Alfred Hitchcock The Birds Analysis Essay

Who has primacy over the planet? Humans or animals? The film pits humans, for all their intelligence and technological developments, against birds, often seen as unintelligent animals. It doesn’t take terribly long for the birds to establish primacy over the humans: the final terrifying image is of the symbolic family unit pathetically trying to make an escape as an army of birds, dominating the landscape, watches. Though the bird attacks initially seem relegated to this small town, we find out toward the end of the film that the attacks are spreading to nearby towns, which turns the battle in the town into a representation of a battle for the whole planet. This synecdochic role of the town is also pointed out earlier in the film, when the ornithologist escalates the conflict to a global scale by commenting on the number of birds in the USA and the world, and how we, as humans, would not stand a chance against them if they united to fight us. A theme such as this, which questions the fragility of our power, is the type of psychological fear common to Hitchcock films.

The lovebirds are a kind of “Macguffin” (a word Hitchcock used for details that, while insignificant in themselves, draw the events of the film together) to bring Melanie and Mitch together. Mitch and Melanie must be brought together because the birds are threatening the human species with extinction in a battle for supremacy over the planet (in a reading in which the bird attacks are not particularly associated with either of them, of course). Mitch and Melanie must work together to save themselves and Mitch’s family from the attacking birds. A second implied purpose of their union, however, might tie into the idea of extinction, and what is necessary to prevent it—neither are involved with anyone, and without procreation, extinction will arrive quicker. The lovebirds can be seen as a symbol of the part that romantic attraction plays in the human struggle for our continuing evolution. Mitch’s and Melanie’s facing of the attack together may serve to suggest at an ‘evolutionary’ future of marriage or procreation between the two of them.

The Birds was produced at the height of the Cold War. The devastating effects of McCarthyism (in which individuals suspected of communist sympathies were blacklisted and even prosecuted) on Hollywood were still being felt, as many actors, writers, and directors had been forced out of the industry or into the shadows. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world closer to the brink of nuclear devastation than it had ever been before or since during the making the film. There are no communists or anti-communists in the story, and the story never once directly refers to the Cold War, yet The Birds is very much a product of Cold War sensibility. The film's lack of any reference to the state of global tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet at the time may even point out the way in which The Birds can be interpreted as commentary on the pervasive fears of the atomic age. The attacks themselves, from an anonymous crowd of assailants above, seem to reflect Cold War fears, and the doom with which some of the townspeople discuss a war with birds reflects the way that people talked about nuclear warfare.

What is especially unique and innovative about The Birds, as compared to other Hitchcock films, is that not even a hint of an explanation for their violence is ever given. This theme ties in somewhat with the Cold War theme, as most other films of the era that portrayed nature rising to wreak havoc against humans tended to provide explanations related to nuclear testing or other atomic weaponry. In the novel on which the film is based, the sudden inexplicably chaotic aggression of the birds is often interpreted as an allegory of Nazi aggression. Hitchcock breaks with tradition by leaving the mystery completely and utterly unexplained, thus making it all the more horrifying. In many ways it reflects the inherent chaos in nature, and Hitchcock draws this connection by often using wide shots of the natural landscape shortly before an attack. Some critics have suggested that using birds as his villain allowed Hitchcock to avoid explanation for the violence in his film, as nature is often inherently chaotic.

Silence is incredibly important to the film, and is most noticeable in the absence of a musical score. Additionally, Hitchcock silences his characters at important times in the film, usually when they are overcome with fear (when Lydia sees Dan Fawcett’s body, when Melanie realizes the crows are perching behind her at the school, when the final attack on the Brenner house is under way, etc.). This silence serves many purposes: it elevates the din of the birds to a soundtrack status, occupying the audio in the film with an almost constant, fear-inducing slew of caws; it generates an understanding of the incredibly profound panic that takes over the characters and renders them unable to speak in several instances; and most importantly, it seems to indicate the powerlessness of the humans against the birds. In this way, the silence of the characters below the cawing of the birds foreshadows the eventual plight of our protagonists throughout the film.

Melanie’s aggressive pursuit of Mitch is an unlikely behavior in the world they live in, but it generates the entire plot of the film by bringing the characters together. Such an action, and the way that others view Melanie, seem to hint at a connection between her ‘unseemly’ behavior and the attacks. This is drawn to a head when the frightened, protective mother (a representation of society’s expectations for women, in some ways), yells at Melanie that she is “evil.” This idea of punishment in response to sexuality has many implications, including a reading in which Melanie is being punished for her sexual liberation, or one in which the birds represent a physical manifestation of Oedipal guilt ("Oedipal guilt" refers to the Freudian theory that men often harbor guilt for a deeply rooted desire to replace their fathers).

Mrs. Bundy, the ornithologist, is the first to explicitly draw a link between environmental degradation and the attacks when she insists that it is humans who harm the planet, and not birds. This comment raises the possibility that Hitchcock intended the film as a comment on the harm we do ourselves in the destruction of our environment. It may be that the film is simply referring to the level of industrialization and globalization that marked the mid-20th century, the development of nuclear weapons that could completely destroy our environment, or, more pointedly with regard to the context of the film, the introduction of foreign species to certain habitats (again, a product of globalization). We find several examples of wide shots that are intended to highlight the natural beauty of the landscape, and these shots lead the audience to appreciate nature in its self-sufficiency. The final few images of the birds having reclaimed certain areas of the town, and eventually the whole town itself, seem to suggest that the birds aim to take back the environment from those that would do it harm. Even if one does not buy into the environmentalist reading of the film, such references to our destruction of nature are important for understanding the film.

Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" -- A Brief Analysis

                                       Hitchcock movies were a series of situations linked together by plot. They were not character driven. This meant that Hitchcock relied on major stars to carry the emotion of the story. From the early 1960s, Hitch was without Cary Grant and James Stewart, and most of the famous actors emerged from the Method School who wanted the character's development to be the central focus. In addition, during that time, Hitch has problems with his performers. He would develop a project around a big star, then the star would drop out for one reason or another. So, the 1963 "Birds" is one of the best films of the latter part of Hitchcock career. Another high point in this later period was "Frenzy", filmed in his native London. 

                                    Garden birds turning against mankind -- even though the plot seems banal, it has become terrifying in the hands of Hitchcock. Tippi Hedren played the blonde heroine of "The Birds." The story starts with the lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who meets a rich girl Melanie Daniels (Tippi) in a pet shop and treats her like a shop assistant. He is playing a joke on her since he once tried to persuade her in court for a practical joke that went wrong. They argue, and Melanie tries to get her own back by presenting Mitch's little sister, Cathy, with the two love birds Mitch couldn't find in the pet shop. 

                                    She has travel from San Francisco to Bodega Bay. After secretly delivering the present, Melanie is attacked by a seagull. As Melanie is introduced into Mitch's family (Mitch's mother, Lydia, is afraid Mitch will leave her -- like when her husband died) and schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (she loves Mitch, they once had a relationship, she moved to Bodega Bay to be near him), the different species of birds escalate their attack: gulls attack Cathy's outdoor birthday party; sparrows fill down the house by coming down the chimney; Lydia finds a dead farmer with his eyes gouged out; crows attack the school children; gulls attack the town, which goes up in flames. 

                                 They all board themselves up in the house, only to have the birds attack but not get in. During the night, Melanie investigates a sound, and is trapped in the loft, repeated pecked by an onslaught of birds. Dragged out by Mitch, she is in shock. Mitch goes outside and all the buildings and land are covered with birds. They tiptoe out, and slowly make their way by car to some uncertain future. 

                               The excellent visual ideas of Hitchcock are abundant in this movie too: Broken Crockery -- when the sparrows attack, they break all the crockery in the house, which upsets Lydia. When Lydia visits the farmer to talk about chicken grain, she known something is wrong because she sees broken cups; One Too Many -- when Melanie sits outside the school, we see the crows slowly massing on the climbing frame behind her. She is agitated, smoking. Then she sees a crow, follows its flight and then it lands on the climbing frame where there are hundreds of crows; Glass -- The attacks are seen though the restaurant window, a telephone booth and a car window, but then the birds begin smashing through the glass as well; God Shot -- when the town goes up in flames and there is much action, Hitchcock cuts to a high shot of the whole town, has one bird swoop and hover close to us, and then another, and another, until the screen is filled with birds. 



                                There is no music in the film, only natural and unnatural sounds. The sound of the birds massing is frightening than any kind of soundtrack. The cage and glass serves as the tow important metaphors throughout the film. The cage represents the careless lifestyle and complacency of Melanie, which has pushed her into an insular cage. The glass represents the frangibility of stability and the precariousness of human life.

                                The inevitable cameo of Hitchcock occurs when Hitchcock is leaving the pet shop with two Scottie dogs. As in "Psycho", Hitchcock, once again, succeeded in implicating his audience to such an extent that the anticlimactic, much-criticized ending of the film finds the audience more blood-thirsty than the birds. Hitchcock's underestimated and misappreciated film, "The Birds" is a triumph of special effects as well as the wellspring of what we now call as the gross-out horror. 

The Birds -- IMDb

25 Things Tou Didn't Know About Hitchcock's "Birds" 

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