Mind The Trap: On a Scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

I re-watched Psycho a few months back. It’s now my favorite Hitchcock, hands down. No contest. I can’t stop thinking about a scene between Marion and Norman. It’s just after they’ve met. Norman tells Marion that we’re all caught in our own “private traps.” I’ll quote it in full:

I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.

It’s such an interesting moment. Two people in their traps talking about those traps. One of them snug inside his while the other is trying to claw her way out of hers. Do we ever escape our traps? I have days when I think I can make a run for it, or I can break the bars and escape. I do my self-care. I meditate. I light a candle and read a nice book. I write every day now. It pours out of me. It is my salvation.

I’m fighting. I’m not giving in. I don’t think there is any other option but to live. In Psycho, Norman says he doesn’t mind his trap, but Marion tells him that he should mind it very much. I say this for myself and for anyone reading this–the trap is always to be minded and fought against. Maybe life is one long effort at freeing ourselves from our self-imposed traps. But the traps really are everywhere, both inside and outside of us. Our minds trap us in obsessive and dark thoughts. Our bodies trap us in sickness, disability, and decay. The world traps us in capitalism, environmental degradation, and an inept government.

You could go around and see everything as a trap. I think of Julie in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Blue (1993). In one scene, she says she doesn’t want any lovers or friends because “they’re all traps.” But she can’t run from people forever. She can’t shut everyone out. She can’t stay disconnected and detached without losing her humanity. She can’t keep the pain of life out, and that pain is often felt because of our feelings for, and attachment to, others.

When we decide to open up to other people, we invite pain into our lives. We are vulnerable. But I still choose that vulnerability because it’s the only path to connection. At times, I’ve opened myself to people who hurt me. I did it recently, and it’s left me devastated. There were times when I could have turned away. I should have, I know that now, but, in the moment, I told myself he was someone I wanted to let into my life. I’ve chastised myself for it many times. Why? Why did I do it? Because I was one human being in a trap trying to make contact with another human being also in a trap. Because I didn’t know where it was heading, and it could have led to something very different, like the kind of deep connection I live for.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a tarot card one of my good friends shared with me from his Japaridze tarot deck. In the Japaridze system, it’s called the Eight of Winds, but, in traditional tarot, it would be known as the Eight of Swords. The woman is shown in a jail cell, her hands bound behind her back. Not too far from her is the door of her prison with a key in the lock. The message is clear: You hold the power to free yourself, and you choose to remain imprisoned. You have all the tools for your own liberation. Why are you not using them?

The thing about the traps we create is that the door to the cell is often already open. We just don’t have the courage to walk out or to let anyone walk in and take our hand and lead us out. Connection is a way out. I am reminded of Robert Bresson’s masterful 1956 film, A Man Escaped. It’s about a couple of men escaping a Nazi prison during WWII. It’s so methodical how the men find ways to escape the prison. Jacques Becker’s Le Trou is a bit similar, in which men dig a hole in the ground of their cell and escape that way. I’ve always been drawn to films about breaking out of prison. Now, it all makes sense. I want to see people liberating themselves. I need to see it. Then, maybe I can do the same. In those films, none of the men escape alone. Their liberation comes through collaborative effort. Connection is freedom. Loneliness doesn’t get us out of the trap. If anything, it adds more chains.

Maybe writing is one way to free myself. It’s the only tool I have. The pen is the key. The keyboard is the key. I’m in the trap, but there are tools for liberation hanging everywhere. I just have to grab them and try them out, right? If one doesn’t work, go to the next and the next and the next. The thing is, we’re bigger than our traps. We are more than our pain. We have more to offer than just our suffering and tragedy. Norman could have left the motel at any time. He was in the cell with the door wide open, and he refused to walk out. That will haunt me forever. Why don’t we just walk out? What are we waiting for?

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