Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Birds (1963)

Fig 1: Poster
Alfred Hitchcock'c The Birds (1963) thriller and horror film. The film tells the story about Melanie Daniels the daughter of a wealthy father who owns a newspaper company. As she is in a pet store about to collect some birds, but as she is waiting, she meets Mitch who is a layer (who recognises her from court) and she pretends to be a shop clerk. After Mitch leaves, she recognises his car's license plate number and finds some information about him. She drives to a town called Bodega Bay to joke Mitch with gifting his sister Cathy with the specific birds he could not find for her. Melanie does not want to be seen, as she leaves the birds at their house, so she uses a boat to cross the water, and upon returning to shore, she is attacked by a seagull.  Mitch takes her to a nearby diner, where her wound is treated and questions why is she at the town, but she denies that it is for only Mitch, so she lies that she is visiting her friend Annie, the school teacher (who she just met while finding out Mitch's sister's name). He invites her over for dinner, where she meets the excited Cathy and Lydia, His mother, and while they talk it is discovered that the chickens around the town are not eating anything. Melanie is invited to Cathy's birthday and upon returning to Annie's house, she finds out that Annie and Mitch were lovers, but their relationship got destroyed by Lydia, who does not want to be left alone. At the birthday part, birds start to attack the children, and later that evening huge amount of swifts. The next morning Lydia visits the neighbour farm and finds his dead body, covered in bloody cut and his eyes missing, seemingly attacked by birds. She runs back home and is in shock, as she lays in bed her and Melanie get to understand each other better and she offers to go for Cathy, who is in school. She notices a bunch of crows and they make an escape, but the birds attack them. At the local diner, Melanie calls her father to report all the bird attacks, and people around her do not seem to believe it is real, until the birds attack again, resulting in an explosion with gasoline and a few dead locals. Mitch and Melanie go to collect Cathy from Annie's house, and they find the dead Annie and terrified Cathy, and they return to their home, where they barricade the whole building. They wait in silence for what is going to happen, and suddenly the birds attack the house, but does not manage to break inside. Later that night Melanie notices some noises upstairs and as he enters one of the rooms to inspect, she is attacked by the birds, but her unconscious body is saved by Mitch. They decide Melanie needs to go to hospital, so they silently make their escape with car and leave the town behind.
Fig 2: Car finally leaving the bird flooded town

"The director was said to have based the 1963 film on a creepy incident in California, where flocks of frenzied, dying birds flew into the windows of homes in Monterey Bay. Scientists have come up with an answer for the freak of nature - that the birds had been poisoned by toxic plankton...The title came from a short story called The Birds written in 1952 by Daphne Du Maurier but Hitchcock was said to have requested copies of newspapers in California around the time of the real-life bird deaths." (Dailymail, 2011) It is clear that the film and past events are in some connection, and the movie took some inspiration from what has happened. But the birds in the movie seemingly do not suffer from any poisoning, as Hitchcock most probably used the story to create a different meaning and deliver it as the birds. The town was perfectly calm and normal until Melanie has arrived and everything turned upside down. As the movie starts there is a seagull attacking her, but flies by immediately, appearing to be only a warning, however at the end as they leave the house the town is flooded with hundreds of birds.
Fig 3: Image of the real bird tragedy, with infected birds
Fig 4: Melanie and Mitch surrounded by dead birds

"No one knows and that's the way it's meant to be. Hitchcock has always been tight-lipped about his works. He'd rather the audience come up with their own hypothesis. The fact that the bird's motivations are unknown makes this movie far more intriguing and frightening." (The Dustinaton Foundation, 2014) As the meaning of why the birds attack is not explained or what their meaning is, so people has made many theories and ideas to answer the question, however the director never has said anything about the matter. As the movie reaches the end, we are left with an open ending, which is quite frustrating, but can let the audience's imagination run free, so they can decide what the answers are, or just simply not bother to try to find the correct answer and just accept the unknown. If the cause of the evens and the birds motivation would have been explained, it could be unsatisfying for some audience members, as they might have read the movie differently, and the fact that the audience is left just as uncertain and confused as the characters, brings the viewer more into the film and it can be terrifying; and it could loose some of its terrifying, but magical grip on the audience.

"It certainly feels cataclysmic, watching the destruction of a town from something as relatively benign as a flock of birds...Hitchcock’s direction even feeds into the apocalyptic notion, with the intermittent camera shots of the burning town from a birds-eye view...In any case, those of us watching it on the screen are, at the very least, reminded of our own mortality, of the fragility of human life and the forces of nature that can easily douse it." (Ashe, 2012) One theory of what the meaning of the film is and the purpose of the birds is that human can be helpless when they are facing against nature. We are used to monsters and giant creatures on scree as they threaten humanity and cause huge destruction. However, in The Birds the animals seem to be average and not some mutant animals, which is a reminder that simple things such as a bunch of birds can be dangerous, and us as humans might fail to defeat them. As the birds were causing terror in the town, no one seemed to be strong enough to stop them, and they had to leave and run away. The audience is aware that a human is stronger than the birds we see on the screen and one person could handle on their own some of the animals, however as they all worked together and formed into a large number, they instantly became fearsome, which means our knowledge of a small and harmless creature changes imminently.
Fig 5: Destruction in the town

"This viewpoint, which borrows heavily from feminist criticism of the film posited by Camille Paglia, recasts the “birds” of the title as the women in Mitch’s life ... All three of these women essentially spend their lives “flocking” around Mitch; he is, in a sense, their whole world, the singular male authority figure in all of their lives. When Melanie arrives, boasting a leashed, potent sexuality that threatens to displace their shared “roost” (so to speak), the physical bird attacks can be seen as emanating from the three displaced women’s collective anger and frustration." (Ashe, 2012) Another theory that people seem to agree with, is that the birds represent feelings of women in Mitch'c life toward Melanie. The audience is presented with the knowledge that Lydia, Mitch's mother is widowed and relies on Mitch a lot, she does not want to be left alone and ignored by her son. A conversation between Melanie and Annie tells the viewers about Lydia and how she fears to loose Mitch, as well as it is clearly displayed on her face that she is not happy with Melanie's presence, she wants her to leave. Furthermore, We know that Annie was a former lover of Mitch and she still feels for him, which means she is possibly jealous in some way of Melanie as Mitch's new interest; however, she seem to be more accepting than Lydia. The third woman is Mitch's life is his sister Cathy, who clearly likes Melanie, however it does not mean that she could not feel jealous of his brothers affection for another person. To furthermore underpin this theory, the birds only starts to attack the town, when Melanie arrives, when she really enters Mitch's life.
Fig 6: Annie, Lydia, Cathy, Melanie and Mitch

"Despite all the terrifying sequences, and apocalyptic undertones, there's a glimmer of hope at the end. These characters have all grown closer." (The Dustinaton Foundation, 2014) As the four characters are hiding from the birds outside, they seem to get closer together, as they depend on one another for protection and to also take care of each other. Cathy is curled up to Melanie and Lydia also seems to accept her more. Right after the final and biggest attack of the birds, Melanie is in complete shock and is the most helpless out of all the current characters. We see Mitch and Lydia helping and supporting Melanie to the car and later Lydia holds Melanie as a mother figure, so it is clearer that she indeed finally accept her and now wants to take care of her as if she was her daughter. Also, when Mitch goes back to help Cathy into the car too, she asks if she could bring her love-birds as well, claiming that they have done nothing wrong. This is a very childish and innocent thing to ask, as they are surrounded with all the attacking birds, but it suggest forgiveness and hope that not everything lost its pureness. As they slowly and quietly walk between the birds, they do not seem to be very bothered and are not attacking them, which seems unusual compared how they have behaved before and they seem to finally let the people go. The birds behaviour has changed, just as the feeling of the some characters towards Melanie and Melanie's mental state.
Fig 7: Mitch and Lydia taking care of shocked Melanie

"There is no music in the film, only natural and unnatural sounds. The sound of the birds massing is frightening than any kind of soundtrack." (Kumar, 2013) The overall presence of the bird in the background makes the film feel more terrifying as we already know they are attacking, but sometimes just sit there, waiting and gathering up. But what makes the film feel more real is the fact that it is not enhanced with music' for example when the four characters are hiding, there is complete, eerie silence, and sometimes there is the faint sound of the birds outside, so we know they are still there and waiting. Or just as characters interact throughout the movie, in the background we can hear wings flapping of the nose of some birds as a constant reminder that they are everywhere and they are always there somewhere nearby. As we would expect a build up in music to know something is going to happen before it does, the music is not there. There is only silence and the massing birds sound, as it gets louder and louder, which means the number is highly increasing and the danger with it as well.
Fig 8: Massing birds

"Thomson is right to move the discussion indoors, so to speak, since the worst thing about The Birds is, of course, the birds themselves. Not just because the special effects look so creaky by the hyper-real standards of CGI. No, the film would be much better off without them. Alert to this, the Dutch artist Martijn Hendriks digitally removed the birds, turning it into a tale of extreme psychological torsion and pure paranoia." (Dyer, 2012) While it is a very famous Hitchcock film and it is said to be ahead of its time, the animation and visual effects seem to be quite fake and unbelievable in many people's eyes. Of course, it is unfair to compare it to modern CGI, as they did all they could with what they were given and that is all the technology at that time could do for them. However, as we never find out the director's idea of the real purpose and meaning of the birds, we can be pretty sure its not as simple as just the bird being angry, it is clear that they have a more powerful meaning and possibly are only a metaphor. Which means they might only exist in the mind of someone or are just the physical representation of something that is not visible, such as emotions or mental state. Removing the birds from the film, might gives it another meaning, but it cannot be ignored that if they are really not just birds, but much more, it might not be that necessary to always see them.
Fig 9: Obvious CGI in background


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