In his excellent study of cinematic metaphor, Metaphor and Film, Trevor Whittock lists various types of film metaphors, explains how they are created, and offers one or more examples of each kind. In addition, he suggests how these tropes enrich the audience’s perception, understanding, and appreciation of the film’s content. Authors of fiction in general and writers of horror stories in particular can learn much from Whittock’s discussions and treatment of his fascinating topic, including how to use metaphorical descriptions to suggest unconscious, even, perhaps, subliminal thematic nuances and undertones regarding characters, settings, and other narrative elements. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho offers several examples, Whittock contends, of this process at work.
One of the ways by which filmmakers create metaphors, Whittock says, is “by context, which forces the audience to see A as B.” Such a “context is often an emotionally charged one,” he observes, offering the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film as an example. After talking to Norman Bates, Marion Crane decides to return the money with which she has absconded, and her shower, following her repentance, represents a sort of “ritualistic. . . spiritual cleansing,” whereby she washes “away her guilt.” Therefore, when she is “murdered in the shower,” Whittock contends, “our sense of shock is all the greater: We perceive a terrible moral gratuitousness in the crime” (52-53).
Another technique for creating cinematic metaphors, Whittock argues, is to employ situational irony, or “rule disruption,” such as occurs in Psycho, with Crane’s death:
Because audiences. . . feel confident that whatever happens the star will not be killed off, when relatively early in Psycho they witness the murder of Marion Crane who is played by a star actress (Janet Leigh), they experience extreme disorientation. This disruption of complacent assumption, combined with the disruption of another cherished pattern--that someone who repents and washes off her guilt should not be harmed--works to create a disturbing sense of the gratuitousness and insecurity of our existence (65-66).
Another of Hitchcock’s films, The Birds, also makes use of metaphors, both to characterize and to heighten suspense. For example, the director, in an interview with Francois Truffaut, Whittock points out, explained that he had ordered a “road watered down so that no dust would rise because I wanted that dust to have a dramatic function when she drives away”; the truck, Hitchcock says, is “an emotional truck,” signifying by the “tremendous speed” at which it moves and “the sound of the engine,” which is “something like a cry. . . as though the truck were shrieking,” the mother’s “frantic” state (57).
Whittock identifies the use of an objective correlative as a means of creating cinematic metaphors that can serve the interests of suspense and characterization as well, citing an example from The Birds: “the five broken teacups” in Mrs. Brenner’s house, broken by in an attack by the birds, he says, represents both “the damage done by the birds that have attacked the house” and “Mrs. Brenner’s tense fragility, glimpsed in her endeavors to preserve a domestic and unchanging home life,” functioning “as an objective correlative for the deep-seated anxieties now surfacing in Mrs. Brenner” (62-63).
Finally, in a quotation of Hitchcock at the outset of Whittock’s study, the famed director himself comments on metaphors that he created in The Birds:
At the beginning of the film we show Rod Taylor in the bird shop. He catches the canary that has escaped from its cage, and after putting it back, he says: I’m putting you back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels.’ I added that sentence during the shooting because I felt it added to her characterisation [sic] as a wealthy, shallow playgirl. And later on, when the gulls attack the village, Melanie Daniels takes refuge in a glass telephone booth and I show her as a bird in a cage. This time it isn’t a gilded cage, but a cage of misery (1).