Put A Bird On It

            I decided to watch a movie that I had been wanting to for ages; it was the last in a line of Hitchcock movies that I’ve been making my way through—The Birds. Before I get into some analysis, I’m going to express my extreme disappointment at this film. The idea of having birds attack seems interesting in theory, since it’s an everyday, fairly harmless animal; additionally, the fact that Hitchcock decides to provide no explanation for vicious and seemingly well-organized birds attacks also adds to the unsettling feeling from the film (which I’ll discuss more in a bit). However, this combination leads to a situation where there is no possibility for plot, and so the main character’s lives are completely disconnected from the attacks and thus utterly uninteresting. To exacerbate the problem, the acting is horrendous; it’s so bad that having the child actors tossed in does not even detract from it. And although I feel awful that the actors had to endure a mix of live and fake birds in their face, it’s not working.

            Deficiencies aside, what struck me about this film was the people’s continual attempt to explain away the birds’ violent behavior, when they weren’t dismissing it entirely. For example, after the first attack, the family calls in the sheriff to report the incident. His first reaction was to try to explain why a giant flock of birds would rush into their house to attack t hem, which he tried to do by asking them questions about things such as whether or not their lights were on. To the audience, it seems so absurd that he was trying to explain it by some accident or provocation after watching the entirely random viciousness. Once the family tries to explain that the birds were very purposefully trying to inflict pain upon them, the sheriff completely rejects their claim and with it, the notion that birds could have intent. He then tries to explain the situation through the lens of personal experience by attempting to draw a comparison to the time there was a bird in his wife’s car, which makes him even more of a ridiculous figure. This theme comes up over and over again in the movie—most notably when a respected scientist in town practically laughs them away. She insists that the birds wouldn’t attack anyone because they aren’t aggressive and they lack the intelligence to do so, which demonstrates the futility of science in explaining these birds’ behavior.

            This refusal to accept the fact that birds are attacking out of nowhere seems logically reasonable, but absolutely absurd as the audience who just saw birds kill someone or try to peck a child’s eye out. This reminded me a lot of Fudge refusing to believe Voldemort is back in Harry Potter; more relevantly, it was reminiscent of Hume’s Of Miracles, particularly the story about the Indian prince that has never encountered ice and so refuses to believe that it exists. For us, it’s shocking to think that the prince would not believe such an everyday experience; however, as Hume insists, and as seems reasonable, we cannot expect the prince to accept something that is not a part of his normal experience.

            Additionally, this reminded me a lot of Nightfall, as science fails to explain the new event—here, the representative scientist refuses to believe it’s happening at the extent that it is. In Nightfall, the scientists explain it somewhat, but cannot even guess the magnitude (for example, the amount of stars). Although they’ve been preparing themselves for the moment, a lot of them simply don’t seem to believe it until they see it, which seems to be the common experience in The Birds as well.

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3 Responses to Put A Bird On It

  1. I have to say, I think you’re missing something here. The Birds is a classic, and should be contextualized in its time. The effects employed by Hitchcock, though fairly absurd by today’s standards, were really innovative at the time, as all of his films were. I actually wrote my seminar thesis on this film, and there is certainly a lot there to dig into.

    I really like your associations with the film with Nightfall and Of Miracles, and think it would also be great to think about Frankenstein in relation to The Birds. Both the titular birds and Frankenstein’s monster are freaks of nature–prodigies, as discussed in class. I’m interested in the concept of sentience as it applies to both of these monsters of nature. Victor’s monster somehow learns to speak in accurate English within years, and these birds seem to have a certain advanced consciousness, or at least they are attacking for some motive unintelligible to humans.

    • That’s very fair– the movie was interesting to reflect on afterwards, although not really to watch, if that makes sense. I’m no expert on effects, but the only ones that distract me in his other films are his fondness for using bad green screens for driving scenes, which seems to be in every movie ever from the time period.

      I like your comparison to Frankenstein with these birds as prodigies. Perhaps there’s also a connection in the mention the scientist made about how, if the birds were attacking, it was probably because of humanity’s ill treatment of them; although that’s not confirmed later in the film, it’s certainly an interesting connection to think about, what with the monster’s murderous tendencies growing out of the constant rejection he endures from humanity.

    • Also I just noticed your account name, and it’s the best! That’s all.

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