‘Psycho’ and Spoiler Culture

There are many reasons why I don’t often call myself a horror fan. The first of all is that it just doesn’t come up a lot in casual, non-media related conversation. Here’s a rule I try to live by : if I wouldn’t want a man I’ve never met to come up to me on the street and tell me a certain thing, then I just don’t say it unprompted. So far, it’s been working pretty well.

However, I do have a tendency to hesitate in calling myself a horror fan even in contexts where that’s perfectly fine. There’s an easy reason for that: I just really don’t know much about it. I’ve half seen the main releases of the past decade, but any further than that and my horror culture is just disastrous. Just by curiosity, I took a look at the 150 best horror movies of all time according to Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve seen 45, and won’t mention which are the ones I haven’t seen so no one gets a heart attack because of me. I’m hoping to get to them at some point, but at the moment, I’m nowhere near a horror expert. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the genres I enjoy the most — just that I recognize that most people know more about it than I do.

You probably guessed where I was going with this: that’s right, I’d never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho until now. I don’t believe in shaming people for their culture, and don’t feel ashamed in the slightest that this was a first watch for me. It just means I had other priorities until now, and that’s perfectly fine. The reason for this introduction is no attempt at self pity over any perceived lack of culture. It simply means I come from a different perspective than most people already familiar with the film.

Psycho is such a classic that it is pretty much impossible to not know what happens in it. It has been remade countless times, been referenced probably just as much, and is a frequent topic of discussion among critics, academics and fans. As a film student, I’ve also inevitably read about it from many different point of view. When the film came out in 1960, Hitchcock had a strick no late entry policy in the cinema where the film was being shown, and insisted that the viewers didn’t talk about what happened in the film to people who hadn’t seen it yet. This establishes Hitchcock as the ancestor of our current “no spoiler” culture — but others have been able to discuss this better than I ever will. What I however find interesting is that the circumstances I have seen Psycho in were the complete opposite of what Hitchcock had intended.

And guess what ? It still worked. It worked so damn well.

I’ll be the first to admit that I generally don’t care much for spoilers. It might be because what I’m interested in usually isn’t subject to it to the extent more popular things are (people discuss the last episode of Game of Thrones online way more often than Xavier Dolan’s latest film), but even when I do end up being spoiled, I rarely go past the point of slight annoyance. As said previously, for older films like Psycho, it would be unrealistic to expect people to not discuss it. It’s been almost sixty years, after all.

Because of that, my experience of the film was quite peculiar. Even before pressing play, I knew who Norma was. I knew Marion wouldn’t keep me company for a long time. I’d seen countless analysis of the shower scene, psychoanalytic takes and read and heard God knows how many people praising the film. As a result, it was almost as if I already knew the film. Yet it didn’t spoil my experience in the slightest — in fact, it was quite the contrary.

Have you ever rewatched a film and noticed so many new little things that you couldn’t concentrate on when you watched it for the first time, only making you love it more ? In a strange way, this is how I felt watching Psycho. Because I already knew the plot, the characters, the twists, the symbolisms, I had the opportunity to see so much in the rest. I admired the cinematography from beginning to end. I was endlessly enchanted by the perfect rhythm at which the events unfold. I was blown away by the incredible complexity of Anthony Perkins’ performance, his little tics, the way his mouth tilted up, the way his eyes moved, the way his voice shook. From beginning to end, I knew everything that would happen — and from beginning to end, I was hooked.

Spoilers are inevitable, especially now that we are all connected to each other and the media pretty much 24/7. The more popular a film is, the harder it is to go into it knowing nothing at all. This is a thing that many people have trouble getting used to. Seeing someone getting irrationally angry over the revelation of a fictional character’s death is not a rare sight. But since it is inevitable, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with embracing it. I’m not denying that being spoiled is frustrating — I’m just saying that since we can’t escape it all the time, we might as well take advantage of it.

And for me, taking advantage of it is exactly what happened with Psycho. When there’s no more suspense about the plot, when you’re not forced to look always where the movie wants you to look, you’re allowed to search for what’s hidden underneath its surface. You may find things you would have only picked up on during a second or third viewing. Spoilers aren’t going anywhere, but how we decide to react to them is entirely in our hands. I’ve chosen to enjoy Psycho in a way the creator never intended to, and I’m fine with that. The world is changing. Cinema is too. There’s nothing wrong with making the most of it.

probably napping

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