The mise-en-scene, a French term roughly translated as “what is put into the scene” (put before the camera), refers to all those properties of a cinematic image that exist independently of camera position, camera movement, and editing (although a viewer will see these different dimensions united in one image). Mise-en-scene includes lighting, costumes, sets, the quality of acting, and other shapes and characters in the scene. The Major reason that we tend to overlook or undervalue mise-en-scene in the movies is the powerful illusion of realism that is at the heart of the film medium – (Corrigan, Timothy.45).
Mise-en-scene usually involves some planning, but the filmaker may be open to unplanned events as well. An actor may add a line on the set, or an unexpected change in lighting may enhance a dramatic effect – (Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin.156). Setting, costumes, lighting, and staging-these are the components of mise-en-scene. Yet one element seldom appears in isolation. Each usually combines with others to create a specific system in every film- (Bordwell, David.175). Mise-en-scene functions not in only isolated moments, but in relation to the narrative organization of the entire film – (Bordwell, David.184).
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), a suspense horror film is one of the famous film which explores the conventional characteristics of film which are relevant to mise-en-scene. The film is encountered between two characters, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) a secretary and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) the owner of the motel. Psycho starts with a title which is sliced up into halves from the middle, which depicts the split personality of Norman, who has been portrayed as psycho in the movie. The title is a reflection on his character. Psycho starts with showing the city of Phoenix, then the buildings and cars are shown from the top angle and then the camera pans to the window which is half closed , this also reflects the duality and shows that something suspicious is going to happen. Inside the room Marion is shown wearing a white underwear. In the next scene when she steals money from her employer and gets back home, she is then shown wearing a black underwear, which shows the difference between purity and evilness, because in white underwear she was shown pure, but after she steals the money, the black underwear signifies that she has done a crime and her sin has replaced her purity, and stealing money also shows an authority , as she got what she wanted and now she has control on things. And when she runs away from her home after stealing money, we see her wearing black dress, bag and shoes. Moreover her car was black as well portraying everything as evil. This beginning scene holds a grip on the audience which makes them stick to the screen.
Psycho’s crucial and important scene is the murder of Marion in the shower, which is known as the ‘Shower Scene’. 77 camera angles are featured in this scene, and most of the shots are close ups and extreme close ups. When Marion enters the bathroom, everything is shown completely white, which shows purity, where as Marion is not pure so it signifies that she is taking a shower to clean all of her sins Then the scene starts continuing in different shots and camera angles which shows that something is about to happen, and then there is a silhouette shot of Marion which signifies that things are going to go on a darker side from white. The use of close shots is to make the scene feel longer and more subjective. There are some mediums shots, which are shot before and after the murder, the reason they are not shot between the murder is to show violence and to make the audience feel as they are seeing a murder in reality and while the murder is happening, the audience can feel the helplessness of Marion, and that she is in danger and needs help but there is not one to help her, so audience feel like going into the scene and help her out. Hitchcock is famous for using these kind of shots to make the audience go crazy and feel the reality and here comes the suspension of disbelief which makes the scene more interesting for the audience. The murder ends with a medium shot where blood is pouring into the drain of the tub which shows the end of Marion’s life.
One of the other important scene is the parlor scene, when Marion is eating her sandwich the camera is placed on her eye level so the audience could feel that they are sitting with Marion and having a conversation with her, and for Norman the camera is low angled which shows that his life is out of balance, and something wrong is going on, because nobody is comfortable on viewing the world from such a position. Then the props and costume has played an important role in this scene, especially the eagle and other stuffed birds on the wall. This portrays the motel as a mad house, builds up frightening moment of the scene and signifies that something wrong is going to happen. Marion’s clothes are light in color, and her posture is very relaxed where as Norman is wearing dark clothes which portrays him as dominant, wicked evil man and it also shows that Marion will be soon victimized by the hands of Norman. The use of mise-en-scene in this scene is very effective as it previews what is going happen next in the narrative.
There are many things which are used as motif in Psycho with in the mise-en-scene. For example, the use of bathroom in the beginning, then the bathroom is shown twice and then the most important murder scene which also occurs in the bathroom. The use of close up shots of the eyes to show the emotions and the nature of the character that the audience could feel. These eye shots are the key shots of the film and nicely used as motif, and the eye with close up is a perfect way to show the goal for violence act. For example after the murder, when we see the blood draining into the drain of the tub, the drain transforms into the eye of the victim, who is lying dead on the bathroom floor. The shots of mirrors are also repeated couple of times to show the mirror image and the dual personality of the character. Birds have been used as a motif, be it stuffed birds in the parlor or the frames in the motel room, this signifies that Marion who came in the motel, she was not less than a stuffed bird on wall or a frame, who could not fly back ever again, as she was murdered by the psycho man. Even when Norman was taking her dead body out of the room, the frame falls down, which shows the end of her life. The car was also used a motif, it was Morain’s death that was calling her into the motel and it was the car that took her into it. Then the use of low angle and high angle shots through out the course of the film as a motif to make audience feel comfortable and uncomfortable in different situations throughout the movie.
Further looking towards the lighting in Psycho, Hitchcock’s artistry in lighting and mise-en-scene created a world that is submerged with duality. For example, the parlor scene, where there is a small place, and it is occupied with a lot of stuff, just to show an uncomfortable situation between Marion and Norman, and there is only one source of light which is coming from the lamp, which is the key light in that whole frame. The way these characters are lit by only one source of light and the way they are positioned is done so well that their emotions are valid, and the audience can tell what’s going on in the character’s mind. For example, when Marion is sitting on a chair, on that time her face is very well lit, which doesn’t hide her in shadows as she has stolen 40,000 dollars, but the high key lighting on her face shows that she is not on a darker and evil side, it creates softness and shows that she’s having an intension of returning the stolen money. Where as Norman is not well lit in this scene, the back and fill lightening is very minimum because of which he is in shadows, which shows his dual personality and that he is hiding something.
In the last scene, when Norman is shown in the jail, we see that he is clad in a black blanket portraying him as a villain and wicked facial expressions on his face shows the evilness of his character and that he is not guilty of what he did, infact he was a truly psycho man. The movie ends with the last scene where we see the car carrying Morain’s dead body emerging out of the water, which has been used as motif throughout the film.
Overall, Hitchcock has done an amazing job with Psycho’s mise-en-scene with the mixture of camera angles, lightening and editing, and the use of these elements from the beginning till end, and the contribution of these all have added sense to the concept, as the use is justifiable and gain audiences interest