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Psychoanalysis

This is not to say that the new Psycho is a complete failure, but its finest moments are simply those built-in from the original. The shower scene remains shocking, and the pools of blood that Norman cleans up are intensified by the addition of color, just as Hitchcock suspected. (The color also limits the resonance of Bernard Herrmann's superb score, where the limited register of the strings was designed to complement the film's stark black-and-white tones.) Images that Hitchcock created through clumsy optical effects, like the famous superimposition of Norman's face over that of his decomposed mother, have been rendered by smoother digital effects. The performers try in various degrees to break free from the models of their predecessors, with uneven results. William H. Macy appears to treat his role as Arbogast as some sort of parody of a hard-boiled detective, whereas Vince Vaughn is ultimately trapped by the tics and mannerisms of Anthony Perkins. Similarly, Anne Heche makes an attractive Marion, but the inevitability of her death at midpoint makes it difficult for her to establish her personality. Chad Everett and Robert Forster have more success in small roles, and Viggo Mortensen and Julianne Moore make their characters livelier than expected (possibly because their 1960 counterparts, John Gavin and Vera Miles, were the dullest things in Hitchcock's film).

For what audience is this bizarre mirror-image Psycho intended? In publicity statements, the producers of the new film stress their admiration of the film, respectfully cite it as a timeless, ever-popular classic, and then contradictorily suggest that their film is aimed at a new generation of moviegoers who haven't seen Hitchcock's work. But why duplicate the earlier film frame by frame? And why eliminate its most distinctive feature, its perverse sense of humor? Those in the audience who recognize what Van Sant is doing will inevitably be disappointed, and those who don't know their Hitchcock may not get it at all. Though announced as an act of tribute to the late master, this new Psycho is intended for people who haven't seen the original and probably never will. Simultaneously ambitious and pointless, this new Psycho is an elaborate and even courageous experiment, but one that need not be repeated.

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