20th Century Films Film Noir

The Consequences of Acting on Impulse: Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) shows how acting on impulse can have consequences that are devastating.

psychoAn impulse is “a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.”1 In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) makes an impulsive decision: She steals $40,000 from Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson) and plans to run away. The film shows how acting on impulse can have consequences that are devastating.

Marion steals $40,000 to solve a problem in her relationship with Sam Loomis (John Gavin). He won’t marry her because he can barely support himself financially. With a struggling business and an obligation to pay alimony to his ex-wife, he can’t provide for her if she wants to have children. Marion takes the money, believing it will give her and Sam financial freedom. In 1960, $40,000 was a small fortune, worth $330,437.84 today.2

When Marion goes on the run, she doesn’t consider the consequences. However, the following day, she imagines what the likely consequences might be. After reflecting on her decision, Marion decides to go home and give the money back. When a person takes time to think about the possible consequences, they are more likely to make a wise choice.

Unfortunately, Marion’s impulsive decision has consequences that are unforeseeable. During a rainstorm, she stops by chance at the Bates Motel, and meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Her murder serves as a warning: Bad things can happen to good people when they make one bad choice. Marion is an innocent victim, but if she hadn’t taken the money, she never would have met Norman, a “psycho” who is controlled by violent impulses.

Marion’s actions reveal three reasons why people make impulsive decisions: They have an overpowering desire; they act quickly, and don’t think logically. While it is possible to be impulsive and not suffer any negative consequences, sooner or later, the individual who fails to think before acting will make a serious mistake. There is, however, a silver lining to acting on impulse. If the consequences are negative, you may learn a lesson that you will never forget.


  1. Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. “impulse,” accessed July 4, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/impulse
  2. US Inflation Calculator, accessed July 4, 2017, http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/


  1. I enjoyed your essay; however, although Marian wouldn’t have been out on the road had she not taken the money, encountering Norman Bates was just a tragic coincidence that would as easily have taken place if she had been driving to an out-of-town church convention. The purpose of her road trip had no relevance to what Norman did to her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well…. I am sure, at the very end, Marion realised her mistake.
    …A bright flash before her eyes, through warm falling water Marion does behold, said silver lining, shimmering and bright.
    As she lays, gazing toward the sky,  silver turns to red!
    Sliver turns to steel, flashing, biting, stabbing.
    …Again and again, all is wet cold and red….
    As Marion lays dying, she realises that Her impulsive ways have been mistake, and have resulted in this negative consequence…!
    Thoughts flash back to silver… There is, a”silver lining to acting on impulse!” …I can learn from this!
    Looking up, Marion catches a glimpse of silver. Cold water still pours from the shower, the last of her blood follows the cold water swirling around and down, into the drain.
    As Marion takes her last breath, she is relieved.
    This is a lesson she will never forget! Her heart skips a beat, and stops. Silver fades to black.
    This has been a lesson well learned.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Chris,

    This is definitely a very interesting point and way of looking at things.

    I don’t necessarily agree with you about the impulsiveness of Marion Crane in taking the money. There is a scene right after she leaves work for the day. She is packing her bags and she keeps looking back and forth between the money and her closet. You could argue that she was debating about taking that money or not. What I would have found truly impulsive on her part was if she took the money and headed north to Sam Loomis immediately and with no stop at her apartment for clothes. There are definitely elements of being impulsive, like just taking the money period, but I don’t think after that point that her motives were impulsive. She did have a reason for them.

    Norman Bates, on the other hand, I can agree with as being an impulsive character. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason as to why he was killing people and especially Marion and Arbogast, the private detective other than him being mentally ill.

    Cheers, Danielle

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great job, Chris! I often forget that there is more to this film than the Bates Motel portion. Thank you for reminding me of the import of the beginning. Likewise, you bring up a very persuasive case to view Psycho through the lens of decision theory. I must admit, I had forgotten than Leigh’s character was a thief and (conversely) a repentant one. Fine work, sir!!! –Paul

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I sit there watching the first part of the movie and think, “What a boneheaded thing to do!” but “impulsive” describes it much better. I never thought of “Psycho” as a morality play, but so it is. Still, being stabbed to death in the shower by a crazy guy seems a little harsh as punishment for theft.

    Liked by 1 person

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