NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by L.
In a field, two brothers Ed and Henry Gein stomp out a fire. Ed (Michael Wincott) is trying to convince Henry to stay, adamant that their mother needs Henry. Henry wants to go to Milwaukee to get a job and insists that one day Ed’s going to have to live on his own right up until Ed hits Henry in the back of the head with a shovel. Suddenly, we see Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) standing in the field, sipping tea. He provides commentary on the situation: Ed claimed Henry fell on a rock and died of smoke asphyxiation something the police believed…because if they hadn’t, Hitchcock wouldn’t have been inspired by Ed’s killing spree.
July 1959: The World Premiere of North By Northwest and there’s a torrential rain. However, that doesn’t deter the crowd that’s come to see the film. Hitchcock and his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), have arrived and while Hitchcock basks in the adulation of the press, Alma seems uncomfortable. A reporter asks Hitchcock if he is surprised by the reaction of the crowd but Hitchcock says no he could already hear the screams and laughter when he was planning the film. A different reporter points out Hitchcock’s already impressive record and asks “shouldn’t you quit while you’re ahead?” This shakes him.
At home, he relaxes in the tub while Alma gets dressed. He watches like a hawk until Alma points out that peeping Toms used to have their eyes gouged out with arrows. Hitchcock reads her the critics reviews but she tells him to put them away. He asks her if he’s too old and she jokes that he’s also too fat but that he’ll feel better when he has a new project.
Alma drops Hitchcock off at Paramount Studios and tells him there’s a story out there just waiting to be found. His assistant, Peggy (Toni Collette), goes through a list of potential projects including The Diary of Anne Frank and Casino Royale. Hitchcock makes it clear that he wants something fresh. Something different.
At lunch with her friend, Whit Cook (Danny Huston), Alma listens as Whit regales her with his exploits when a pretty waitress walks by, distracting him. Alma asks him what he wants and Whit asks her to prune some pages on his novel, Taxi to Dubrovnik. She agrees to take a look.
Hitchcock’s desk is covered with material that bores him. He goes to Peggy and asks if there’s anything else. Peggy says she doesn’t have anything but he looks at a circled review of a New York Times column about a book called Psycho. Reading the review, Hitchcock realizes that the novel was based on the exploits of serial killer Ed Gein and that it isn’t the same old crap. He requests a copy.
He reads the novel, enthralled. Alma shows Hitchcock Taxi to Dubrovnik but Hitchcock tells her to leave it on his night stand.
The Gein House: Ed enters his mother’s bedroom and asks her if she’s cold. There’s no answer and he’s lingers on her underwear drawer in a creepy manner before finding a blanket and covering her with it. He then takes off his shoes and gets into bed next to her. He tells her not to be afraid, since he’s here…only to see that she’s a corpse.
Alma is asleep in bed until Hitchcock prods her awake insisting that she read the “bit in the motel bathroom.” Alma isn’t impressed by the content calling it nothing but low-budget horror claptrap. Hitchcock thinks it can be his next vehicle. At breakfast the next morning, Hitchcock insists that the shock value of killing the leading lady halfway through is intriguing. Alma says that’s a mistake: the leading lady should die thirty minutes in.
Hitchcock arrives at his office with research and tells Peggy to summon “the minions” ordering her to start buying copies of “Psycho.” He wants her to buy all of them. Every single copy, nationwide. Since it will be his next picture, he doesn’t want anyone to find out the ending until they see it in theaters. Peggy doesn’t understand why Hitchcock is pouring himself into this, saying that it’s so unlike him which is exactly the point.
A party at the Hitchcock residence: Hitchcock recites the details of the Gein case. A party goer calls the content offensive but Hitchcock calmly points out that life is offensive. He turns to Peggy and tells her that she needs to research the typical unmarried 30-year old secretary in detail. His attention is drawn to the pantry where Hitchcock can see Whit leaning in and whispering a joke into Alma’s ear. Hitchcock starts towards the pantry but is blocked by his agent who insists that Psycho will be only for a niche audience.
In the pantry, Whit asks Alma what two characters like them married to other people would be saying if this were a Hitchcock film. Alma pointedly comments that Whit is just upset that Hitchcock hasn’t read the film, though she confesses that she enjoyed it. Whit admits that it was more fun to research than to read the reviews before asking if Alma actually things Hitchcock will read it. Before she can answer, Hitchcock appears behind Whit in the doorway. Whit says that he went to find a copy of Psycho around town but couldn’t find a single one Hitchcock feigns ignorance, leaning in to Whit’s ear and whispers “Don’t stop looking on my behalf.” Peggy arrives and asks Hitchcock to follow her.
Hitchcock’s agent points at the crowd of party goers passing around the photographs of the Gein crime scene. They all look mortified and unhappy. Peggy thinks it was too much but Hitchcock points out that they can’t stop looking.
At a studio meeting, Hitchcock insists on making Psycho but the bottom line is that when Hitchcock takes risks, someone loses money. The executive in charge asks for something like North by Northwest, insisting that sometimes even the best gambler can bet on the wrong horse. Hitchcock leaves with his agent and insists that the studio thinks he has lost his touch. The agent asks how much the picture will cost and Hitchcock estimates 800K more or less.
Alma is using the pool when Hitchcock returns. He tells her to enjoy the pool while they have it they are going to need to finance the film themselves. She asks him why he desperately wants to make Psycho. Hitchcock says that when they started, they took risks and experimented with new ways of making motion pictures because they didn’t have the money to do it right. He misses that freedom.
Hitchcock returns with a deal: Independently financed, Paramount will distribute it for 40% of the profit. The executive is still unsure about the matter and promises to discuss it internally but Hitchcock’s agent insists on an immediate answer. The executive says that if they can get the money, the deal is done. Hitchcock cuts a check.
At home, Hitchcock lies in bed and tells Alma that if they fail they’ll be poor but Alma insists that the movie will be splendid because she has faith in Hitchcock.
Peggy introduces Hitchcock to Joe Stefano the man who will write the screenplay and Joe isn’t remotely intimidated. Joe apologizes for being late since he was meeting with his shrink. Hitchcock admits he has trouble imagining what Joe and his shrink could discuss and Joe says the usual: sex, rage, and my mother.
Alma meets with an accountant who lays the situation straight: if the film flops, then Hitchcock will need to sell the house. She asks where the accountant would suggest they cut and the accountant tells them to cut anywhere they can. Hitchcock returns and presents Alma with the first few pages Joe has written. She doesn’t say anything as she reads until she’s done Hire him.
Hitchcock pays a visit to the MPAA’s office. He is told that the MPAA will not allow Hitchcock to show a knife penetrating a woman and Hitchcock responds that his murders are always models of taste and discretion. He is told that a silhouette from an outside window may be acceptable. Hitchcock barely hides his contempt for the head of the MPAA when he is told that if the movie does not pass the MPAA’s standards it will not be shown in a single theater of the U.S.
A psychiatrist’s office. Hitchcock sits on the couch. He confesses that even though he’s made Hollywood millions, he still sits through dreadful award shows dinners waiting for them to say that’s he’s done good. But they take pleasure in denying him that moment. And it hurts.
Midnight. Hitchcock sneaks into the kitchen to eat but is repulsed by his reflection. He then goes and finds a folder that has headshots of pretty blondes. Lining them out and looking at them, eyes brimming with desire and admiration for their beauty.
The next day, Hitchcock and Alma go through headshots of actors but Hitchcock is dissatisfied. Alma presents him with a photograph of Anthony Perkins and expresses the belief that he could capture the duality of Norman perfectly. Hitchcock meets with Perkins and finds him to be enthralling. Perkins asks how far Hitchcock is going to push Norman’s relationship with his own mother and Hitchcock assures him: further than Perkins could possibly imagine.
Next up: the Female Lead. Hitchcock and Alma work in her garden as they go through a list of actresses who could pull off the role. Hitchcock wants Grace Kelly, Alma suggests Deborah Kerr but they compromise: Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson).
Janet Leigh arrives at a restaurant and is greeted by Hitchcock. They shake hands and he guides her to his left so that she can sit across from Alma. Janet tells Hitchcock that she has been immersing herself in her preparation for her role of Marion having created an entire backstory. She shows Hitchcock a notebook and he asks her to share one of Marion’s deepest secrets. “Marion leads a double life” through her perfume choice. Janet confesses that while she’s thought out the backstory she as a wife and mother is concerned about the shower sequence. Hitchcock shows her a few storyboards which sets her at ease. When Hitchcock makes a joke about Janet’s breasts, Alma leaves she’s had enough.
In the bathroom, Alma turns and is joined at the sink by a woman named Lillian, who comments that Alma looks pale. Lillian asks Alma why she would put up with Hitchcock making such a tasteless film but Alma snaps that it’s just a bloody movie.
Afterwards, Alma presents Hitchcock with a list of places where they must tighten the belt: including Hitchcock’s shipments of geese for foie gras. She makes it clear that if he wants to finance this movie, he will need to give up some things.
The Gein House: Ed drags a woman’s body feet first up the stairs. He opens a shower curtain in the bathroom and pushes the body into the tub he pulls the dress off her and tells her to stay there while he gets the knives. We see Hitchcock watching the scene, utterly captivated by the scene he walks closer towards the dead woman as she whispers “Help Me.” Hitchcock snaps awake in bed. Alma stirs in the next bed and he asks her if he’s making a mistake like with Vertigo. Alma tells him to shut up and get the first cut done.
On set, Peggy complains about Hitchcock casting Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) in “such a thankless role” as the lead’s sister. Hitchcock points out that he still has her under contract but it’s a thankless role for a thankless girl. As Vera goes to change in the dressing room, Hitchcock studies her through a peephole as she strips.
Perkins, Vera and Janet meet with Hitchcock on set. Hitchcock has the cast and crew swear that they will not divulge any secrets of the plot to the media. On set, Perkins has trouble getting into Norman’s mindset and asks Hitchcock why he would be spying on Marion. Hitchcock brusquely tells him that he is the actor and should figure it out. Janet asks about the depth of Hitchcock’s research and Hitchcock confesses that he’s only happy when he’s working.
In the psychiatrist’s office, Hitchcock is asked about his mother. He confesses that she wanted him to be an architect and have a gold watch at age 50. To her, people in the film industry were nothing better than thieves or whores. However, the psychiatrist leans in revealing himself to be Ed Gein and says that it is a textbook case of transference: The Oscar is Hitchcock’s mother. Hitchcock scoffs at his vision.
Filming gets underway. Hitchcock films a racy scene with Janet making out with a man and Peggy frowns that Hitchcock will never be able to get it past the censor. Alma arrives at the studio lot and presents Peggy with the final pages revisions complete. Whit notices the car and approaches her once she leaves the office. Whit asks about Hitchcock and Alma tells Whit that Hitchcock is quite ecstatic to be back at work. He asks her if she would like to forget about everything and go drive out to an old restaurant no shop talk, just a good meal. Hitchcock watches this exchange from a window.
Alma returns home with groceries and finds the house to be quiet. Hitchcock approaches her from behind and asks her if there was a line at the market. He tells her about the day’s shoot and how Janet’s partner in the love scene was about as expressive as a plank. Hitchcock tells Alma to have Whit and his wife around over the weekend to discuss Whit’s book. As Alma goes to bed, she realizes that Hitchcock saw her with Whit earlier.
After a take, Janet and Vera are in the dressing room and Vera advises Janet to keep her personal life private around Hitchcock mentioning just how controlling Hitchcock can be. Vera insists that the poor, tortured soul Jimmy Stewart played was a version of Hitchcock. They turn and stare at a shadowy profile silhouetted by the door which lingers before it disappears.
Alma watches television and sees a film she helped write with Whitford Cook which Hitchcock directed. She walks around the house once the credits roll and finds Hitchcock’s folder of blonde actresses. She takes off her earring and picks up the phone.
Later: Hitchcock tries to call Alma at home but the line is engaged. It’s clear he’s been trying for a while. Alma agrees to meet Whit and closes the phone. It immediately rings and she answers it asking Whit what he’s forgotten now. But it’s Hitchcock on the other end. He wordlessly closes the receiver stunned. He orders Peggy to get him a drink. The head of Paramount visits and reminds Hitchcock that their contract states they won’t release any film that could cause them embarrassment Hitchcock angrily retorting that they should have thought of that before releasing their last five Martin and Lewis films. Slamming the door in his face, he calls Maxim’s of Paris and orders five pounds of foie gras.
Whit drives Alma out to the Pacific Coast and shows her a beach house a secret writing nest that has a double bed. Alma assumes that Whit is trying to seduce her but he pushes open another door to reveal two desks and two typewriters saying that if she’s serious about helping him adapt the novel, they have a place to write together.
Back at the studio lot, Hitchcock is waiting for his ride Alma but she doesn’t show. Janet arrives in her VW Beetle and offers him a ride. Janet asks about Vera and what happened between the two. Hitchcock laments that he was going to make Vera a star…until two weeks before filming Vertigo she had announced she was pregnant. He asks why they always betray him and Janet gets a look at the inner workings of her director.
Hitchcock returns to the house and finds Alma’s earring on the stack of photographs. He lies in bed waiting for Alma’s return and hears her but says nothing. They go to bed in silence. Once Alma is asleep, Hitchcock goes through her Handbag and uses the moonlight to see what is inside of it: The first few pages of a typed outline for Whit’s adaptation. Hitchcock eats his foie gras straight from the tin. The next day at lunch, he confesses to reading her treatment and gives her his thoughts it’s stillborn. He outlines all the problems with it. He decimates her before leaving into the garden, leaving her to bitterly berate an empty room.
It’s the day of the infamous shower sequence. The water’s ready but Janet is worried about the nipple covers. They fall off. It’s not filling her with confidence but they get readjusted. When the stunt double begins filming the violent attack, she lacks the intensity Hitchcock desires so he takes over. As he viciously slashes at Janet with the prop, he imagines everyone he dislikes the studio heads, Whit, and finally Alma. Janet is left in a state of shock and Hitchcock calls a wrap collapsing in his office soon after.
At the beach house, Alma and Whit work on the adaptation and get dangerously close to one another when the phone rings: it’s Peggy Hitchcock is in terrible shape.
Two days pass they are over-budget and the cast and crew flounder in Hitchcock’s absence. He tries to insist on going to work but Alma goes in his stead. The studio executive wants to have another director step up and take over, but Alma bars his path this is Hitchcock’s film and he’s going to finish it. While Alma is on set, Hitchcock hallucinates Gein again and Gein tells him to check the bathroom where Hitchcock finds sand all over the floor Gein using it to his advantage: You really think they’re just writing together?
When she returns, Hitchcock confronts her and tells her that he could use her full support. She points out that they have mortgaged their home and are betting it on the outcome of this passion project. She denies having an affair with Whit and tells him that she has always stood just behind him at every event for the better part of 3 decades.
Vera finishes filming her scenes are removes her make up when Hitchcock arrives and asks her why she didn’t stay with him he could have made her as famous as Grace Kelly. Vera is taken aback by this and confesses that she has a life a family, a husband, that she loves more that fame. She tells him that his fantasy of the blonde woman of mystery doesn’t exist. Hitchcock gently squeezes her shoulder and bids her goodbye.
Alma returns to the beach house and finds Whit in bed with a random woman. Whit tries to explain and begs Alma not to tell his wife. Alma agrees and leaves, shocked at how easily she was going to be fooled. Whit looks on sadly knowing that he’s screwed himself and any chance of seeing his novel adapted.
She meets with the accountant it’s getting grimmer each time they meet. But it’s only a house. When she returns home, Hitchcock is watching an old film by Whit. He asks her how the beach was and she responds “cold.” He tells her that he and Whit share something in common: that they would be nothing without her. He admits that Psycho is stillborn and goes off to get the crew leaving Alma with tears in her eyes.
Alma finds Hitchcock in the kitchen and tells them there is a way to save the picture: editing. They set to work immediately. Hitchcock argues about putting music in the shower scene but the composer (on Alma’s behalf) insists that it is needed for the tension and build up. After showing a scene for the MPAA supervisor they are told they are being denied the seal despite the fact that there was no nudity or penetration of the knife in the shower scene. Hitchcock requests a private meeting and strikes a bargain: if he can keep the shower scene, Hitchcock will allow the MPAA supervisor to be present on set to reshoot the opening of the film under the MPAA’s strict notes. The supervisor agrees…but never shows up on set. Hitchcock smiles: he’s won.
But now there’s another issue: only two theaters have agreed to show the film for a limited run. There’s no publicity and the studio isn’t really helping. Hitchcock prints pamphlets: a “how to show our movie” pamphlet for each theater that will air the film. Finally, it’s time. Alma and Hitchcock are tense as they drive to the theater. There is a line out the door, but Hitchcock is still nervous. This can still go so wrong. He asks Alma to go on ahead and listens to the audience’s reaction from outside the theater. As the audience starts to scream, Hitchcock smiles He did it!
After the film, Hitchcock is a whirl with happiness and tells Alma that this maybe the biggest hit of their career. He tells her that he’ll never find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as her and she tells him that she’s been waiting for years to hear him say that. He quips that there’s a reason he’s called the Master of Suspense.
We see the real Ed Gein in prison, he is looked on with awe by the guards who know that Gein helped inspire Psycho. He comments on God and suffering and how it’s the only thing that God truly loves and understands because he created it. We see Hitchcock observing this moment as he breaks the fourth wall and complains about how he is now in need of another project. While he mentions that he doesn’t know what it will be, a bird flutters by (in reference to The Birds).
Post-Film: Hitchcock goes on to make 6 more films and dies in 1980. Alma Reville dies two years later. Ed Gein lived in the mental institution until he died in 1984. But Hitchcock never won an Oscar. Instead, he won a lifetime achievement award which he shared with Alma.