Consider this story: a woman steals some money, runs away with it, goes to a small motel, is murdered by the proprietor. Moderately interesting by itself, possibly with some potential for suspense–but this is not necessarily a gripping tale, especially when you add on an extra storyline: the woman’s sister comes after her, followed by a private detective, both of whom are murdered. Again, it’s interesting: if you saw it in the newspaper, you might "tsk" at it and then move on. And then, even if you add on the eccentric twist–the murderer dresses up as his mother–you still have a bare bones story. Of course he was a psychopath: look what he did! Alfred Hitchcock turned ‘Psycho’ into a classic by using this skeleton story to construct a madhouse of a tale, something like a cross between a house of mirrors, a surrealist novel, and a collage of tabloid headlines. One of his primary lines of attack, as shown in this brilliant video essay by Julian Palmer, was to constantly shift the perspective from which the story is told, so that viewers’ sympathies are perpetually changing, at times moving into uncomfortable territory as we find ourselves looking at the world through the eyes of Norman Bates, of all people. In a sense, the suspense becomes less about the murder, or its investigation, than about what we, as viewers, will discover about ourselves and our sympathies next.
Watch: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is a Game of Perspectives