Nowadays we see films based around the theme of ‘nature verses mankind’ as disaster movies such as ‘28 Days Later’ and ‘2012’, but little do most of us know that the original forerunner of such movies and indeed almost the entirety of the ‘revenge of nature’ genre spurned from a movie with a most peculiar idea of nature unleashing its wrath on humanity. ‘The Birds’ (1963) by Alfred Hitchcock is a somewhat stranger film, a different genre from the director’s psycho-thrillers. This film was one of the seeds that made disaster movies popular today.
The film opens up with our icy-blonde main character, Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, who meets with a young lawyer, Mitch Brenner, played by Rod Taylor, apparently looking for a pair of lovebirds for his daughter for her birthday. He asks her where he can find a pair, pretending to mistake her for a staff member in the shop. After an argument, she buys a pair of lovebirds to give to his daughter herself out of spite. After sneaking away from his home in a boat after delivering the birds, she is attacked by a gull, one of the first attacks to happen throughout the movie. She then meets Mitch’s mother who is clinging to her son’s company, lest she be left on her lonesome. In a way, this is almost the intended opposite of how birds take care of their young; as soon as they can fly, they’re fit to leave the nest and fend for themselves. This may be the film’s way of telling us how different we are from nature; a direct contrast of nature verses nurture. Like with most of Hitchcock’s films, he doesn’t present the concept of family and homely places in a friendly light. Instead, it’s an awkward, skewed vision of what we perceive them to be. EmanuelLevy.com summarizes this is their review of the film:
“The birds attack the most ordinary institution (school), but also most sacred ones (Cathy’s birthday party) Moreover, the Brenners become imprisoned in their own house. The house, a symbol of shelter and protection, becomes the birds’ target. The traditional meaning of other symbols is shattered and/or reversed.” (EmanuelLevy.com, <no date>)
The bird attacks continue as a flock of gulls attacks the children at Mitch’s daughter’s birthday party and a gull commits martyrdom, killing itself upon impact upon the door of the school teacher, Annie, where Melanie stays for the night. An enormous flock of sparrows swarm down the chimney of the Brenner’s residence and invade their home. Throughout the film, these birds seem to symbolize the wrath of women: most of these bird attacks happen when Melanie is around or when the main victim or spectator is a woman. The constant theme of women’s red fingernails can be compared to the blood-stained beaks of birds and both can be used as ‘weapons’ of sorts by vicious women and birds to leave scars.