Great Characters: Norman Bates ("Psycho")

March 4th, 2011 by
I don’t know about you, but for years after first seeing Psycho, I rarely took a shower where I didn’t catch myself glancing through the shower curtain and wondering… is that shape the door… or something else?

The character Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins in the 1960 Hitchcock thriller Psycho (screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on a novel by Robert Bloch), is one of the most memorable movie characters of all time. Some background on the character per Wikipedia:

The character Norman Bates in Psycho was loosely based on two people. First was the real-life murderer of the serial killer Ed Gein, about whom Bloch later wrote (1962) a fictionalised account, “The Shambles of Ed Gein”. (The story can be found in Crimes and Punishments: The Lost Bloch, Volume 3). Second, it has been indicated by several people including Noel Carter (wife of Lin Carter) and Chris Steinbrunner, as well as allegedly by Bloch himself, that Norman Bates was partly based on Calvin Beck, publisher of Castle of Frankenstein.

The characterization of Bates in the novel and the movie differ in some key areas. In the novel, Bates is in his mid-to-late 40s, short, overweight, homely, and more overtly unstable. In the movie, he is in his early-to-mid-20s, tall, slender, and handsome. Reportedly, when working on the film, Hitchcock decided that he wanted audiences to be able to sympathize with Bates and genuinely like the character, so he made him more of a “boy next door.” In the novel, Norman becomes Mother after getting drunk and passing out; in the movie, he remains sober before switching personalities.

In the novel, Bates is well-read in occult and esoteric authors such as P.D. Ouspensky and Aleister Crowley. He is aware that “Mother” disapproves of these authors as being against religion.

Here are some quotes from the movie:

Norman Bates: You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.
Marion Crane: Sometimes, we deliberately step into those traps.
Norman Bates: I was born into mine. I don’t mind it anymore.
Marion Crane: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
Norman Bates: Oh, I do
Norman Bates: but I say I don’t.
Marion Crane: You know – if anyone ever talked to me the way I heard – the way she spoke to you…
Norman Bates: Sometimes – when she talks to me like that – I feel I’d like to go up there – and curse her – and-and-and leave her forever! Or at least defy her! But I know I can’t. She’s ill.

And this:

Marion Crane: Wouldn’t it be better if you put her… someplace.
Norman Bates: You mean an institution? A madhouse?
Marion Crane: No, I didn’t mean it like…
Norman Bates: [suddenly angry] People always call a madhouse “someplace”, don’t they? “Put her in someplace!”
Marion Crane: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so uncaring.
Norman Bates: What do you know about caring? Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing, and the tears, and those cruel eyes studying you? My mother there?
[subdued tone]
Norman Bates: Oh, but she’s harmless. She’s as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.
Marion Crane: I tried to mean well.
Norman Bates: People always mean well. They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately!

And of course this:

Norman Bates: Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!

I know Bates is a villain. But I’ve always thought it’s more interesting to look at his character as the story’s Protagonist. Talk about a state of Disunity!

Any Psycho fans out there?

Comment Archive

4 thoughts on “Great Characters: Norman Bates ("Psycho")

  1. Nick says:

    played by Anthony PERKINS

  2. Scott says:

    Nick: Hey, but in a parallel universe, maybe, just maybe Hopkins played the role, huh? Hopkins born in '37, Perkins in '32?

    Thanks for the heads-up re my brain fart!

  3. Nick says:

    Hopkins as Norman Bates would have been superlative

  4. Judith says:

    I think the "Norman is the protagonist" has real merit. After all, Janet Leigh's character exits – what? – halfway through the film, maybe even earlier? Her sister & the detective can't be the protagonist. I vote for Norman.

    I also vote for Anthony Perkins over Anthony Hopkins, although I assume a fair amount of that is what I'm used to.

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