In the “Dead or Alive?” section of his photo essay, “Alfred Hitchcock: A Hank of Hair and a Piece of Bone,” mystery writer/film critic Alan Vanneman gives us a veritable slide show lecture that reveals Hitchcock’s fixation with uncanny “inanimate objects that suggest life.” To reveal Hitch’s fetishism of death, Vanneman especially is interested in the use of taxidermist art in the mise en scene: shot from below, cast in pools of shadow, or shot in extreme close-up, these inanimate bodies imply a sort of living, supernatural menace — whether to foreshadow a threat to a character (Jimmy Stewart encountering a stuffed tiger in The Man Who Knew Too Much) or to associate a character with that unnatural agency/threat (Norman Bates in Psycho, with a large stuffed bird peering down over his shoulder).
The stuffed dead bodies are evidence enough (and in Psycho they obviously all echo the role of Mother in Norman’s life). But I particularly like this capture of Vera Miles as Lila Crane, virtually spinning in the mise en abyme of infinite reflection:
Of this shot, Vanneman writes:
Although Hitchcock used mirrors endlessly in his work, they are rarely used for overt drama. However, he achieves a phenomenal effect in Psycho when Lila Crane (Vera Miles) sees a double reflection of herself in two mirrors. Notice how the gaze of the “second Lila” (the far-right image) takes us deep into the center of the frame, where the gaze of the “third Lila” directs us back out of the frame toward the “first Lila” at the far left, who is turning around to confront who? Us? Someone behind us? Mrs. Bates?
Such fragmenting of personality is not only about us, but about the character implicitly experiencing an uncanny schizm of identity, encounter the self-as-Other — which is precisely what spectators do throughout a film, projecting their identities into character identification, while also introjecting them back into the self. Uncanny moments like those in the shot above are moments where we recognize this process of doubling — when the world becomes a hall of mirrors and our self is palpably felt as always already being located — and dislocated — somewhere else.