Friday, 6 January 2012
Movie Review: The Birds (1963)
A chilling horror film that succeeds in infusing birds with maliciously evil intent, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds is a thrilling masterpiece, packed with unforgettable visuals and impressive subtext.
Inexplicably, birds start to attack the humans in Bodega Bay. At first individual bird attacks cause minimal damage, but soon the birds start to flock together, attacking in large numbers, injuring and killing residents and terrifying children. With the attraction between Mitch and Melanie growing, the birds become more brazen, destroying parts of the town in a series of sky-darkening raids. Mitch, Melanie, and Lydia have to find a way to protect Cathy and save their lives.
Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock's personally selected new ingenue, delivers an underrated performance as Melanie, a woman with big city savvy easily navigating her way around the less sophisticated Bodega Bay culture. Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette provide a good counter-balance, The Birds unique in providing three sophisticated central roles for women in what is superficially a horror film. Hitchcock is less fortunate with the bland Rod Taylor, who is unable to deliver sufficient charisma as Mitch.
Even more interesting than the Nature's Revenge theme is Hitchcock's not-so-subtle placement of Melanie in the bull's eye of each bird attack on Bodega Bay. Every horrifying on-camera assault by the birds coincides with Melanie's intrusion into the community. The birds fire a warning shot on the bay when Melanie sails onto it; and follow up with another intimidating knock on the door at Annie's house when Melanie sleeps there.
Melanie's presence and its consequences may represent the damage suffered by a small community when big city elements creep in. More mouthwatering is the story of a personal and catastrophic battle between women. Both Lydia and Annie resent Melanie's presence in Bodega Bay, the clingy mother and the forlorn ex-wannabe girlfriend both immediately sensing that Melanie could easily poach Mitch from under their noses. Tellingly, Melanie's first brush with the bird on the bay occurs after her initial, uncomfortable encounter with Annie: the enemy becomes aware of the incursion, and the scouts are deployed to probe the foe's resilience. Both Lydia and Annie will be hurt during the battle: once war erupts, the instigators also stand to get hurt. The Birds becomes a representation of the gruesome war between a man's mother, his potential lover, and the woman who pines for his heart, with an entire town suffering as collateral damage.
The Birds is a remarkable experience, as effective in delivering sometimes terrorizing thrills as it is in prompting more cerebral interpretive pursuits.
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