Death and gender portrayal in Psycho and Gladiator

Films are a masterful blend of artistic perfection and superb casual viewing. Like a painting is made up of colours, shapes and many brush strokes, a film is made up of camera angles, camera shots, and sound. Both existing within a context and a culture. Psycho and Gladiator are based in two different time periods with different perceptions of death and gender. Psycho, which was released in 1960 and set in, what was then modern time, a horror movie taken from the novel by Robert Bloch was influenced by life in 1960, viewers wanted to see something realistic and similar to how the viewers lived to have a better effect on scaring them.

Gladiator, released in 2000, a roman epic set in 180ad was influenced by life in 180ad, as well as what viewers wanted to see in 2000, they wanted to be taken into another world, or see what life was like before them whilst being entertained by a gripping story line. Plus to set a film in the past, it needs to be accurate so it's believable.

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Ridley Scott had the upper hand in creating realism in his film, he had had better technology and although he had restrictions he had more freedom from censorship than Hitchcock.

Hitchcock faced many restrictions due to Marian's lack of clothing and the fact he didn't have the equipment Scott used, yet produced an iconic film that has influenced many other films since. The two films were aimed at completely different audiences. Psycho was aimed a wide audience as it was the first film of its kind.

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An audience that wasn't expectant of what was going to happen. Whereas Gladiator was aiming for a more modern audience with higher expectation of film.

The audience was expecting a lot more than what a 1960's audience would expect, leaving Scott under a lot more pressure than Hitchcock was. Both films illustrated the use of cinematography perfectly, showing each action, or facial expression. Hitchcock, with lack of equipment, had to choose what angles and shots to use very carefully for his film to be effective on scaring his audience. Which he did by using a wide range of different shots and linking them together through shapes. In this shower scene he links each shot through circles and water.

Starting with the showerhead, a low angle medium close-up shot where we can see what Marian is focused on and we can see where the water starts, fresh and clean. Leading into the shot of her mouth, an eyelevel extreme close up, where we are focused on her scream, which Hitchcock has used to manipulate the audience to scream as well, and although she is in the shower being murdered she still has flawless lipstick to show her femininity to keep the audience on her side. We are not her anymore, we are just watching, not able to help.

This shot is then linked to the next 'circle' shot of the plug hole, a bird's eye close up shot where we see the bloody water and her life going down the drain, to darkness, symbolising death as empty, dark, and lonely. This shot also shows the water finishing its journey after being the only witness of Marian's murder. The shot then leads onto the final shot, eye level extreme close-up of her eye, which has seen everything in this little shape story, seen the shower, seen her killer, seen the knife, and seen her life drain away and now her eye is just like the plug hole, empty.

In comparison to Psycho, Gladiator is completely opposite. There is no story of shapes, but there are many more shots. During the establishing shot the camera pans over the colloseum showing the size of the colloseum and the size of the crowd, it also emphasises the phallic statues that convey the overt masculinity of the environment. This is in contrast to the establishing shot of Psycho, where the camera pans over a small motel room showing that Marian is alone rather than surrounded by thousands of people, plus Marian wearing a thin silk robe showing all her feminine features.

The next main shot, I think is when Maximus struggles to life his sword, it is an eye level medium long shot, showing that he is hurt, throughout the film he is strong, injured or not so when we see that he is human and he is in pain we sympathise for him. Like in Psycho when we see Marian being killed and reaching out to us we sympathise for her. Another key shot is high angle long shot of the circle of guards, showing Maximus victorious in the centre. It also shows the stillness of the entire Colloseum and how the recent events of this scene had affected life in Rome.

This shot (other than after Maximus's death) is probably the only shot where aren't entirely focused on Maximus or Commodus. In this scene I think the most crucial shot that shows the end of the story is the eye level close up of Maximus's bloody hand reaching out for something which we then see in the following shot he is reaching out for the door to Elysium. Each shot the same just in two completely different planes. These shots are what connect the two films, and the two characters, as they are both reaching for something, whether it's towards death and away from it they are still connected to one another.

The locations of each scene for the two films show both differences and similarities. The similarities would be that even though they are in entirely different places; they are both trapped with the lower hand in defending themselves. In Psycho Marian Crane is trapped by three walls and her murderer, yet unlike Maximus she actually has a chance of escaping, however small that chance might be. Maximus is completely surrounded has a considerably less chance of escaping, (even if he wanted to).

The differences of the two locations is definitely more obvious, meaning the differences between the two characters are more obvious as well because each director has based the location on the character they want their audience focused on. Marian is an embezzler who is running away from her job, so the location of her death scene is in a shower, that's in a small motel room, that's on an old, abandoned high way. Secret. Maximus is part of a one man struggle to attain justice and freedom for himself, his family, and his country; he's a solider of Rome, a gladiator, strong and proud.

This is why this scene is in front of thousands of civilians of the country he was fighting for which was very male dominated, just like the arena which featured pillars that could be perceived as phalli and why Commodus didn't just kill him whilst he was chained up in a small cellar with just the two of them and Quintus, that would depreciate the honour. Music and sound effects in film convey an emotional impact to the viewer, often characterizing the action in a way that helps define the genre involved and that contributes to the emotional effect of the action.

It is also very important in developing the atmosphere, through song or by emphasising sounds that you expect to here like a punch or unwrapping a bar of soap. In the shower scene for Psycho Hitchcock starts of by using very quiet music that sounds happy and cheerful, which dies down as Marian enters the bathroom. This further emphasises the everyday sounds we expect to hear and that Hitchcock has already accentuated, from when she flushes the toilet, to the sound of the shower curtain as she opens it, to her opening the bar of soap.

This gives a sense of normality, luring the audience into a false sense of comfort, that is until we see the silhouette of 'castrated Norman Bates' which is when the atmosphere silently gets more and more tense. With the sharp pull of the curtain and the simultaneous sounds of the notorious "screaming violins," we sit quite shocked as we witness Marion's rapid, horrific murder. The constant screeching of the violins rhythmically imprints the murder in our minds. The sounds of Marion's screams and of the knife piercing into her flesh join the violins to intensify Hitchcock's rather brutal surprise.

We listen as the sounds of the violins mimic Marion's last dying breaths. First they are strong, deep, intense gasps, and then they begin to slow down, and soon it is just one long, deep note as she stretches out her hand in one last hope for help. But all she finds is the shower curtain, which only a minute ago seemed to be the most protective barrier in the world. But at we hear it break off from the shower rod, it is exposed as nothing more than a simple sheet of plastic, unable to support or protect Marion in any way.

The sound of the water running from the showerhead is still loud and monotonous. The music and sound effects in the shower scene in Psycho and the music and sound effects in the final battle scene of Gladiator are quite similar in how what we think a small sound effects like the sound of footsteps on sand or the movement of armor is made emphatic and are also similar by the change in music at the star of each scene and the end. In Psycho the music started quite happy then changed to a horrible frightening sound of music and then to silence.

In Gladiator the music at the start of the scene was grand and noble like a coronation song, with male voices to portray even more masculinity, then there Is very little music during the fight but as Maximus sees Elysium the music changes, although it still sounds grand and noble, it is less phallocentric by female voices singing, like angels or even his wife. The music stops as Commodus dies and continues throughout the rest of the scene after Maximus finishes his fight.

Another key point about how the two films are connected by music and sound effects is that, Like in Psycho there is the monotonous sound throughout, in Gladiator there is the sound of the audience under laying the whole scene, but instead of being repetitious and un-changed the sound of crowd is more narrative, dynamic changing with the fight. One example of this would be at the start when they are cheering loudly then silenced as Maximus under goes his ritual of taking up the earth and preparing for battle, and as the fight commences they start cheering again, changing to a more exciting adventurous kind of mood.

Maximus and Marian Crane are both stereotypical to the genders they represent through numerous different qualities. The Psycho shower scene exposes voyeuristic behaviour, exploitation, objectification, and the victimization of women. Women in film, especially horror, are most commonly the objects of male desire. Women are usually placed in vulnerable situations while they are about to be victimized. Here Marion is in the shower with no form of protection as well as no clothing and flawless make-up (mise-en-scene of Marian's body language in this scene).

Vulnerability of a physically attractive female seems to be an attractive viewing characteristic to the male audience. And with this femininity comes sympathy to keep us on her side, which is needed because Marian is somewhat different than the expected norm of the female roles during this time period. She defies the typical behaviour of a woman by stealing from her employer and eloping by herself, a very obvious subvert convention. Similarly, in Gladiator, Scott uses male stereotypes to make Maximus even more like a hero.

He is strong and powerful, and to proud to turn down a battle for righteousness even though he is wounded. The death of each character and life after death is presented as complete opposites. Marian Crane is gruesomely knifed to death leading into nothing. Her death is represented by the plughole in this scene, dark, and empty. Whereas Maximus dies victorious in his battle, after defeating Commodus and setting his men free, and we can see his life continue in this different world.

He may have died in one but was born in another, kind of like when one door closes, another one opens. Completely opposite from dark and empty. In conclusion, both films had a profound effect on the lives of their audiences due to each director successfully manipulating their audiences to think and feel the way they want them to, by using a wide variety of cinematic techniques and psychological mind games scaring people out of the showers and asking the age old question, "What happens after death? "

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Death and gender portrayal in Psycho and Gladiator. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Death and gender portrayal in Psycho and Gladiator essay
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