Psycho (1960) Ending Explained – Was Norman Bates himself a victim?

Psycho

“These are crimes of passion – not profit.” Are the words uttered by the psychiatrist during the last scene of the film. This statement is the overall extract of the entire story. We’ll get back to it in a bit.

Psycho Plot Synopsis

A Phoenix real estate secretary, Marlon (Janet Leigh), embezzles $40,000 from one of her company’s clients and takes flight. On her way, she spots a remote motel and decides to check in for the night. Since it’s raining, the motel manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), requests Marlon to dine with him – much to his mother’s chagrin.

The deep conversations Marion has with Norman over dinner get her thinking about stepping into private traps – and she later decides to drive back to Phoenix in the morning and return the money. However, she doesn’t get to see the sun the next day as she becomes the victim of an inexplicably bizarre incident.


Marion's shower scene - PsychoWhat happens with Marion?

While Marion takes a shower, a shadowy figure – apparently a middle-aged woman violently stabs her to death with a big knife. Norman rushes to the murder scene to see what happened. Without wasting a single moment, Norman removes the body and rids the washroom area of any evidence.

He puts Marion’s dead body and her belongings – along with hidden cash in her car, and drives it to a nearby swamp. As he waits for the car to sink, he has a confident smirk on his face suggesting dumping bodies might be a part of his routine.


Bates' House - Psycho

Who comes looking for Marion?

Marion’s real estate company appoints a private investigator, Arbogast, to figure out her whereabouts and obtain the money. It’s not long before Arbogast reaches Bates Motel, and questions Norman Bates about Marion. After Arbogast checks out the register, he is sure Marion stayed at Bates Motel. But, when he insists on meeting his mother, Norman asks him to leave. At a nearby phone booth, Arbogast informs Marion’s sister, Lila, and boyfriend, Sam, about the motel and his suspicions.

Determined to find the truth behind Marion’s disappearance, Arbogast returns to the motel and enters Norman Bates’ house. However, before he can check out even a single room, he is stabbed to death by the same woman who killed Marion.


Psycho

Who discovers the truth about Bates?

Having already known something’s not right at the Bates Motel, Sam and Lila take matters into their hands. They go to the local Sheriff who informs them that Norman’s mother has been dead for the past 10 years. Fearfully perplexed, they decide to go to the Bates’ Motel to uncover the truth.

Pretending to be business travellers looking for a room, they try to find signs of Marion and Arbogast in the motel and Bates’ mysterious house.

Lila sneaks into Bates’ house as Sam distracts him at the motel’s reception desk. When Sam gets aggressive in questioning, Norman hits Sam unconscious and runs to find Lila. In the fruit cellar, Lila discovers what appears to be a woman sitting on a rocking chair facing the wall. Thinking it’s Bates’ mother, she taps her shoulder – only to be confronted by a mummified body of a female (Bates’ mother). As she screams in fear, Norman Bates pops us dressed like a woman – wearing an old lady wig and brandishing the same knife that killed Marion and Arbogast. As he moves to stab Lila, Sam comes running from behind and grabs hold of him. The next scene takes us to the psychiatrist in the County Court House.


Norman Bates' Mother - Psycho

What’s a Psychiatrist’s Explanation?

After interviewing Norman, the psychiatrist explains Norman Bates’ condition and crimes to the officials. According to him, since Bates murdered his mother, he has tried to keep her alive in his mind to suppress the guilt of matricide. He dug her corpse out of the grave, put her into the house, and began to take care of her as if she were still alive. When that wasn’t enough, he began dressing like her, speaking in her voice, and copying her behavioural patterns.

His efforts to keep his mother alive were so intense that he himself became his mother. In other words, he housed two personalities in his head – himself and his mother. At any given time, he could be in one of three states: Norman only, mother only, or both at the same time.

When he felt attracted to Marion, the mother half of his brain got activated, and she killed her. After she did her job, the Norman half of his mind was awakened. And, he did his best as a son to cover the crimes of his mother.


Norman Bates - Psycho

What does the ending mean?

Norman Bates had killed two more women in the past – in a very similar manner.

It might sound tricky, but matricide was Norman’s first and last crime in all probability. Because, during all the other murders he committed – his body was only used as a tool by his alternative personality (his mother). Norman’s mother was evil and dominating. To kill anybody, he had to be his mother – because he simply wasn’t capable of such crimes. If you pay close attention, you would know he didn’t need to dress like his mother to kill Arbogast. Similarly, he goes after Lila as Norman, but in order to stab her, he has to get into the mindset of his mother.

Another instance that proves Norman wasn’t a violent man anymore is when he hits Sam. He could have easily killed him as he lay unconscious on the floor, but he chose not to.

In the last scene, Norman is seen reprimanding himself in his head as his mother. Based on the events we can make out, Norman was a victim of a dangerous medical condition. Had it gone further, the mother would’ve killed him too.

Side Information: Most of us don’t know that the character, Norman Bates, is inspired by a real-life American murderer and body snatcher, Ed Gein. And, the story Psycho is an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name.


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