Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Birds (1963) Film Review

 Fig. 1. The Birds poster.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is a classic Hitchcock horror film, arguably not as effective as Psycho, however the film still succeeds in building suspense and making an audience re think the behaviour of a usually not hostile species.

 Fig. 2. Birds gathering still.

Hitchcock continues to use his method of showing the hypothetical bomb to the audience to build suspense. There is an incredibly scene in which the young female lead role Melanie Daniels, is sitting on a bench outside the school while birds slowly start appearing on the climbing frame behind her. Hitchcock shows us the birds long before Melanie realises, he makes us watch and wait, making us want to scream at the screen in hope that Melanie will hear and see the birds. As Nash points out in his review ‘The only thing dated about this movie is the special effects.  It still manages to provides some scares, suspense and at least one shocking moment, and also a surprising amount of characterization.’ (Nash, 2010). As Nash points out Hitchcock’s technique of building suspense is still very effective even compared to modern cinema, the effects are the only thing that make this film feel old, as the birds look very fake in certain scenes. However the suspense is still very effective and helps the film progress, as you would expect from a Hitchcock film.

Another successful feature of the film was its soundtrack, as Schwartz states in his review ‘It's also worth noting that The Birds used a synthesized score consisting entirely of bird sounds, not music. This helped create the eerie mood throughout.’ (Schwartz, 2007). As Schwartz points out Hitchcock didn’t use a traditional score for this film, instead he used sounds from birds which make the film feel even more unnatural and uncomfortable. This works really well in this strange and creepy world that Hitchcock had created, it doesn’t feel out of place in this universe in which birds swarm and attack, It complements the actions that take place throughout the film.

 Fig. 3. Diner scene still.

The Birds is a great example of how plot and story are two separate components, the plot throughout this film is rather simple, a young woman follows a potential love interest and birds attacks start to happen and escalate extremely quickly, leaving the world in a near apocalyptic state. The story however is much more complex and can be read in a lot of different ways, As Kehr points out in his review ‘Alfred Hitchcock's most abstract film (1963), and perhaps his subtlest, still yielding new meanings and inflections after a dozen or more viewings. As emblems of sexual tension, divine retribution, meaningless chaos, metaphysical inversion, and aching human guilt, his attacking birds acquire a metaphorical complexity and slipperiness worthy of Melville.’ (Kehr, 2007). Kehr suggests that the film still emits new ideas even after watching it multiple times. The brilliance of the film is that at no point does the audience discover why the birds are attacking, there’s a scene about half way through the film in a diner in which Hitchcock gives some joking suggestions as to why the birds are acting out in a strange manor, this range from the end of the world, to nature taking revenge on mankind. However none of these answers are satisfying enough to accept, so as a viewer you are left feeling unnerved. It is possible that the birds attacking are a reflection of the emotions that the characters in the story are feeling. The mother for example is very protective and doesn’t want to lose her son, so the birds attack Melanie much like the mothers eyes and thoughts do.

Overall this is definitely a film for any Hitchcock fan to watch and enjoy, although it has a very slow start and continues to be slow in parts, the overall suspense and vision still stands strong today. It is definitely a film that will make you more cautious around birds, as it has scenes that leave a strong image imprinted on your brain.

Illustration list
Hitchcock, A. (1963). Figure 1. The Birds poster. (Accessed on 22/02/2015)
Hitchcock, A. (1963). Figure 2. Birds gathering still. (Accessed on 22/02/2015)
Hitchcock, A. (1963). Figure 3. Diner scene still. (Accessed on 22/02/2015)

Kehr, D. (2007). (Accessed on 22/02/2015)
Nash, S. (2010). (Accessed on 22/02/2015)
Schwartz, D. (2007). (Accessed on 22/02/2015)

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