Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
In Film Narratology, Peter Verstraten explains how, in adopting the perspective of the birds as they sweep down from the sky to attack the residents of Bodega Bay, California, Alfred Hitchcock forces The Birds audience to “reflect on the sadist in ourselves” (122).
Other films require us to see ourselves from the victims’ point of view, thereby presumably encouraging us to consider the masochistic element of our personalities. The infamous shower scene in Psycho is a notable example: it puts the audience in the shower with Marion Crane, letting us see the curtain as it is torn aside and the knife’s blade as it flashes toward us.
Indeed, one might argue that the shower scene is sadomasochistic, alternating between the perspective of the murderer and the perspective of the murdered, so that, in effect, we become suicidal, the killer and the killer of, and the killed by, ourselves.
Some stories create suspense by including a killer among a team of investigators as they seek clues and argue theories as to how a murder may have been committed or who may have committed it, with the killer, perhaps, offering his or her own ideas concerning the topic. In her nonfiction book, The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule includes an alternative version of this perspective by including serial killer Ted Bundy among the university students who discuss a mass murder on their campus. Bundy disagrees with their view of the crime and the killer. One of the students considers the murderer “a lunatic” who is “probably lying low as the police investigation accelerated.” Bundy disagrees: “No. . . this was a professional job; the man has done it before. He’s probably long gone by now” (344). Bundy, typically, is telling a half-truth. He, the killer, has definitely “done it before,” but he is far from “long gone”; he is in the midst of the students with whom he debates the issue. His presence is an eerie and disturbing incident among many other such incidents.
In Horror Zone: The Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema’s “Making Up Monsters: Set and Costume Design in Horror Films,” Tamao Nakahara explains how, in Psycho, “décor becomes the narrative’s organising [sic] image” (141):
In the film‘s trailer, Hitchcock makes a point to associate the killer, Norman Bates. . . with his safe have and with the birds he sews up: “his favorite spot was the little parlour [sic] behind his office in the motel. . . . I suppose you’d call this his hideaway. His hobby as you see was taxidermy. A crow here. . . an owl there”. During the scene in which Norman invites his future victim, Marion Crane. . . into the parlour [sic] for supper, he is visually defined by the way that the frame unites him with the various stuffed birds in the room. As the shots and shot-reverse-shots alternate between Norman and Marion during their conversation, the camera remains generally in the same position for all of Marion’s shots, while those for Norman change angles to frame him with one bird and then another in the set design. While the conversation is light, the camera shows Norman from the waist up to the right of a dresser with a couple of small birds. As soon as the topic of “mother” is broached, the camera angle changes to show him in a low angle medium shot in front of two paintings (one of a nude) and two menacing spread-winged birds near the ceiling--an image that suggests Norman’s conflicted feelings of sexual arousal and self-censure for that arousal. Finally, when Marion suggests putting Norman’s mother away in an institution, the enraged Norman is shown in close-up flanked by two birds abutting against his ears. As if to provide a wall ornament for each mood and emotion, Norman’s sanctuary, and his behaviour [sic] in it, hints at his multiple personalities (142-143).Although, as Verstraten observes, “the narrative techniques and stylistic procedures in cinema are inevitably fundamentally different than those in literature (or those in comics, music, painting, sculpture, and theater, to name but a few),” and, in some cases, the twain between these “techniques and. . . procedures” in one medium will never meet those of another medium, there are narrative and stylistic techniques that do, in part, overlap, such as do (to some extent) both point of view (in both media) and set design (in cinema) and description (in literature), from which both cinematographic and literary artists can, and should, learn from on another.
Nakahara, Tamao. "Making Up Monsters: Set and Costume Design in Horror Films." Horror Zone: The Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema, 2010: Print.
Rule, Ann. The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy. New York: Pocket Books, 2009. Print.
Verstraten, Peter. Film Narratology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Print.