Hitchcock, the split screen and the immanent beyond.

Still from Psycho (1960) featuring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.

Lets consider the famous quote from Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in the film Psycho (1960) ‘we’re all in our private traps clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out, we scratch and claw but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it we can never budge an inch’. What this statement communicates is a feeling of being immobile, passive, suspended, possibly at the mercy of some unknowable higher being. Like insects within a jam jar belonging to a child with a macabre interest in our fate.

Through his disruption of the continuity that regulates narrative cinema, and through his innovations within the techniques of filmmaking; Hitchcock reminds us that he is in control of this world we have entered and that the only rules and laws are his rules and laws, we are reminded that he is the Master, and we the suspended slaves, caught within his intricately crafted bonds, passive to the mercy of his arbitrary desires.

He represents then a force beyond the knowable world. A menace, a disturbance.      

 It is Hitchcock’s intention to unsettle and captivate both his audience and character’s through a suggestion of some disturbance from the beyond, this beyond is realized as the unconscious in the film Psycho, Nature in the film the Birds, and perhaps death in the film Vertigo. Yet it is also Hitchcock himself  who represents this beyond to film goers, since he represents himself as some Macabre Master and creator, pulling the strings behind the scenes.    

The beyond, in Hitchcock’s universe could perhaps be compared to a Platonist view of the beyond, whereby the beyond is something finite, beyond or above our means of perception, yet it is that which governs and locates our means of understanding and perception.

Continuing to loosely follow the narrative of Psycho then lets come to one of the most famous of all scenes in Hitchcock and in Cinema.

The shower scene in Psycho is so well known that it hardly seems worth going into a great discussion of it, to briefly summarize it’s significance as part of my research; I will say that it explores the body, the body as a concept or maybe even a hypothesis, perhaps drawing a parallel between the Filmic construct as a body, a body of segments that are both connected and yet dissected and disjointed by the overall perceptive experience, highlighted in this case through the cut. In the shower scene the body and the machine of cinema become entangled, and become restricted and malfunction as they get caught up in each other.     

Lets consider this shower montage in relation to the preceding montage that we examined earlier ( the driving sequence which brought Marion to the Bates Motel), we can in these terms draw a parallel between these two montages, both representing a drive of sorts if we identify Norman’s or perhaps our own sex drive as fueling the shower scene, Lets then summarize these two montage sequences collectively as being a deregulation or deconstruction of order, just as the driving montage serves to establish a mechanical progression, a vehicle through time/space and the subsequent collapse or malfunction of that vehicle as it is overpowered by the totality of nature, so too does the shower montage establish a body of segments that attempt to resist a unified location, a body of segments that become disrupted, misplaced through the mechanized cutting, a body suspended, dismembered and no where. A body fueled by desire and engaged in a futile struggle against nature, against totality, against suspension and against death.

Just as nature and the weather succeed in deregulating the driving montage and overpowering our assertion over reality by forcing us into an impotent suspended state, it is Marion’s death that interrupts the stabbing montage, and again forces us into an impotent suspended state.  There is one shot which is born from this montage about stabbing, cutting and splicing the body that explicitly illustrates this position.


The montage concludes with this final shot of Marion as she is dying of the stab wounds inflicted on her body, I see this shot as an address to the viewer, an effort to challenge the frame, and the restricted, limited, empirical order that is supposed and as I will later explain denied through the process of framing, this reaching into the beyond is then a means of addressing that beyond, beyond the body, beyond the immediate, beyond the frame. Is Marion trying to pull us into the nightmare world that she occupies or is she trying to pull herself out of it? Again I will refer to Norman’s famous quote since it is as if Marion is trying to pull herself out of her own private trap, which after the stabbing montage has been indentified as the frame. Perhaps our position as suspended, disengaged, impotent, witnesses, is our own trap from which Marion is trying to pull us. 

In any case the result is an exposition of a third place that I have already discussed in my study of the driving montage, a third place that exists somewhere between us as viewers and the frame it’s self.

Lets then use a seemingly paradoxical expression to define this third place, that being the immanent beyond, I see it as being a desire to explore this sense of an immanent beyond that motivates many contemporary directors to appropriate a ‘split screen’ device within their films, what emerges when; two screens are situated parallel to each other within a larger screen, is that a void appears in the gap between the two screens, a non-place is created, a place that is real yet is no-where, a place that both belongs to the screen itself and yet is beyond it also.

This split in the screen represents a world of unknowable detail beyond our spectrum of understanding.     

A point I will return to later.


One thought on “Hitchcock, the split screen and the immanent beyond.

  1. Pingback: Unit 1 Assesment. | Andrewburgess Weblog

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