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The Birds

The Birds

By Norman Buckley • September 3rd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
THE BIRDS (MOVIE)
Universal Pictures

Original release: March 28th, 1963
Running time: 119 minutes

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Evan Hunter, Daphne du Maurier

Cast: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette

The Birds

The Birds is a film that strikes me as worthy of contemplation on a psychological level. Its metaphors are very powerful. As far as I’m aware, Hitchcock never explained the movie, but it was made at the height of the cold war and I think that this fact informs its themes (I remember when the movie came out my dad was talking about building a bomb shelter in our backyard). Among other ideas, the bird attacks can be seen as a metaphor for nuclear war, for which we’re unprepared, and for that which is beyond our ability to comprehend.

To be sure, the movie is remembered for the dramatic bird attacks, but it’s also full of images, without The Birds, that suggest the character of the American psyche at a particular point in time—one of paranoia and suspicion (that, quite frankly, persists to this day). It suggests a society that’s frightened, and one that lets its fear run it.

The diner scene is one of my favorite scenes in the film, because it dissects the typical American suspicion of the other. Each of the characters in the diner represent various archetypes, and the scene is reminiscent of those diner interviews that we see on cable news channels, where people seem convinced that Iraq was behind 9/11. One of the reasons the film still resonates is that it’s as topical today as it was then. Just substitute terrorism for bird attacks, and then take a look at the shots throughout the film of people reacting.

The Birds

On a more specific level, there’s also the theme of an arrested adolescence. Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) is a man who still lives with his mother, unable to commit to a relationship. Again, the challenge of the experience forces him to come out from under the shadow of his father and to separate himself from the mother so that he might be able to be a man in his own right.

The way that Hitchcock positions his actors in the frame is no mistake. Mitch is framed under his father’s portrait, and his mother is frequently framed between him and Melanie Daniels. As he rises to the occasion of fending off The Birds–by implication, becoming his own man–the positioning changes. Melanie stands between him and his mother, and the mother becomes smaller in the frame.

If we think about the film from this point of view, there’s something very courageous and hopeful about the final shot of the movie—we see a group of people, finally united, in a positive way, and moving into the unknown, into the very middle of that which scares them. They’re scared but they’re brave and willing to face what comes. The sun is even breaking through the clouds in the distance. As a metaphor for psychological processes, it’s very dynamic—it’s only by facing our fears that we overcome them. I always thought that it was indicative of our own state of mind as to whether we found this final shot hopeful or despairing. I’m in the hopeful camp.

The Birds

Norman Buckley

Norman Buckley

Norman is a television director and editor known for his work on shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, The Lying Game, Melrose Place, 90210, Chuck and The OC. He currently teaches part-time at UCLA, in addition to editing and directing.

You can find more of Norman’s work at his website and blog, and he’s on Twitter too – @norbuck.

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