Blog Directory CineVerse: Birds of a feather flock together

Birds of a feather flock together

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The Birds" is one of the most challenging films in Hitchcock's canon, particularly because of the unexplained rationale for the avian attacks, diverging plot line, ambiguous ending, and other elements. But there is a method to this madness and an overall effect that the Master of Suspense was trying to achieve; perhaps this method fails for many viewers, but the overall impression he creates will indelibly be etched into your mind and linger long after the film concludes, for better or worse. Here's our CineVerse group's take on the movie:

The very question: “Why are the birds attacking”? This is left ambiguous and unexplained.
The would-be growing relationship between Melanie and Mitch

Perhaps puzzled, bewildered, anxious, unsettled, and/or disoriented.
There is no tying up of loose ends or a happy ending tacked on here: it’s highly likely that the bird attacks will continue and the survivors driving away face an uncertain future that could and soon in violent death. This is anticlimactic to the extreme.
Unlike previous horror movies, where the monsters, aliens or giant bugs and their motives or reasons why they attack are explained, this film doesn’t provide any answers or solutions. The “good guys” don’t win in the end, and the monster/threat is not vanquished or understood.
o Critic Richard Scheib suggested that The Birds ushered in a new era of horror cinema, after which: “Standard horror stories… were represented without classical moral/psychological definitions – without happy endings, explanations and solutions or regard to victims. In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, these films would have had strident moral messages about monsters of science unleashed or about the atomic bomb looming over everybody. Far more frighteningly, in the 1960s you never knew why monsters were attacking humanity – they came and went out of the blue... And, as Night of the Living Dead demonstrated, characters could no longer be guaranteed survival just because they were designated the hero.”

The motivations for the terrorizing/threatening force (in this case, the birds themselves) are not explained, just as it’s not explained why Melanie wants to go to such trouble to pull a practical joke on Mitch. Additionally, there is no proper closure by the dénouement of the film: we are left with an open ending wherein very little is clarified.
It doesn’t employ a proper musical score – instead, it utilizes an innovative sound design that incorporates live bird sounds and electronic sounds meant to simulate birds, as well as strange sounds and noises like ambient hum and dangerous animal sounds (like a rattlesnake).
Like Psycho, it features a long pursuit sequence and extended first act buildup in which we think the story is going in one direction (in this movie, a growing relationship between Mitch and Melanie) but suddenly turns in another direction and subverts our expectations.
It features elaborate special-effects for the day, including animated birds mixed with live and electronic birds, realistic matte paintings, complex optical effects and more.
This was the third time Hitchcock attempted to adapt a story by Daphne Du Maurier – previous efforts include Jamaica Inn and Rebecca.

You can attempt a feminist/Freudian psychological reading of this movie as such: Melanie enters the life of Mitch and upsets the natural order and structure of the flock who depend on him, which includes his mother Lydia, his previous girlfriend Annie, and his sister Cathy – all “birds” (in the English slang, a term that refers to females). Melanie’s arrival into their lives represents an external threat to their place in the roost that revolves around Mitch. Hence, the avian attacks symbolize the hatred, fear and resentment these three females – especially mother – feel toward Melanie.
o Essayist Brandie Ashe posits: “The attacks only and when Melanie essentially sacrifices herself to an onslaught of birds in the end of the film – her subsequent catatonia and helplessness lead Lydia to take on the role of mother, and it can be assumed that it is her implicit acceptance of Melanie (and of the regaining of her position as the head female character) which precipitates the end of the chaos and the uneasy detente at the conclusion of the film.” In other words, the birds stop attacking because mother has accepted Melanie – and vice versa (Melanie has found a new mother figure to fill that void in her life).
Melanie as albatross: she serves as a kind of bird of ill omen and bad luck, and her arrival into the town precedes the attacks. A town resident even insinuates that she’s a kind of witch, asking “who are you – what are you?” and suggesting that her presence provoked the bird attacks.
Birds of a feather flock together – especially when forced. Keep in mind that Mitch and Melanie both have names that start with M and R both sexually flirtatious and attracted to one another. Another M character – mother, who creates an “M” love triangle – at first rejects Melanie but comes to accept her by the end of the film.
You can also ascribe a biblical/apocalyptic religious reading to the movie: consider that the bird attacks bring to mind the various animal plagues of Egypt described in the Old Testament. We also hear an old drunk character quote the Bible and warn of the end of the world.
It’s important to remember also that this was the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia – thus, the movie can be viewed as a cautionary tale or allegory about escalating tensions between the two factions and the carnage and destruction that could be unleashed upon the world because of it.
The Birds can also be interpreted as a nature’s revenge tale: remember that early in the film, humans keep birds and cages, but by the end of the movie birds keep humans in cages (like Melanie trapped in a phone booth).

A flock of “nature revenge” movies from the 1970s, including Frogs, Night of the Lepus, Killer Bees, Squirm, The Food of the Gods, Rattlers, Empire of the Answers, Jaws, and The Swarm.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror

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