• Sarah Arnold


In the film Psycho (1960), the shy young Norman Bates demonstrates the powerful hold of the maternal on the filmic and cinematic imaginary. We hear the voice of Mrs Bates, chastising poor Norman for desiring another woman, we hear Norman express his concern and love for his mother and, finally, we see the mother kill Marion Crane. Of course there is no Mrs Bates. Or rather there is no physical, real mother, only a representation of her. That she does not exist, or no longer exists within the world of the film, seems inconsequential. In terms of how the film has constructed her and from how Norman has constructed her, we can already assume much about her: she was violent, overbearing, patronising. Yet it remains the case that there is no Mrs Bates; she is purely a representation. That one of the most memorable mothers of horror cinema is someone who was never truly there says much about maternal representation and the maternal imaginary/imaginary maternal in the horror film. This book does not seek to make any statements about ‘really lived’ motherhood. Instead it explores the function of maternal representation in the horror film. To return to the Psycho analogy: like Norman, the horror film represents the mother as a site of both fascination and repulsion. In other cases, she is stringently tied to the concept and practice of exclusive childcare, more so than the father, through her undeterred sacrifice for or, as in the case of Norman Bates, abject neglect of the child.


Maternal Body Psychoanalytic Theory Patriarchal Culture Maternal Ideal Mirror Stage 
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  1. 7.
    See Mulvey (2000); De Lauretis, Teresa, Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah Arnold 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Arnold
    • 1
  1. 1.University College FalmouthUK

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