3 March 2017

The Birds, 1963

Fig. 1 Poster
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ (1963) is described by Alistair Sooke of The Telegraph as a peerless horror film’ (Sooke, 2015). Indeed, the film is impressively disturbing and would stick in the mind of the viewer for its mystery and its confidence. Xan Brooks of The Guardian suggests that this is one of Hitchcock’s most confident films, as his reputation was at its peak, he applauds the ‘daring, audacity and command of its material’ (Brooks, 2012). The film follows the story of Melanie Daniels’ visit to Bodega Bay, a small and tight-knit community. The town is then attacked by birds with increasing ferocity, Melanie seems central to these attacks, but no reason is given for their occurrence.

Fig. 2 Local suspicion
One of the film’s defining characteristics is its mystery; the viewer waits and waits for an explanation, but none is given. Brooks writes; Everyone is confused, ruffled, on the brink of flight. Here is a film that provides no answers and no escape. Chaos reigns from top to tail.’ (Brooks, 2012). The locals are suspicious of Melanie from the moment she arrives, Fig. 2 shows some of their reactions to her appearance. The attacks coincide with her arrival and their bizarre nature amplifies the pre-existing distrust. By the time the attacks are in full swing, the locals are downright terrified of her. Fig. 3 shows a scene where a collection of women gather and glare at her as one mother accuses her of being evil. The audience is left to wonder if the attacks really are Melanie’s fault, or if perhaps they are a manifestation of the local’s distrust of outsiders.

Fig. 3 Local fear
Sooke notes the way that ‘Hitchcock makes the malevolent birds seem like manifestations of his characters' mental unease –especially that of Mitch's mother and his former lover, Annie, now a local schoolteacher.’ (Sooke, 2015). Annie is eventually killed by the birds and Mitch’s mother is also assaulted in her home and witnesses very gory scenes at a neighbour’s house. Conflict between women is a key theme in the film, with Melanie at odds with these characters; Fig. 4 shows Mitch’s mother staring Melanie down. Birds are commonly associated with women and harpies and furies come to mind when considering the vicious attacks in the film. Perhaps the birds are a manifestation of jealousy and territorial rage. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote at the time of release that ‘the context of the birds concentrating their fury upon a house in which a possessive and jealous mother hovers anxiously over her son is so obvious and fascinating that I rather lean to it.’ (Crowther, 1963).

Fig. 4 Mitch's mother
The overwhelming use of diegetic sound in the film is crucial to its effect. The score is made up of bird calls and rustling feathers and Sooke writes that the absence of a score renders the horror more immediate’ (Sooke, 2015). The saturation of these noises towards the end of the film is terrifying and provides the viewer with a sense of doom. Using sound in this way is a clever move by Bernard Herrmann, a longtime colleague of Hitchcock’s. No reason is given for the events in the film so there is little reason to expect that they will end. It feels as though the noise and the danger could keep on building until all sense is drowned out.


Brooks, X (2012). My Favourite Hitchcock: The Birds. At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jul/31/my-favourite-hitchcock-the-birds (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Crowther, B (1963). Screen: 'The Birds': Hitchcock's Feathered Fiends Are Chilling. At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9D05E7D9143CEF3BBC4953DFB2668388679EDE (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Sooke, A (2015). The Birds, review: 'disturbing'. At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/11334674/The-Birds-review-disturbing.html (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Illustration List

Fig. 1 Poster
Hithcock, A (1963). The Birds [Poster] At: http://www.impawards.com/1963/posters/birds.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 2 Local suspicion
Hithcock, A (1963). The Birds [Film Still] At: http://1125996089.rsc.cdn77.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/birds18.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 3 Local fear
Hithcock, A (1963). The Birds [Film Still] At: https://flickswithmaddog.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/birds-3.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 4 Mitch's mother
Hithcock, A (1963). The Birds [Film Still] At: http://www.mardecortesbaja.com/ManMotherBirdsBaja.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

1 comment:

  1. Another spot-on review :) Excellent choice and use of supporting evidence...