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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: The Birds

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October 29, 2010

Movie Review Friday: The Birds

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that's currently in theaters or available on DVD. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.

The Birds (1963)

Available on DVD  

As Halloween draws near, we find it appropriate to recommend a vintage classic of the horror genre. If you’ve never seen The Birds and intend to, be warned that the content below contains spoilers.

But it’d be difficult to discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s film — from an environmental perspective, anyway — without commenting that its plot never ends up explaining why its feathered villains act so malevolently upon humans. No motive is given, no redemption granted. To the uninvolved viewer, they’re just flying demons with an inexplicable death wish for people. The exasperating question keeps getting asked, “Why are they doing this?”

But let’s back up a bit. The Birds opens with Melanie, Tippi Hedren’s coiffed heiress, perusing caged birds in a San Francisco pet store. There, she meets Mitch (Rod Taylor), an attractive man who is, by weekday, a lawyer in the city but by weekend, a mama’s boy (Hitchcock read good amounts of Freud) in sleepy Bodega Bay.

Melanie, having learned that Mitch is shopping for lovebirds as a gift for his young sister, schemes to bring them up a captive pair. After she makes the curvy but beautiful drive northward along the California coast, the story, too, twists and turns to usher in an ex-lover of Mitch’s, plenty of screaming children, and, of course, Mitch’s troubled mother.

The problem at hand is that birds of many species keep descending on the town with apparent intent to kill. The horrified Bodegans ruminate on reasons for this, and failing to find any, hatch plans to retaliate. Only one person, a nutty old ornithologist, speaks in defense of the winged creatures, saying, “Birds are not aggressive creatures. They bring beauty into the world. It is mankind, rather, who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist on this planet.”

Today’s resolution-needy audiences will be annoyed by how things end: too abruptly and hardly heroically. The lead characters tiptoe into a car, the pair of caged lovebirds in tow, and just drive away. DVD watchers won’t be impressed, either, with the film’s antiquated production methods. It seems almost sacrilegious to say this, and perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, but contrasted with today’s psychological thrillers, The Birds feels downright campy. In places, its special effects are unintentionally comical.

But get past the superficial, watch with an eye toward symbolism, and try to answer that oft-posed question yourself, and you may get more out of the movie. This oddball lecture by Hitchcock offers a bit of a watching guide, wherein the famous eccentric makes irony-soaked references to factory farming, species extinction, and our little habit of gobbling down millions of turkeys for Thanksgiving. Perhaps, he implies with the beginnings of a smirk, the birds are exacting simple revenge for all that humans have wrought upon them.

So, “Why are they doing this?” Perhaps the better question is: Why are we?

--Avital Binshtock

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