion group on the Internet. I would single out Richard Modiano in this context.

This essay is for Scott Murray.


Endnotes (continued from Part One)

  1. David Sterritt, “The Destruction That Wasteth at Noonday: Hitchcock’s Atheology”, Hitchcock Annual no. 16 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), p. 123.
  2. Mark Henninger, “Alfred Hitchcock’s Surprise Ending”, The Wall Street Journal, 6 December, 2012.
  3. Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest. Translated from the French by Pamela Morris. Fontana, 1963, p. 154.
  4. After Marion’s death, notes Wood, “we attach ourselves to Norman Bates, the only other character (at this point) available. We have been carefully prepared for this shift of sympathies. For one thing, Norman is an intensely sympathetic character. (…) In a sense, {though,} the spectator {eventually} becomes the chief protagonist, uniting in himself all the characters.” Robin Wood, Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, revised edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 146-47.
  5. Richard A. Blake, AfterImage: The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000), pp. 75-76. Blake is referring to The Birds, but his remark extends beyond that particular film.
  6. Ibid., p. 67.
  7. Alfred Hitchcock, “Why Thrillers Thrive”, Picturegoer, January 18, 1936, p. 15
  8. Spoto, quoted in Henninger. Spoto’s account is in The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983, p. 551.
  9. Consider also George Cukor’s estimation of Hitchcock as “so perverse! He’d never tell you what he really thinks, never, never!” Quoted in Leonard Leff, Hitchcock & Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David Selznick in Hollywood. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1988, p. 243. In like vein, an NBC biography from 1961 claimed that, even to his friends, “Hitch is a kind of multiple personality (…) and defies understanding completely.” Quoted in Jan Olsson, Hitchcock à la Carte (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 186.
  10. Another depiction of such childhood bliss is young Arnie’s situation at the beginning of Hitchcock’s “pastorale”, The Trouble With Harry (1955). However, Arnie’s widowed mother, Jennifer Worp (Shirley MacLaine), soon meets artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), and marriage – a return of the reality-principle – looms!
  11. Marion’s is her theft of $40,000. And as she observes: “Sometimes just one time can be enough {to have irreversible consequences}.” An analogue of the Fall?
  12. Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751), l. 59
  13. Concerning our sympathy for Norman – first noted by Wood – I’m grateful to Martin Paterson, who recently showed Psycho to a group of students (mainly young adults) in Albania. When he asked them which character they found most sympathetic, the majority answered “Norman Bates”, with one student explaining, “He couldn’t help himself.” Interestingly, that is exactly what Mary Yellan (Maureen O’Hara) in Jamaica Inn (1939) says of the murderous Squire Pengallan (Charles Laughton) at that film’s end, by which time he is clearly mad. (However, as in Psycho, a question hovers as to whether the character has “chosen” madness in bad faith, thereby damning himself.)
  14. “An unsolved murder, along with the cross-section of many characters and the ambience of French provincial life suggest the film’s affinity with Monsieur Ouine,” notes Tony Pipolo, Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 386, n. 30. (The novel was going to be called The Dead Parish.)
  15. Quoted in William Bush, “George Bernanos’s Monsieur Ouine: The ‘Great Novel’ of ‘The Greatest Novelist of His Time’”, Logos 4:1 (Winter 2001), p. 83.
  16. Bush, op. cit., p. 83
  17. Peter Hebblethwaite SJ, Bernanos: An Introduction (New York: Hillary House, 1965), p. 55.
  18. For example, John Cornwell quotes Roddy Doyle’s novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993) whose boy hero is taught: “If you made a good confession right before you died (…) you went straight up to heaven” – thereby raising a question: “Even if the fella killed loads of people?” The answer: “Even.” See John Cornwell, The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (London: Profile Books, 2014), p. 115.
  19. Michel Ciment, “I Seek Not Description But Vision: Robert Bresson on L’Argent”, in James Quandt (ed.), Robert Bresson, revised edition (Toronto: Toronto International Film Festival Cinematheque, 2011), p. 715.
  20. Of course, recent books like Cornwell’s The Dark Box acknowledge many iniquitous or deficient aspects of the Church.
  21. Keith A. Reader, “The Sacrament of Writing: Robert Bresson’s Le Journal d’un curé de campagne (1951)”, in Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau (eds), French Film: Texts and Contexts, 2nd edition, (London, Routledge, 2000), p. 95.
  22. Bernanos, p. 150.
  23. Mothers, of course, figure prominently in the work of both Bresson and Hitchcock. A Man Escaped ends with a remark of Jost, the youth who helps Fontaine in his escape, and who eventually climbs over the wall with him: “If only my mother could see me now.” Note that Henri Agel comments on the importance of the Communion of Saints in that film. See Leo Murray, “Un Condamné à mort s’est échappé”, in Ian Cameron (ed.), The Films of Robert Bresson (London: Studio Vista, 1969), p. 78.)
  24. For a reading by me of The Lodger, suggesting why it is likely that the Novello character killed his sister whom he identified with their revered mother, see my review of Theodore Price’s Superbitch! (2011) in Senses of Cinema 69, December 2013. And for a related, and suggestive, understanding of the character, see Michael Williams, Ivor Novello: Screen Idol. London: BFI, 2003. Williams argues that Novello’s stage and screen persona incorporated both sides of the tragic spectrum described by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy. “On the one side stands Apollo – ‘the shining one, the deity of light’, static and abstinent, on the other Dionysus – dissonant, orgiastic and indulgent.” (p. 22) Williams writes: “I shall argue that Ivor Novello, in the words of Picture Show, is constructed to embody Nietzsche’s theocracy as a revelation of the ‘terrible’ and the ‘agonised’ communicated through ‘calm, classic features’.” (p. 57) (This two-in-one aspect of a character is taken up below.)
  25. One might possibly read it as his Golgotha cave.
  26. Bernanos, p. 31.
  27. Alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia, etc., are all features of Stefano’s brilliant script for Psycho, which gets as close to Norman’s mind-state as any psychiatrist could (not least, the psychiatrist played by Simon Oakland at the end of the film!).
  28. Bernanos, op. cit., p. 5.
  29. This is another phrase of Bernanos’s, which I had thought came from Diary of a Country Priest, but now cannot locate. In any event, a related passage in the novel concerns the curé’s disappointment at how his parishioners contrive in confession “to show me their inner life as a mere convention, a formal scheme without one clue to its reality.” Bernanos, op. cit., p. 75. (While I hugely admire both Bernanos’s novel and Bresson’s film, a “counter-text” depicting French rural life with affection, and minimal criticism, is Georges Rouquier’s 1946 film Farrebique.)
  30. Richard Allen, Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. 5. Allen is paraphrasing Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), whom he credits with the concept of “romantic irony” (though not the term itself), indicating that it embraces much more than just “a local rhetorical ploy”. For Schlegel, it could be at once something “divine” and a “transcendental buffoonery” like the performance of “the buffoon in the Italian comic opera who is constantly laughing at his own histrionic performance and the world of the play” (pp. 6-7). Apropos Hitchcock, one can ask: does the story of a “perfectly ordinary” couple like Marion and Sam intrinsically justify the bombast of style and music that Psycho gives it? Answer: always, for Hitchcock, a suspenseful disparity evidently trumps naturalism!
  31. Compare Thomas Elsaesser, “The Dandy in Hitchcock”, in Richard Allen and S. Ishii-Gonzalès, Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays. (London: British Film Institute, 1999), pp. 3-13
  32. Bernanos, op. cit., p. 6. Many of Hitchcock’s characters (e.g., Adare in Under Capricorn, 1949; Jeff in Rear Window, 1954) complain of being bored. Pointing the way, many classic English adventure novels, like Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands (1903) and John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), start with a man bored in London.
  33. Ibid., p. 5
  34. Ibid.
  35. The “white” motif in both Spellbound and Psycho is pronounced, and has both banal and poetic connotations, even if the ultimate referent is the screen itself, or “pure film”.
  36. The passage in Bernanos simply reads: “A terrible night. No sooner had I shut my eyes than desolation came upon me.” Ibid., p. 76.
  37. Ibid., p. 251.
  38. Recall the “lost souls” (the gang of wreckers) in Jamaica Inn.
  39. Ibid., p. 140.
  40. Pipolo, op. cit., p. 78. I’m told that Nietzsche thought it made sense for a priest to be celibate because it facilitated the aura of otherness required of a confessor.
  41. Bernanos, op. cit., p. 202.
  42. St Thérèse of Lisieux, Histoire d’une âme/Story of a Soul (1898). Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica 2001 (CD-ROM). Interestingly, Michael Williams detects that on at least one occasion Ivor Novello’s complex stage and screen persona made reference “to St Thérèse of Lisieux, who was canonised in {1925} and {who}, Marina Warner argues, was a popular icon for troops in the trenches”: Ivor Novello: Screen Idol, p. 121. Compare Novello’s Christ-like appearance at a critical moment in The Lodger.
  43. In Bernanos’s first novel, Sous le soleil de Satan (1926), Father Donissan is expressly called “le nouveau curé d’Ars” – whereas the connection in Diary of a Country Priest is only implicit, although strongly so.
  44. A.R.G. Owen, “Curé of Ars”, in Richard Cavendish (ed.), Man, Myth & Magic (London: Purnell, 1970), p. 578.
  45. In the novel, I mean. See Bernanos, op. cit., p. 36.
  46. The exact dynamics of Norman’s conversation with Marion – for whom he prepares biscuits and milk – are not evident, apart from the fact that, as the film’s psychiatrist says, he was “touched by her, aroused by her.” This could mean that it was the “motherly” aspect of Marion that excited Norman, invoking a taboo on incest that operates out of sight in other Hitchcock films (e.g., The Lodger, Shadow of a Doubt). Or it could more simply mean that the “Mother” side of Norman became jealous of Marion as a potential rival. (Shades of Madame Sebastian’s jealousy of her son’s bride in Notorious, 1946.) Either way, Norman must carry on the conversation as if nothing were untoward.
  47. Pipolo, op. cit., p. 92
  48. Ibid.
  49. Bernanos, op. cit., p. 144. The film has a similar remark.
  50. This remark by the curé is from the film.
  51. Alfred Hitchcock, “Alfred Hitchcock on His Films”, interview with Huw Wheldon, The Listener, 6 August, 1964. Repr. in Sidney Gottlieb (ed.), Alfred Hitchcock Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003), p. 70.
  52. Bernanos, op. cit. p. 149.
  53. Ibid., p. 251.
  54. T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”, Four Quartets. London: Faber, 1959, p. 59 (ll. 253-54).
  55. George Williamson, A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot. New York: Noonday, 1957, p. 233.
  56. See correspondence in response to a nun’s post online of the Eliot passage:
  57. Compare Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker, Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting. New York: Harper Colophon, 1969, p. 23.
  58. Georg Groddeck, The Unknown Self, 2nd edition (London: C.W. Daniel, 1937), pp. 189-90. I thank Bill Krohn for pointing me to Groddeck.
  59. Ibid., p. 190.
  60. And I recall again (see Part One) the implication of the mis-quoted passage from Emerson in Marnie: “So nigh is grandeur to our dust…”
  61. Quoted in Peter B. Lewis, Arthur Schopenhauer (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), p. 139. Lewis notes: “This passage (…) brings out the fact that compassion bridges rather than abolishes the separateness of people from one another.” (p. 140). In view of my several invocations of Schopenhauer in the present essay, I simply remind readers that I consider him the philosopher who best illuminates Hitchcock’s films. For further reading, see, inter alia, my review of four books on Hitchcock (in two parts) in Senses of Cinema 76 (September 2015), not least n. 2 in the first part), I would add that Raymond Durgnat’s description – interesting though it is – of Hitchcock’s “‘vitalism’ of fearfulness” that is “a ‘transcendent’ human drive” (see n. 1 in Part One of the present essay) does not take the full measure of how I think Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” works at a fundamental level. Much closer is Michael Williams’s understanding of Ivor Novello’s stage and screen persona as incorporating both sides of the tragic spectrum described by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (a work heavily indebted to Schopenhauer). See n. 24 above.
  62. A “mother” reference is as mandatory in most Hitchcock films as the director’s cameo, and for similar rhetorical reasons: to draw the viewer in.
  63. Robert Wicks, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation: A Reader’s Guide. London: Continuum, 2011, p. 7
  64. Ken Mogg, The Alfred Hitchcock Story, revised edition (London: Titan Books, 2008), pp. 162-65. The Birds is a literal enactment of Schopenhauer’s thought, the avians collectively signifying Will.
  65. The late Richard Franklin (Psycho II, 1983) regularly referred to “Mother” using this vivid term.
  66. Again I thank Bill Krohn, who drew my attention to Walton’s application of “acousmatic” sound to horror films.
  67. The reference in Part One, n.5, to the apparent “transsexual” performer in Homicidal was misleading. In fact, the role of Emily/Warren was played by actress Joan Marshall, under the artful name “Jean Arless”. For the “Warren” (male) side of the character, Marshall’s voice was dubbed. My thanks to RM in Los Angeles for this information.
  68. For example, the transvestite played by Esmé Percy in Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930).
  69. Compare Lewis: “Schopenhauer’s explanation of how experience of an object becomes aesthetic when it is purged of, or rises above, all traces of our familiar everyday ways of attending to, or taking an interest in, things (…) in other words, when our experience is free from willing (…) takes seriously what people say when they talk of being lost in contemplation (…) or totally absorbed in a book, painting or film.” Arthur Schopenhauer, op. cit., p. 112.

About The Author

Ken Mogg, [email protected], is author of The Alfred Hitchcock Story (1999; 2008) and has published widely on Hitchcock matters. He is currently preparing a study of children/childhood in Hitchcock’s features and television shows, with emphasis on the motif of “growing up” (or not).