What We Can Expect from "Hitchcock"

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
November 16th, 2012

What We Can Expect from "Hitchcock"

-- "Hitchcock" is a biographical drama based on the life of film director Alfred Hitchcock as depicted in the non-fiction biography "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello. The film's director is Sacha Gervasi and the screenwriter is John J. McLaughlin, who also wrote the 2010 psychological thriller "Black Swan." "Hitchcock's" trailer was released on October 10, 2012, and the world premiere of the film occurred on November 1, 2012, at the AFI Fest in Hollywood. "Hitchcock" will be released in a limited number of commercial theaters on November 23, 2012.

The film focuses on the life of Alfred Hitchcock while he was making the 1960 psychological thriller "Psycho." It covers the deep, complex relationship between Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Ellen Mirren), both of whom are portrayed through stellar performances in the film. Reville was an advisor and editor in Hitchcock's films, and she is also credited as a screenwriter in some of his films. The movie also shows Hitchcock's relationship with Ed Gein, the Wisconsin murderer who inspired the character Norman Bates in "Psycho." Hitchcock's obsession with blond stars such as Janet Leigh is also an important subplot in the film.

This period of Hitchcock's life is significant because the direction in "Psycho" represents a significant departure from his previous films. The specific information available on the production of "Psycho" is surprisingly sparse, given the classic stature of this film. Gervasi therefore focuses on Hitchcock's mental state while he was making "Psycho," rather than creating a film that simply recounts events. The resulting film is more speculative, although it effectively pulls the audience into Hitchcock's life.

The greatest creative liberties that Gervasi takes in the film are with the relationship between Hitchcock and Gein. Gervasi proposes that they had a symbiotic relationship that developed over a number of meetings between the two men while Gein was confined in a mental hospital. "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" does not describe any such meetings.

"Hitchcock" depicts Hitchcock and Gein engaging in psychological discourses that give Hitchcock nightmares and force him to confront his motivations in making "Psycho." The film also shows how Gein sought release from his darkest thoughts through necrophilia and murder, while Hitchcock channeled his energy into creative methods of playing to audiences' fears.

Hitchcock is at the peak of his commercial success when the plotline begins. His 1959 suspense thriller, "North by Northwest," has recently been released and Hitchcock is also producing "Alfred Hitchcock," a television series featuring dramas and mysteries. He is looking for the subject of his next film and is dismayed by the lack of original material available. In one scene, Hitchcock rejects an offer to direct "Casino Royale," the spy novel by Ian Fleming. He is also concerned about being considered old, as he has recently turned 60.

Hitchcock becomes intrigued by the suspense novel "Psycho" by Robert Bloch, which has just been published. He is excited by the shocking nastiness of the novel, although the people around him believe the film will be just another cheap horror tale. Hitchcock skillfully manipulates negotiations to the point that he is able to direct the film by paying for it with his own money. This means that the Hitchcocks will have to risk losing their home in Bel Air in order to make "Psycho."

Reville is initially resistant to the idea, although she comes to support it completely. This film shows as a dominant theme Reville's support of Hitchcock's career, and this is essential to his success. Alma becomes tired of watching Hitchcock eat and drink too much, while engaging in flirtatious relationships with stars such as Kim Novak and Grace Kelly. She also indulges in her own creative impulses by collaborating on a script with Whitfield Cook, a screenwriter who contributed to Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" and "Stage Fright."

Hitchcock begins to suspect that this collaboration has turned into an affair, which adds to the torment he is experiencing while making "Psycho." The storyline also suggests that his despair makes Hitchcock want to punish the audience of "Psycho," another example of the filmmakers' departure from historical accuracy.

The best scenes in the film are between Hopkins and Mirren, which feature subtle, witty dialogue. Hopkins is commanding and confident in his role, which allows the audience to overlook the physical dissimilarity between Hopkins and Hitchcock. Mirren also provides a strong performance when showing Reville's frustrations in accommodating her husband's career and her own desire for recognition.