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‘Psycho’ movie review: A fascinating game of shadows

Udhayanidhi Stalin in ‘Psycho’

Udhayanidhi Stalin in ‘Psycho’  

Mysskin’s latest bears no similarity to the 1960 movie, apart from featuring a psychopath at the centre (who, oddly, looks like the terrifying Norman Bates) and the playful macabre tone

(Spoilers ahead)

“If you want to study art, you first need to study the artist,” writes John Douglas, on analysing the behavioural patterns of psychopaths in his ground-breaking book, Mindhunter. If you flip through the pages of history, you will find one common thread about serial killers. That most gruesome forms of crime have always been perpetrated against women. More often than not, these serial killers are men who are loners, who are also broken “inside” and may appear ordinary “outside”. This duality with which psychopaths tend to function forms the conceit of Mysskin’s Psycho, delving deeper into the mind of a mentally-troubled man. To borrow Douglas’ quote, Psycho is a visual study of a psychopath.

Mysskin’s remarkable achievement — if you discount the artistic merits (more about this later) in Psycho — weighs heavily on making a serial killer the protagonist of the movie, giving him a voice and more importantly, a cause. The ‘guilt of an ordinary man’ is a recurrent theme that Mysskin often bases his subjects on: Nandhalala was about a son’s guilt; Anjathey was about a friend’s, Onayum Aatukuttiyum dealt with the guilt of a ‘lone wolf’, and Pissasu centred around the guilt of an accidental killer who becomes a victim in the end. Given his fetish for human psychology and for characters that are emotionally broken, Mysskin builds an intense narrative, exploring the ‘guilt’ of a morally-flawed hero: in this case, serial killer Anguli (a huge shoutout to Mysskin’s assistant for essaying this complex character. Sorry, I didn’t catch his name).

The movie has a slide in the beginning, paying homage to the Master, Alfred Hitchcock for Psycho (1960) which, coincidentally, turns 60 this year. Mysskin’s Psycho bears no similarity to the 1960 movie, apart from featuring a psychopath at the centre (who, oddly, looks like the terrifying Norman Bates) and the playful macabre tone. About the latter, Psycho’s opening sequence has graphic details (the movie is rated ‘A’). It beings with a woman howling for help, as Anguli is about to perform his ‘art’. To put it bluntly, the body is butchered and the torso is collected as a piece of trophy, in his slaughterhouse. There’s no information about the girl, nor about the man. Mysskin follows it up with a gloriously-shot scene of the girl’s parents at the crime scene. The mother comes to witness the headless body lying around in a two-piece. It’s her daughter, but she doesn’t react. A God’s Eye shot shows her walking away from the crime scene and collapsing: perhaps to establish how her world has just been destroyed.

Psycho
  • Cast: Udhayanidhi Stalin, Aditi Rao Hydari, Nithya Menen and Ram
  • Director: Mysskin
  • Storyline: A visually-impaired artiste has to solve a jigsaw puzzle to get close to a serial killer who holds his girlfriend captive, in a slaughterhouse

There’s lot happening in Psycho — an Anjathey-styled police investigation led by Ram; a psychopath who treats women as his play dolls, and a love story between Gautham (an effective Udhayanidhi Stalin who looks sunken, ticking the boxes of a typical Mysskin protagonist) and Dhazhini (a superbly-cast Aditi Rao Hydari, whose serene face adds calmness to a rather dark world) — for Mysskin deals with three individual stories that lead up to the marvelously-staged last act, boasting of a Biblical tone and larger politics that send shudders.

Darkness creeps into its music, frames and characters. Take the scene where Dhazhini is taken to the slaughterhouse. Anguli preps for his ritual. Before he swings the knife, he’s perplexed at Dhazhini’s unimaginable resilience. She lets out a smile when he asks if she isn’t afraid. She replies with a simple, “Gautham will come for you.” Psycho, essentially, is about darkness. It’s about a visually-impaired music conductor (Gautham), who lives in the dark, and a man (Anguli) who casts darkness. It’s about how the two worlds meet and how the two characters break away from the confines of each world. Tanveer Mir’s shot compositions show how beautiful and cruel the world can be; I loved the tracking shot inside a railway station. I also loved the jump cuts (edited by Arunkumar) at two intervals, that show emptiness and chaos at the same time.

Beneath its serial killer premise, there’s a strong sense of Buddhist subtexts that run through the narrative. Like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, is Psycho about the salvation of Gautham, who vanquishes darkness to restore light? Kamala, a disciple of Gauthama, guides Siddhartha to the path of self-discovery. Here too, there’s a Kamala Das (Nithya Menen) who aids Gautham in his quest to find answers to the Missing Case of Dhazhini.

One of the disturbing aspects of Psycho — at least for me — is the way Mysskin handles violence, which largely rests on the ‘shock’ factor more than giving chills. Let me make an admission here: I am a fan of extremist cinema and I say this with the least bit of sadistic pleasure. Of course, some of the visuals are disorienting in Psycho, but you don’t get the real human experience and know they are fabricated just to make the audience feel uncomfortable.

No form of literature or art can ever justify acts of violence or rape. Mysskin knows that. He doesn’t seek sympathy or empathy for serial killers, despite featuring a tad sympathetic character as the protagonist; it might get polarised responses even among the liberal voices. All he asks for, I believe, is to pay heed to their (silent?) cries. He hopes to find divinity in a psychopath, especially if you consider the climactic sequence — reminded me of The Seventh Seal — amplified by Ilaiyaraaja’s soulful Thai Madiyil song. What Anguli lacked was a lullaby and a comforting hug from a mother, or a sister, or a friend.

Early on, a psychiatrist makes a pertinent argument about the definition of ‘psychopath’. Anyone who commits crime against humanity in the form of ‘honour killing’ ‘mob lynching’ and so on are psychopaths, she argues. But what about people and circumstances that push emotionally-distraught people into becoming serial killers, if you look at it from a holistic view? Aren’t they equally accountable? Aren’t they all psychos?

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 8:44:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/psycho-movie-review-a-fascinating-game-of-shadows/article30643438.ece

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