Saturday, 12 February 2011

THE BIRDS-review

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1963
Cast:  Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronika Cartwright

After Psycho(1960), another film of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock with ‘bird references’ came out-The Birds. With this apocalyptical story of a town filled with an onslaught of unexplained, arbitrary and chaotic attacks of birds, Hitchcock turns those feathery creatures into the most terrifying villain in the history of horror cinema.Yet this films differs from Hitchcock’s other films as it is based on a supernatural force rather than the imagination of his characters.   

FIG.2: Crows gradually gathering in the school playground.

Some criticize the film for not giving the viewer the reason why these unnatural phenomena occur. This could be explained with Hitchocock’s use of the MacGuffin which is the birds’ abnormal actions. A Macguffin is an object, an event or a character which keeps the plot in motion despite usually lacking  importance throughout the film. Although the attacks seem mysteriously related the mother and son relationship in the film between Lydia and Mitch, where the jealous and hostile mother  frustrates every time her son brings a new attractive woman in the house, Hitchcock avoids to give the explanation to this.  In this case Hitchcocks uses familiar animals to transform them into a threat, an inevitable danger and still keeps the audience wondering what causes such attitude. Dirks assumes that:  "On an allegorical level, the birds in the film are the physical embodiment and exteriorization of unleashed, disturbing, shattering forces that threaten all of humanity (those threatened in the film include schoolchildren, a defenseless farmer, bystanders, a schoolteacher, etc.) when relationships have become insubstantial, unsupportive, or hurtful." (Dirks. 2011). The feeling of not knowing keeps the audience engrossed and leaves it with a huge question mark in the ending where the characters left the town leaving behind them thousands of birds. Hitchcock even lefts out the usual 'The End' title to indicate the never ending terror the town and perhaps the rest of the world will be going through. "The ending of The Birds has been criticised for its apparent ambiguity, although from the final shot, in which thousands of birds assemble to watch the humans make a last dash for freedom, it is self-evident how the story will pan out."  (Travers.2008) 

FIG.3: The school kids running away from the immense crows.

In a technical point of view the film is a real achievement. Some people might think its visual effects are poor and that it would look better in modern 3D. Yet when you watch the film you get to admire the film-making process and notice that there is no need for advanced technology to generate fear. There is one particular scene of the film before the last attack where the whole family is sealed in the living room. They all remain silent when suddenly birds approaching can be heard.  Hitchcock is not showing the threat at all in that scene but the frustration the characters are going through knowing that danger is close.

FIG.4: Melanie trapped in the phone-booth. 
What is interesting about this film is the character to character sub-plots like the bizarre relationship between mother Lydia and her son Mitch, who treats him like the man of the house and feels like she will be left alone if he runs off with a woman. Strangely enough, Melanie and Lydia seem identically mirrored only with a different colour tone: Gold and Grey. At the beginning of the film, where Melanie mentioned to Annie, Mitch's ex-lover, she was heading to his place to give him the love-birds, Annie replied: "Oh, I see". Lydia used the same phrase for the love-birds a bit later in the film. We can see how Mitch was surrounded by similar women who have formed their personality around him. The use of women with strong character in this film could be with how Hitchcock could resemble them to birds themselves. Their sharp nails, their elegance in the air and the ability to capture the attention gives them a feminine touch.

FIG.5: Melanie gazing vulnerably  upon Lydia.
In the film we can also see the different bonds being formed. Lydia at the beginning for instance was seeing Melanie as a threat who would take away her son from her. But in the last scene where Melanie vulnerably gazes upon her (FIG.5), she knows it's the exact time to play the role of the mother protecting her child.  

To sum up, The Birds is a thrilling film to watch. With the plot, the editing and the characters combined create a visual masterpiece and of course made from the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock. "The Birds is a horror classic and a beautiful example of how a brilliant filmmaker and director like Alfred Hitchcock could take the ordinary and turn it into an extraordinarily horrifying experience." (Chills.2008)

Dirks,Tim (2011) Film Review At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
Travers, James(2008) Film Review At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
Dr.Chills (2008) Film Review At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)

List of Illustrations
FIG.1:  Film Poster At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
FIG.2: Film Still At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
FIG.3: Film Still At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
FIG.3: Film Still At: (accessed on 12/2/2011)
FIG.5: Screen shot captured on youtube At: (accessed on 12/2/2011

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