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Film Review: The Birds (1963)

Fig. 1 The Birds (1963) Film Poster

The Birds is coming! evokes the sheer suspense that Hitchcock provides in the horror genre through his 1963 adaptation of Daphne Du Mauriers 1952 story. The Birds follows the unexplained occurrences of a series of violent bird attacks over a few days which just so happens to begin when an outsider from San Francisco decides to take it upon herself to deliver love birds to an intriguing man in Bodega Bay. At first glance The Birds is just that, a horror film, we become scared of the birds, scared for our characters safety and look and wait for the reason as to why the birds are attacking but it never comes. The birds are the thing we focus on the most when we should be looking elsewhere and so Hitchcock triumphs again through his use of the McGuffin which really we should have seen through if the past use of it within Psycho is anything to go by. Although apocalyptic birds are interesting and what most people focus on, they are only the MacGuffin. They are the biggest MacGuffin Hitchcock developed What The Birds is really about is the family. (Painter: Unknown) It wouldnt be wrong to suggest the attacking birds as a metaphor for the birds as in the females that inhabit the storyline. Their pecking and scavenging for the same thing, the attention of a man transmitted onto the elegant song singers of nature and so it is fitting that the only birds that do not attack are the two love birds Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) brings along with her. They only tweet away crazed as if in pain; the love they represent is being pulled in all directions by different women who all desire the same part of the main man, his heart.

Fig. 2 The Bird McGuffin

Freudian ideologies occupy The Birds through many of Hitchcocks devices, the McGuffin is just one of them, the lack of music and dialogue is another. Instead Hitchcock fills the film with bird sound effects which are much more effective in getting across the pecking of the women birds than a music score. It also heightens the horror of the attacks further leading us in the direction of the McGuffin until Hitchcock sees fit to let us in to his true ideology of the film. The lack of dialogue has the same effect of expressing the horror but it also seems like when Hitchcock cuts from one characters face to another in these moments of quiet he is creating the effect of these characters staring each other down as if to say back off hes mine. Its like these women characters are speaking another language, a language that only they as women can understand and it cannot help but remind of a bird perched when another comes alone in attempt to take over the territory. No noise is made, just the actions of two birds ready to fight for what they claim to be theirs. Theres a bucketful of successful experimentation with communicating more through silence than through words. (Sponseller: 2001) One particularly famous scene which has been parodied many times is the scene where the crows settle on the playground apparatus, it is also one which can be interpreted in many ways. Hitchcock allows us behind the action here; Melanie doesnt know whats going on behind her she is just having a patient smoke for young Cathy to be released from school but its not like the crows care, they are also patiently waiting for Cathy. And so here we can study as to whether Hitchcock was creating a subliminal message to Melanie, a message from Lydia (Jessica Tandy) to keep away from her daughter because we are given this spectacular shot of these hundreds of crows sitting behind her as if watching her for a wrong move. There are many spiritual meanings behind the being of the crow and if we consider these they all fit nicely in describing Lydia. The crow aims to seek vengeance, is thought of as sly, extremely smart, and divine the trickster. Lydia seems to be threatened by Melanies appearance and want for Mitch (Rod Taylor); she has the role of mother and is in control so when Melanie comes alone it could be that she will cause a natural disaster just to get her off her territory. But then there is another thought towards the playground scene, what if the crows sitting behind Melanie are on her side? What if they are her subconscious, her fire and deep desire to get Mitch and so she creates a diversion on the whole town to get her closer?

Fig. 3 The crows sit patiently

The idea of Lydia wanting revenge does seem to be followed by the film though just look at the diner scene. The shouting out of Its the end of the world! and then relating it back to Melanie after the petrol event, accusing her of being the cause suggests that the appearance of the outsider disturbed Lydias equilibrium. There are already two lovers of Mitch in Bodega Bay, his mother and then his ex who was cast out but who still lingers just wanting to be able to stay near him. Lydia doesnt seem to have a problem with this or maybe she does, that would explain later events with Annie Hayworth. However, the appearance of this beauty that is talk of the papers is a threat, she is also the typical Hitchcock lead female cast and just for that matter something has to go wrong. At play here are fears of nature, the inexplicability of evil and this being Hitchcock, an unhealthy fascination with his female characters sexual neuroses. (Film4: Unknown) That would explain the unusual ending then. Lydia has done all she can to stop Melanie getting to Mitch but then she wanders into the attic and Mitch saves her, she has come to grow to her and so nurses her bandaging up her wounds. The last shots we are presented with are those of Melanie looking up at Lydia as a mother figure and its then that we know Lydia is ok with her because in a way shes got her, shes caged her up just like a bird and is in control of her too, perhaps the gathered birds know this too because they just allow the family to just ride on by. Theyve got rid of the threat, the bird that was coming; shes now trapped in her bandages and Lydias arms.

Film4, (Unknown) (Accessed 22/02/2012) Painter, Steven, (Unknown) Wildsound Filmmaking (Accessed 22/02/2012) Sponseller, Brandt, (2001) Classic Horror (Accessed 22/02/2012)

List of Illustrations
Fig. 1. The Birds (1963) Film Poster From: The Birds Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [film poster] On (Accessed 22/02/2012)

Fig. 2. The bird McGuffin (1963) From: The Birds Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [film still] On (Accessed 22/02/2012) Fig. 3. The crows sit patiently (1963) From: The Birds Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. [film still] On (Accessed 22/02/2012)

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