A rocking chair is a rocking chair, unless it enters the object casting of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. And of course, Mrs. Bates’ rocking chair (Psycho, 1960) is part of the cast alongside other “live” characters of the film and, obviously, with Norman Bates’ late mother. Hitchconian suspense and terror is often based on a moral ambiguity and an innate amphibology in which people and objects; people and objects now candid and immaculate that suddenly become guilty and sinister (and vice versa).
The scene of an affable old woman in the atrium of her house while crocheting and gently rocking in a chair, is one thing. The image of the findings of the domestic sanctuary of a psychopath who keeps his mother's corpse in the basement, reclining in a rocking chair, another very different one. Hitchcock, as the king of the visual synecdoche that he was, could condense the ghosts that plague the human mind in the lonely image of a Victorian mansion. This was the preferred iconography in the posters that announced the film in 1960. That motel, updated the House of Usher’ scares and would become a source of inspiration for any House of Terror amusement park worth its salt. However, for the promotional photos, the director used another object and arranged the actors as if they were being harassed by the shadow of a rocking chair*.
Here is our infamous rocking chair in its successful role of emphatic prop (this would be the technical name) – which, incidentally, is not even the model used in the film. It shares, along with the mansion, its menacing aspect. Maybe it's because of its ordinary disarray and its misshapen proportions. In any case, it does not have the discreet elegance of a Windsor or the distinction of a colonial rocking chair, nor the harmonic simplicity of a Shaker swing. No, it does not seem to have any pedigree, but its turned and ornamental spindles are gloomily projected as the shadow of a Nosferatu.
In the deepest substrate of our fears lies the possibility that objects have a soul. Far from being an alien belief, animism pursues us. And before the gloomy image of a gibbous chair ... it is possible that it reaches us.
*Among the varied distraction maneuvers used by Alfred Hitchcock to promote the premiere of the film without revealing its plot, is this photoshoot with the protagonists of Psycho, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin and the rocking chair (as authorized representation of Anthony Perkins and Mrs. Bates).