The Plot of The Birds, (1963), directed by Alfred Hitchcock is simple: a young woman drives up to a small village which then gets heavily attacked by nightmarish birds. Melanie is the silver spooned daughter of a publisher for a San Francisco newspaper, she meets Mitch, a lawyer working in San Francisco, in a bird shop whilst he is asking for lovebirds, she quickly decides to order the birds herself as a gift and drive up to his weekend home the next day. The action starts off after she delivered the love birds to Mitch’s house; she gets attacked by a sea gull that pecks her at her head then Mitch’s sister’s birthday party gets ruined by birds flocking up and randomly attacking the children and a local farmer. The attacks get serious after Melanie gets introduced to Mitch’s mum who simply doesn’t want to be left alone and Annie, an ex-girlfriend of Mitch’s, sacrifices herself to protect his sister. Melanie is an emotionally cold person who only came to Bodega Bay because Mitch intrigued her, but stays to see him and his family through the horror that has come upon them.
Figure 1. Attack (1963)
I n The Birds, modern society seems to clash with nature as the birds are attacking a small village seemingly without reason after Melanie comes along, as Best states: “So the film starts in a way that promises to play out these emotionally-laden relationships, but then veers off into a desperate struggle for survival against a vicious, persistent and determined enemy. Now, being a literary type, I thought it intriguing that these interpersonal plot lines should all fade away, but I figured that their abandonment was meant to indicate that these subtle, nuanced relationship issues are only open to us when we’re not fighting for our lives. It’s what we do when survival isn’t an issue.” (Best, 2007:3) Best indicates that the film starts off with the characters struggling emotionally but further along they just struggle for simple survival, with the emotional part being forgotten until later, perhaps highlighting the importance of physical wellbeing to be able to confront ones emotions properly and deal with our feelings, when pushed a humans natural survival instincts arises and the seemingly important feelings of love slip away into our distant subconscious.
The soundtrack in The Birds is intriguing as there is actually no musical score to accompany the film, it survives solely on the sounds of the scenes and a great amount of birds screeching, which at least partly seems to be electronically enhanced. Hitchcock might have singled out the bird sounds to further underline the danger they oppose, as there is no music that can be used to manipulate the audience’s feelings, he had to find another way to make the viewer feel the genuine threat eradicating from the flocks of birds. The use of silence is also a key highlighter of suspense, the viewer’s find themselves almost always listening out for the sound of birds in the distance.
Figure 2. Birds Flocking in Playground (1963)
The Birds has a scene in which information is only available to the audience; Melanie is sitting on the bench outside of the school and the camera keeps moving between her smoking a cigarette and the crows landing one by one on the playground racks. As Brooks states: “The crows alight, one by one, in the schoolyard above Bodega Bay. They are summoned by the nursery rhyme sung by the children, or drawn by the green glow of Tippi Hedren's matching skirt and jacket, or maybe lured by the pungent scent of her lit cigarette. By the time she turns her head, the climbing frame is thick with them.” (Brooks, 2012:3) The audience find themselves in a state of suspense of pure torture as they fear for Melanie’s life and are also interested into what is luring the birds, the lack of soundtrack here also adds further wicked suspense to the scene. Hitchcock uses these slow torturous devices perhaps to further demonize the “preying birds”.
Dirk in his review goes a step further with the direct relation between the birds attacking and Melanie’s spiritual wellbeing: “Both the birds and the emotional bond forming with Mitch help break her down. Each time the birds attack, Melanie's cool exterior is stripped away. Each succeeding attack will wear away at the sophisticated veneer that Melanie wears until she has lost it completely by the end of the story. Melanie will know that she is no longer in control by the end of the film.” (Dirks, N.A.:3) This perhaps illustrates how well timed the bird attacks are, as she seems to compose herself between the attacks and then gets thrown to the ground again by something she does not understand – which doesn’t seem possible at first in her eyes, over the film these attacks increase in ferocity and seem to impact Melanie more and more. Hitchcock is perhaps showing how stress and extreme situations that activate a human’s desperate need for survival can strongly effect how humanity behaves and how these events can damage and change us.
Overall The Birds is a horror film with little plot but a big story that still gets discussed today and the open ending is not the only reason for that, as Brooks states: “But 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, 2012:3) illustrating that the open ending was a very clever move of Hitchcock that doesn’t seem calculated but nonetheless very valuable, as it can be seen as a way of letting go from over explaining plots, the entire focus of the movie is not so much on a main antagonist but an event, a seemingly impossible event which real people are forced to face. The film focuses on their journey and struggle for survival against an enemy that was not expected nor combatable and how these extreme and almost hopeless situations can damage and change people.
Figure 3. Narrow Escape (1963)
Figure 1. Hitchcock, A. (1963) Attack [Still of The Birds] available from: https://thehitchcockreport.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/0227.jpg (accessed: 11/02/2015)
Figure2. Hitchcock, A. (1963) Birds Flocking on Playground [Still of The Birds] available from: http://cdn.bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Birds-1.jpg (accessed: 11/02/2015)
Figure3. Hitchcock, A. (1963) Narrow Escape [Still of The Birds] available from: https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/imagecache/Large/images/pages/birds.jpg (accessed: 11/02/2015)
Best, Victoria. (2007) available from: https://litlove.wordpress.com/2007/05/14/hitchcocks-the-birds/ (accessed: 10/02/2015)
Brooks, Xan. (2012) available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jul/31/my-favourite-hitchcock-the-birds (accessed: 10/02/2015)
Dirks, Tim. (N.A.) available from: https://sites.google.com/site/towardtheexaminedlife/litandcin/the-birds (accessed: 10/02/2015)