Readers Write In #138: ‘Psycho’ and Mysskin’s abusive relationship with his audience

Posted on January 30, 2020


(by Adhithya K R)

I am thoroughly confused whenever I watch a Mysskin movie. Some things just don’t make sense. It’s not about what happened or how it happened, but why Mysskin chose to do it in that way. More baffling to me is the fact that certain scenes make me feel deep emotion in the theatre but annoy me when I think about them in retrospect. The neenga mudiyuma song for instance – I did not question it for a moment. The visuals and music had combined so seamlessly that it did not occur to me that I had to think logically. The same held true for the bizarre sadangu scene.

It’s testimony to the strength of Mysskin’s cinema that he’s able to get me to buy into this illusion. His films work purely as cinema, as a combination of visual, sound and emotion, and their charm is extinguished the moment you try to explain the story in words. Even if you recount the sequence of events to yourself, it seems contradictory.

One thing that works for and against Mysskin is his role as a film critic. He’s vocal about what excites him and gets on his nerves when it comes to cinema, with controversial statements about everything ranging from the usage of songs in cinema to the soporific effects of the other MCU. He gushes repeatedly about Kurosawa and Dostoevsky and Bresson, almost to the extent of being a caricature of himself. This intensity is palpable, like that of a kid with a new toy, when it comes to cinema. “He loves cinema to his soul,” my friend said after watching his film appreciation masterclass, “but I don’t understand why his films never reflect this. His films don’t reflect the depth of the literature he always talks about.”

I can see his point. While raging about paper-thin characterisations of a boy and a girl falling in love, Mysskin goes on to make the hero of his movie a stalker. He goes on and on about how mass movies offend his belief in ‘gravity’ and proceeds to make the same blind guy drive at 100 kmph on the highway. He defends it as an ‘imaginary world.’ This is very much unlike Mysskin’s comrade Vetrimaran who preaches realism and detailing in his cinema which he reinforces through his movies. Is Mysskin being a hypocrite then?

I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

There’s a scene in Psycho where the Inspector who is about to be killed requests to sing an A.M Raja song before he is killed. As the song continues, a sense of calm settles over the scene and… Chop! The gush of emotions that that one second produced could never be replicated with a line of dialogue, or a plot twist, or narrative structure. It was the precise timing of an inevitable disaster in such a pocket of calm that could only have been created with that combination of music and images. I could write about it for pages but you wouldn’t get it unless you saw it in that movie, at that point.

There’s another scene in the movie where a golden clock with interlocked gears is shown, only for a couple of seconds. Just a clock. There’s no point to showing it, but it creates a feeling that cannot be created by story. There’s a shot of Dahini on the table when a prostitute is flung on her. You see the light hanging above through the arms of the prostitute and hear the rhythm of Dahini breathing – That shot is suffocating, and you can’t see it anywhere else. It’s this medium of cinema that Mysskin is true to. He wants to make you cry, make you flinch, with the same passion that he projects when he’s talking about cinema. It’s not the information in the books that he reads but the intensity that he wants to get across. He’s a hundred percent honest when he does that.

It’s only when watching his films that you realise the scope of cinema, the power with which it can use pictures. There were scenes in Psycho that could have been frozen in time into a graphic novel. The image of two legs crawling into a dark chamber followed by guttural screams and a bloody psycho emerging from the blackness is gorier than all the blood you can show on the screen. Every time you think of that scene, you can fill that space between the panels with a more horrifying version of Rachel being ripped apart and the woman dies a hundred deaths. The gore is not visual, it’s mental. When Angulimala runs screaming towards Gautam flailing his knife, it was a flash to the past, to the comic of Angulimala that I had read. Every time he tries and misses the same way it goes in the original comic, the connection grows stronger, before he breaks down in tears completing the nostalgia trip. Can such strong images not co-exist with a ‘logical’ narrative?

I have often wondered about how a man who breaks apart scripts the way Mysskin does can afford to have ‘flaws’ in his own screenplays. But unlike mass cinema that bends logic to give you a high, this kind of cinema subverts logic to make you exclaim, “Why would he even do that?” That emotion is what counts. Maybe it’s not even about creating his own bizarre universe that operates with its own set of rules. What if he’s just using the screenplay as a framework for stitching together scenes that are such slaps in the face, such punches in the gut that you open up to modes of experience other than thinking? Surely you don’t experience music with logic even though you might go back and deconstruct it later, so what if this particular mode of cinema works the same way – Like a piece of abstract art?

I’ve had my mind blown after watching Onaayum Aattukuttiyum. I’ve taken a friend to Thupparivalan to introduce him to ‘alternative cinema’ and regretted it. I’ve watched Yuddham Sei on TV and argued passionately about how such depressing content must never be screened. I’ve watched Anjaadhey and felt sick to the stomach. Now I’m struggling to come to terms with Psycho. Though I feel like Mysskin is abusing my tolerance for his antics, I’ll keep waiting with anticipation for his movies because few other movies can make me feel as strongly. The cinema speaks true.