Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Evan Hunter
Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright
As human beings who have inherited the earth, it’s our duty to preserve it by all means. Unfortunately, we have failed on several occasions to do just that in the way we strip the resources and particularly, how we treat animals. We may have control of them now but The Birds asks what would occur if they decided to strike back.
Having a reputation as a socialite, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) attempts to surprise a man she met at a bird shop with birds he wanted for his sister. Upon her arrival at Bodega Bay, they reunite before noticing a recent aggression in the avian population around them. What appears as a strange coincidence results in the reality of birds attacking humans.
Birds make for interesting creatures in the way we utilize them. We cage them, shoot them, eat them, and their unborn offspring. There’s even an annual holiday in the United States where we slaughter a slew of turkeys. Safe to say, birds get the raw end of the deal whenever they interact with humanity. But what can one bird do to combat this? Sure, they can fly but in order to do that they have very fragile bones that would make one easy to fight off. The Birds raises an interesting idea of what would occur if birds from many different species united to attack humanity and the damage is quite horrifying.
The simplicity of the storytelling and conceptual idea allows for a straightforward story, but it allows for interpretation as to what the birds represent. It could be revenge for centuries of abuse by humanity as Alfred Hitchcock surmises in the initial trailer for the feature or subtextually to represent people in some way. It’s left to be read in several ways, but the horror of it all makes it a thrilling viewing experience. For as silly as it may seem that birds would attack humanity, the carnage on display in this film demonstrates the damage they can do if they had the ability to unify for a common goal. We do that as humans when we form armies, but as one of the characters points out, birds from other species have never coordinated anything together. In this story they do and they can kill people at will.
The work done in this feature shows that Alfred Hitchcock can effortlessly create suspense with any subject matter. While the story is based on a book of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, the build-up to the onslaught these birds will inflict shows his masterful skill. No scene brings it out more than when Melanie waits outside the schoolhouse to pick up someone after school. Melanie sits in the playground waiting and behind her happens to be a jungle gym where one bird lands. She smokes her cigarette calmly. As the audience, we can see two and three more birds land on the jungle gym. Melanie, still unaware of the birds, sees one flying and she follows it to turn around and see a swarm of them on the jungle gym. The realization sets in and the chaos ensues. The playground scene shows the horror this coalition of birds can have when it goes from just one to nearly a hundred of them.
The anchor for the film is Melanie portrayed by Tippi Hedren. She first notices these birds when one weirdly hits her on the head, which seems odd. However, as the outsider of the town, she notices the aggression before anyone else, which sets off a disruption. The placement of Melanie in this small town sets up an interesting idea about big city vs. small town. Known as a socialite, Melanie battles reputations placed upon her as a woman, and her presence in the small town poses as much of a threat to the people as the birds do seemingly. It comes through in a particular scene at a restaurant where Melanie attempts to tell the people the truth about the birds. Hedren plays the character very well, even with having to put up with Hitchcock’s strange demands and attitude. She had to endure being tied to a bird for periods of time and still managed to capture the humanity of the Melanie character.
The Birds demonstrate what can occur when animals decide to fight back and it makes for a scary thought to ponder on what other animals could ravage humanity if they had the idea to unify. We’ve seen that with apes and now birds. Can you imagine what it could be like if all of the rodents or insects of the world thought of a similar idea? As chilling as it may be, Hitchock masterfully builds the tension necessary to show just how frightening this circumstance could be, therefore creating a strong story and viewing experience.