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Essay on Gothic Villain

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The literary term Gothic incorporates a number of sub-genres under it. Gothic Film forms one of the significant genres. Heidi Kaye in Gothic Film writes “ Gothic, as a genre born in darkness, has a natural affinity with the cinema’1. A film as a visual medium serves as a great spectacle for the audience to depict an atmosphere of suspense and mystery and tantalize the audience. However, Gothic films also include various sub-genres. Terror fiction largely speaks of thrillers as one of the major components of it. The intensity of terror fiction varies in different aspects such as crime, intimidation, villainy, suspense, and mystery. Psychological thrillers do contain within it certain Gothic modes. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho is considered one of the major psychothrillers in American cinema. Films Hitchcock depicts the terror of everyday life and the visual representation includes Gothic imagery. Psycho is a film based on a novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.

The film immediately poses a sense of mystery and suspense to its audience. The setting of the film is intensely Gothic in nature. Hitchcock’s brilliant use of cinematic techniques and use of music heightens the Gothic atmosphere of the film furthermore. However, the central protagonist of the film Norman Bates proves to be the most fascinating character of all. The whole plot of the movie revolves around him. Norman Bates has an air of mystery attached to him from the beginning of the movie and his strange disposition and behavior disrupt normalcy. The concept of a Gothic Hero- Villain can be explored through this character. The concept of Villain- Hero is associated with “ a satanic figure who personified dark unconscious drives toward cruelty and revenge”2. Norman comes across as just an everyday man being an owner of a motel called Bates Motel. The Gothic undertones of the film become clearly striking with the isolated position of the motel itself. The character of Norman Bates finds its fullest representation through the character of Marion Crane who becomes central to the film’s plot structure. Norman’s mother’s disapproval of bringing a woman to the motel is heard from the background in the film. The mysterious atmosphere of the film is enhanced by such techniques. Also, Marion is startled by the peculiarity of Norman’s office parlor where she is nonplussed by the birds Norman has stuffed in pursuit of his hobby, taxidermy. The Gothic setting of the film enhances the unfamiliar personality of the protagonist of the film. One of the primary characteristics of a Villain- Hero is his aloofness and his secretive disposition. The secluded location of the motel and the immediate surroundings of the motel makes Norman a character who is different from others. Marion’s initial conversation with Norman instills an aura of suspicion in her. Her suspicion becomes more evident when she inquires Norman about his social life and he replies “ a boy’s best friend is his mother”. The darkness of his character is accentuated by such a response and Marion also encounters a sense of uncanniness in him. Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay Das Unheimliche explained the concept of uncanny as “ strangeness in the ordinary”.3 The movie takes unexpected turns from this point and the protagonist is shown in a completely different light. Norman discloses to Marion the cause of his mother’s illness and how she is entrapped in her own web. However, he never wishes to abandon her and his strange obsession with his mother provides a glimpse into his complex psyche. Marion’s world is the contemporary American everyday life whereas Norman’s world is its nocturnal reverse. The concept of Possession can be explored here as Norman’s psychological makeup is completely engulfed by his mother. In the Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature the concept of possession is defined as “Possession by evil spirits results in mental and emotional stress, bizarre personality traits, ecstatic trances and aberrant behavior”4. Norman’s conduct toward Marion is extremely surreptitious and arouses the Gothic tension of the film. One characteristic feature of a Gothic Villain is his secret about birth or upbringing. Although Marion shares a brief conversation with Norman, she starts to ponder the very unusual relationship of Norman with his mother. Norman becomes a victim of” Domestic Gothic” where everyday matters of life are magnified to unimaginable proportions.5 The simple, basic shelter for people somewhat becomes a sight of terror and the presence of a character like Norman with his unusual traits creates an atmosphere of intense terror. Norman thus resembles a great extent the Gothic Villain as Marion, as well as the audience, are not completely aware of his background and his very reserved nature arises various questions. He is one central character of the film who is not entirely revealed till the very end of the film narrative and he remains enclosed in his own internal world which is an unfamiliar one.

The villainous nature of the hero of the film is exposed in one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema. The whole design of the office parlor of Norman exhibits the typical Gothic setting and the secret peephole of the wall symbolizes Norman’s complex psyche and his secretive nature as he provides only a brief description of himself which arouses enough curiosity. Norman’s act of looking through the peephole of the undressing Marion can be termed voyeurism or Scopophilia. Scopophilia is the act of looking at someone to derive sexual pleasure. Norman as the hero of the film violates the moral side of his character as he engages himself in an immoral act and through this, his villainous self emerges. The Shower Scene of Psycho is Hitchcock’s greatest cinematic achievement and this scene proves to be the turning point of the film. Marion is killed mercilessly during her shower by Norman’s mother, a shadowy figure who stealthily steps into the bathroom of the dead’s hotel room. Norman becoming aware of his mother’s act immediately disposes of the corpse of Marion. He was so possessed by his mother that he chose to ignore the criminal act committed by his mother instead he wanted to protect his mother from any kind of external evil. Norman’s individuality is repressed by his domineering mother. The abode of Norman’s mother, the three-storied isolated building, the Gothic castle becomes a place of family secrets and transgressive desires. The presence of Norman and the absent figure of his mother intensifies the mysterious nature of his character that makes him appealing to the audience. Marion also initially gets attracted to the charming personality of the proprietor of the motel in spite of his dark, secretive side. In The Byronic Hero Types and Prototypes, the Gothic Villain is described as “In appearance, the Gothic Villain is always striking and frequently handsome. Of about middle age or somewhat younger, he has a tall, manly, stalwart physique with dark hair and brows frequently set off by a pale and ascetic complexion”.6 Hitchcock’s selection of the hero was appropriate as Anthony Perkins the actor who played the role of Norman Bates resemble the physical attributes of a Gothic Villain.

The suspense and mystery of the character of Norman as well as the film continue as an investigation procedure is conducted by Marion’s sister Lila in search of her suddenly disappeared sister. She appoints a private investigator named Arbogast for this purpose. Arbogast’s initial encounter also throws a mysterious light upon the character of Norman. He again behaves in an unusual manner and completely remains tight-lipped about Marion’s stay in his motel. He refuses to share any kind of information about Marion with the investigator. Once again the mysterious, dark, gloomy side of Norman’s characteristic trait comes to the forefront. However, soon his lie is detected by Arbogast and Norman admits that Marion was present in his motel. Things again take an unexpected turn when Arbogast wishes to interrogate Norman’s mother, the very coveted possession of Norman. The mother-son relationship has a strangeness attached to it and it speaks of the incestuous love of a son for his mother. Incest love is one of the major characteristics of a Gothic Villain- Hero. Arbogast’s death arouses and enhances the mysterious atmosphere as on his way to meet the mystical figure of the mother, he is stabbed to death by a woman. This woman is nonetheless the mother of Norman Bates. His corpse is also secretly discarded. The character of Norman becomes more and more suspicious as he is participating in these immoral criminal acts by keeping them a secret. The secretive aspect of Norman’s character is once again highlighted through his mysterious deeds. Arbogast’s sudden disappearance baffles Lila and she steps forward to find her sister. At this point in the film, the truth about Norman’s mother is revealed. Lila in her desperate search for her sister grows impatient and engages in an inquiry with the local Deputy Sheriff All Chambers. The Sheriff describes Norman as a fellow who lives like a hermit. Once again, the association of Norman with a hermit establishes his strong connection with Gothic Villain – Hero who is known for his isolation and aloofness from society. The deputy then reveals that Norman’s mother died ten years ago and is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery. Mrs. Bates murdered her own lover upon finding the ugly truth about him and after that, she herself committed suicide. This hidden information heightens the Gothic undertone of the film. Also, the fact that Norman kept a secret about the truth about his mother again focuses on his villainous nature. Lila also encounters a highly mysterious Norman and the latter’s seemingly unusual behavior creates terror in her as well. All the while in the film Norman’s mother is presented only through her screams and in Norman’s conversation with other characters. Her physical absence raises curiosity of Lila and she steps into that Gothic castle to enquire about her deceased sister. Lila has a thrilling experience inside the castle and the description of Mrs. Bate's immaculate bedroom and a bed that bears the imprint of her body creates a sensation around the surroundings of the house.

Norman’s eccentric behavior is highlighted once again when he decides to alter the location of her mother from the second floor of the house. Even with the old lady’s vehement protest, he carries his mother to the dark place of the basement fruit cellar. The audience gets completely disoriented and equally imbalanced because just after the Sheriff’s comment about the death of Mrs. Bates, Norman engages in a heated argument and carries the frail figure of the old lady to the fruit cellar. Lila’s decision to step into the darkness of the seller symbolically represents going deeper into the hidden psyche of Norman’s mindscape. She finally meets the silent, lifeless figure of Mrs. Bates. The climactic scene of the film reaches its zenith when Lila as well as the audience finally gets an opportunity the very mysterious figure of Mrs. Bates. But with Hitchcock’s famous twists on his films, an extremely unusual thing occurs. Hitchcock’s techniques voyeuristically implicate the audience with the universal, dark evil forces and secrets present in the film. Lila discovers Norman’s perverted and terrible secret and she penetrated into his deadly world where she has found his mother, Mrs. Bates – a stuffed, dried up, shrunken, and withered mummy’s skeleton with empty eye sockets and a wide toothy grin. Lila is completely taken aback by this unexpected shock and as she suffers from a traumatic experience a grey-haired woman or the Mother steps forward to strike her to death. In this final dramatic scene of the film, Norman is metamorphosized and revealed as his mother when his drag disguises are stripped away and ripped off. The Norman self completely dies and his Mother self is brought to life. Gothic focuses on the innate relationship between family and home as an unfamiliar space for repressed desires and Norman’s revelation of identity and his self highlights the deep, dark, complex psyche of his character.

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Norman had an incestuous possessive and jealous love for his mother and it is Norman himself who poisoned both her and her lover. This is the secret guilt of Norman Bates that perturbs his own psyche and he violates the social norm by committing an Oedipal murder thus he can be associated with the Gothic Villain- Hero. Unable to bear the intolerable guilt of matricide and to obliterate it from his consciousness and conscience Norman developed a split personality. In “Ghost Story” Julia Briggs writes. “ The source of terror may intrude into the familiar in the form of the past and the dead or the untamed world of nature or from the human mind, as dreams do ( Banquo’s “ cursed thoughts which nature gives way to in repose”), or it may come from the rational world itself in the form of a scientific aberration; it may even come from such characteristically human ambitions and activities as war, oppression and persecution, which the twentieth century made peculiarly it's own.”7 In the case of Norman his dead mother possessed his psyche and became the Other half of his self and thus Norman becomes an enigmatic character who depicts an air of terror and suspense through his personality. Matricide, one of the most sinister acts committed by a son becomes unbearable to Norman and so as to erase his guilt he stole her corpse and formed an imaginary mother in his own mind. He used his taxidermist skills to preserve and stuff her corpse and keep her alive. Norman has a greater degree of psychological and emotional complexity that makes him not a traditional hero but rather a Villain – Hero.

In his diseased imagination, he fantasized that he was his mother and that his mother was jealous as he was of her. Whenever he was attracted to a young woman, Norman would completely become his mother and be pathologically mad. The very beginning of the film portrays the domineering presence of his mother in his life which was nothing but a part of his own self. Norman and his imagined “mother” argued over his cheap erotic dinner invitation for Marion. The film’s voyeur theme is reinforced by the idea of Norman’s mother peeking into her son’s life. Norman himself developed a strong hatred for women which was caused by his own mother’s betrayal and his misogynistic traits were executed through his mother's side. In the chapter “Gothic Villain” Peter Thorslev writes “ It should be noted, moreover, that they are misogynists all. They take great delight in persecuting women…”8 Norman here can be compared to the character of Montoni from The Mysteries of Udolpho who tormented his own wife to death. Norman’s mother's side escalated to full reality whenever he had proximity to other women and would stab the females he was attracted to and commit horribly violent crimes. It was only after the murders that he would awaken to his senses and be horrified by his mother’s criminal acts. The nefarious deeds that Norman committed were not committed by himself in reality rather it was done by his imagined mother. The Norman self was entirely unaware of the hideous sins committed repeatedly by himself actually in reality. The Other self – the Mother part of himself possessed him to such an extent that it made him commit the gruesome murders without his own realization. His Mother- self contributed to the creation of this villainous Norman who can be called a Gothic Hero- Villain. Norman lost his own sanity when he killed his own mother and could never get rid of that guilt. The intolerable guilt of the horrific act possessed his psyche and he developed a split personality in himself. He dwelt in a realm of two personas simultaneously and all his misdeeds were the outcome of his Mother self and not his own.

In this context, Norman’s character can be analyzed through the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Kurtz in the novel is essentially an ideal man who exhibited great strength and abilities and greatness of character. However, Kurtz’s civilized inner self is completely possessed by the regressive movements of corruption. Kurtz viewed the natives of the Congo far more than just as mere instruments to be used for the purpose of work. Kurtz used their humanity to advance his own self. In this process, Kurtz's corrupt persona became more and more to be his own true self, and eventually, he lost his own identity. Norman Bates too allowed his dominant Mother personality to occupy his own self to such an extent that he departed from his own self. Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter wrote – “ No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true”.9 Mr. Kurtz demonstrated an internal battle of good and evil within himself and from an essentially good man he transforms into a threat to the natives who witnessed the demonic side of his character. He thus becomes a unique combination of dread and fascination, that establishes him as the Gothic Hero- Villain. Norman wore a façade in society and presented his customers with an imagined story of him and his mother. People who visited him only came across a personality of good and moral disposition who loved and protected his mother. But unknowingly he let his mother persona commit the unacceptable criminal acts and thus he violated the social norms. Although he came across as a responsible son of an old mother to Marion, his atrocious nature was soon revealed which was nothing but an outcome of his Other self. His unusual hobby of taxidermy, and his style of living like a hermit – all these elements arouse curiosity and add to his charming yet secretive character. But from his general appearance he seemed to possess an air of mystery and suspense in him and he also thus becomes a distinct combination of dread and fascination, the very unique characteristic feature of a Gothic Villain- Hero. In Norman, too the aspects of good and evil get twisted and transformed and the audience only witnesses the disjointed part of his psyche. Norman thus demonstrates an uncanny presence as he is neither himself completely nor his mother entirely. Norman would act out the “mother” side of his split personality donning her clothes to keep his illusion of her being alive. Following the disclosure of Norman’s crime, his weakened self-identity had been so completely absorbed and possessed by the “mother” side of his split personality that his male Norman side no longer existed. The moment these two personalities intermingled, he became his dominant mother’s final victim, just as Kurtz also became a victim of his anarchic powers. Since the ‘other’ overpowers Norman he emerges as an uncanny presence as his familiarity seems unfamiliar and peculiar.

In the Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature the term Villain is defined as “ A third sub-type, the satanic hero, is the hero-villain who intrigues and ameliorates villainy by a twisted equivocation of vice “10. The question of moral ambivalence is very much prevalent in the character of Norman Bates. In his very first encounter with Marion, it was evident that he was being a polite and respectful man toward a woman. He offered her food and even after a heated argumentation with his mother, he had an elaborate dinner and conversation with Marion. He had all the qualities of a true gentleman and likewise, he conducted himself. However, the moment he started getting attracted to her, his ‘mother’ self began to interfere with his own self. In his conversation with Marion, he established to her the strong love and bonding he shared with his mother. But he was never all Norman but he was often his ‘mother’. His pathological jealousy towards his mother resulted in his assumption that his mother was also jealous of him. Therefore, if he felt strong admiration for any other woman, his ‘mother’ side completely turned hostile and violent and influenced him to commit the heinous crimes. It was not Norman, but his jealous ‘mother killed Marion. After the murder, Norman seemed to be awakened from a deep sleep, and being a dutiful son to his affectionate mother, he covered up all the traces of the crime as he was convinced that his mother had committed the act. Therefore, in the character of Norman, a constant battle between virtue and vice is present. On the one hand, he is a responsible son and on the other, he is committing all the sins being completely unaware of it. Norman was so guilty after actually killing his mother, that he could not ever get out of his guilt as he realized the graveness and the severity of his harrowing and monstrous acts.

Gothic films can be analyzed in terms of psychological interpretation. Norman has been considered one of the most iconic characters of American cinema. He was not a conventional hero, but his villainy was also not his own. All the dreadful acts were not directly done by him but rather by his imagined other- the jealous ‘mother’. In the chapter Psychoanalytical Approaches from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho_ A Casebook, the dual personality of Norman is represented through a psychological perspective- “ Norman is unable to leave the Imaginary, the world of his mother. Norman is always half, half mother, half Norman, a bisexual who has left both the Real and the Symbolic realm behind, folded in on himself, and become psychotic”. 11 Norman did everything to keep the illusion of his mother being alive. But when danger or desire threatened that illusion he adorned himself in the dress of his mother. He not only acquired a physical appearance resembling his mother, but he moved like his mother, sat by the window like her, and also spoke in her voice. In his trial of becoming his mother, he became his mother completely. His mind housed two personalities that had a continuous battle, a conflict. Eventually, in Norman’s case, the battle gets over as his dominant ‘mother self ‘wins it. This is the fascinating yet appalling personality of Norman, who violates the social codes by killing his own mother as well as other women, but in reality, it is his other half who influences him to commit these ghastly deeds. He developed multiple personality disorders and assumed the personality of his mother to repress the awareness of her death and to escape the guilt of murdering her. The other self of Norman can be again compared to the theme of a doppelganger which forms one of the major aspects of the Gothic. “ A mirroring or duality of a character’s persona, the concept of the doppelganger refers to the twin, shadow double, demon double and split personality, all common characterization in world folklore”.12 Hitchcock effectively used this technique of doppelganger to portray one of the most notables villains of all time. Through this doppelganger motif, Norman’s possessed psyche by his mother is presented to the audience which creates a sense of mystery and suspense about the persona of Norman himself. Norman’s villainy is only exercised by his mother's side who in reality is a simple man possessing immense love and protection for his mother. However, his love for his mother has been recognized as an incestuous one, and thus he perfectly falls under the category of a Villain- Hero. The duality of the human mind is best portrayed in the Gothic novel Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the author focused his attention on crime, villainy, and moral ambiguity. The two characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seemed to be conflicting inner psyche of every human being. Dr. Jekyll is the curious scientist and Mr. Hyde is his foil and double. The name of Mr. Hyde is extremely interesting as it suggests the act of hiding, who hides the monstrous deeds. Jekyll undertook his scientific experiments in an attempt to purify his good side from the evil side of his nature and vice-versa, but eventually, he separates only the bad side alone and he lost his former self. In Norman’s story too, it was his attempt to reduce the burden of matricide, and in this process, he lost himself and his own identity and became absolutely engulfed by his mother’s personality. Just as Hyde dominates the persona of Jekyll, the mother part also dominated Norman. At the end of the film, the audience witness that only the mother remains, and the persona of Norman completely ceases to exist, similar to that of Dr. Jekyll. The dominance of Norman’s mother was initially dormant in nature, however, it became an external force that dictated their whole life of Norman. The final scene of the film exposes how Norman was lost in his own web of imagination. As he sits inside the prison cell, he is offered a blanket by the policeman and his huddled-up position into the blanket resembles his isolation from society and from the world, and his caught up, complex psyche by his mother. Norman’s world not only physically consisted of his mother after his father passed away, but his psychological makeup was also constructed by his mother. Even in the very last minutes of the film, the audience witnesses that the voice of the ‘Mother’ speaks in Norman’s head and condemns her son for his crimes. His mother never admits her horrifying acts and considers herself harmless. The mother side wishes to protect the image of her son and negates to brand her son as a killer.

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