Sunday, 21 February 2016

Film Review: The Birds (1963)

Fig. 1: The Birds Poster.
As is common in Hitchcock's films, The Birds (1963), has an incredibly slow build up. Tension builds gradually for most of the first half, until something inevitably snaps, and the audience and characters descend into thrilling chaos. The film is very unusual, as birds are not commonly thought to be frightening creatures, yet Hitchcock shows them to be otherwise. What is also interesting about the film is that there is no grand reveal or explanation as to why the birds are behaving the way they are, and the audience watches closely, yet only knows as much about the character's predicament as they themselves do; ""I don't know why," says harried Melanie Daniels. "Wish I could say," blurts bemused Mitch Brenner. Everyone is confused, ruffled, on the brink of flight. Here is a film that provides no answers and no escape." (Brooks, 2012). 

Fig. 2: Diner Scene.
Melanie Daniels is a young, rich, ambitious socialite. She is not held back by the common conception of what a woman in the 60s should be, and seems to live a rather free lifestyle. In fact, the 60s saw a great change in the role of women in society; "More girls went on to higher education and in 1962 there were over 26,000 girls at university. Having lived away from home, and with greater intellectual and financial independence, many women could now have aspirations beyond being a wife or mother." ('The changing role of women in the 1960s', 2012) - this is what Melanie Daniels represents as a character. The defining scene in the film which greatly supports the idea of the birds representing women occurs in a diner, after Melanie has helped children escape a murder of crows outside the school. An old woman named Mrs. Bundy, who happens to be an ornithologist, asks why the birds would choose to attack people now, after living alongside people peacefully for so long. If the birds do represent women, then what the audience is seeing is an older woman asking why young women are choosing to go against the life they've been used to for so long. Mrs. Bundy also claims that birds are not intelligent enough to organise attacks, and that it's unheard of for birds of a different species to flock together. It could be argued that Mrs. Bundy represents an old fashioned view of women, believing them to not be educated enough to rise against societies rules, and that women from different backgrounds and lifestyles will not join forces in order to do so. 

Fig. 3: Accusing looks.
During this scene, another woman with two children is desperately trying to leave the town in order to protect her children and herself. After the birds cause chaos outside the diner, the woman approaches Melanie, accusing her of bringing the birds with her and causing all the destruction. Behind her, the corridor is full of women, all glaring at Melanie. This could represent women being against women like Melanie. The 60s saw the rise of feminism, it "began to find a voice in society, with movements like Women’s Lib demanding equal pay and opportunity." ('The changing role of women in the 1960s', 2012) However, it is something that even to this day is viewed negatively by men and women alike, either because they don't feel there are any problems in need of fixing, or because they are content with the way things have been for many years. The women in the corridor represent these people, ready to accuse the younger, free-living Miss Daniels of causing chaos, though she knows as much about why the birds are behaving this way as they do. 

Fig. 4: Lydia taking care of Melanie.
The film, however, represents women in a questionable way. It is revealed that Melanie resents her mother for leaving her when she was very young, perhaps to offer some explanation as to why she wishes to live such an independent lifestyle - she never had a mother to show her otherwise. By the end of the film, Mitch's mother seems to have taken over, as she holds a shocked Melanie in the back of the car, smiling sweetly at her. Melanie has been weakened, molded into a more submissive woman, who is dependent on a man and a mother to get by. Mitch's mother, Lydia, is not an evil or dislikable character, though she is very much dependent on Mitch and still grieving for her dead husband. Annie explains that Lydia behaved oddly around her when she was pursuing a relationship with Mitch, but the two became good friends once Lydia believed she was no longer interested. 

Fig 5: Annie.
Annie, however, does not seem entirely over Mitch, obvious from the way she looks at and speaks to Melanie, but this could be interpreted as Annie's way of trying to make Melanie be more careful. The two women do not dislike each other, and work together more than once to protect children, both at a birthday party and at the school. The have an interesting dynamic, as Annie clearly knows why Melanie really came to Bodega Bay, but she makes no point of standing in her way or trying to prevent her relationship with Mitch. It seems there is no aggressive or clear conflict between the women in the film, with only Lydia viewing Melanie as threat, as would any mother dependent on her son. But by the end, Melanie and Lydia have a close bond that resembles that of a mother and daughter.

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Fig. 6: Lovebirds.
The bird attacks in the film are eerie, and despite the lack of special effects, still terrifying; "The bird-attack sequences are tremendously complex (the movie contains more than 370 trick shots), and the absence of a score renders the horror more immediate: Hitch's long-time composer Bernard Herrmann fashioned an eerie soundtrack from caws, strident screeches and rustling wings." (Sooke, 2015). Each attack seems worse than the last, beginning with Melanie being pecked on the head by a single seagull, and ending with numerous flocks of different species trying desperately to break in to the house Mitch shares with his mother and sister. Something that stands out amongst all this chaos, are the lovebirds Melanie bought for Mitch's sister, Cathy (fig. 6). Throughout the story, the birds remain calmly sat together in their cage, and even join the family at the end as they try to escape. It is interesting that the domesticated birds do not turn violent. Lydia's chicken's stop eating and Cathy's love birds show no change, but the wild birds are the ones who attack. Again, if the birds represent women, then it shows the ones living the more domestic lifestyle as calmer and less violent, though not completely unaffected. All in all, Hitchcock has made "a terrifying menace out of what is assumed to be one of nature's most innocent creatures and one of man's most melodious friends" (Crowther, 1963).

Fig. 7: The Birds.
The Birds stands out from other Hitchcock films; "The Birds floats free. There is no motor driving it, no music to tether it, and nothing to hold it aloft apart from that up-draft of sensual atmosphere and existential dread. Hitchcock reportedly worried at length over how to wrap things up. He eventually ditched the scripted final scene in favour of a non-resolution, an open ending – the perfect closing image that leaves the world in the balance and its mysteries all intact." (Brooks, 2012). Though it still has the feel and style of his previous film Psycho (1960), it is not your typical thriller, as the threat of being attacked by birds doesn't seem terrifying until you witness the destruction they're capable of. 

Figure 1. The Birds Poster. (1963) [poster] At: (Accessed on: 06.02.2016) (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 2. Diner scene(1963) From: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 3. Accusing looks. (1963) From: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 4. Lydia taking care of Melanie. (1963) From: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 5. Annie. (1963) From: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 6. LovebirdsFrom: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Figure 7. The Birds. (1963) From: The Birds. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock [Film still] United States: Universal Studios. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Brooks, X (2012) 'My Favourite Hitchcock: The Birds' In: The Guardian 31.07.2012 [online] At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

The Changing Role of Women in the 1960s [television programme online] BBC Two (2012) 4 mins. At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Sooke, A (2015) 'The Birds, review: 'disturbing'' In: The Telegraph 09.01.2015 [online] At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

Crowther, B (1963) 'Screen: 'The Birds':Hitchcock's Feathered Fiends Are Chilling' In: The New York Times 01.04.1963 [online] At: (Accessed on: 21.02.16)

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