Critical Analysis Of A Thriller Drama The Birds By The Master Of Suspense Alfred

  • Words 1841
  • Pages 4
Download PDF

‘The Birds’, a thriller drama by the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock is a classic in the history of world cinema. A wealthy San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels chases a potential boyfriend Mitchell Brenner, to Bodega Bay that slowly takes a turn for a bizarre series of events when, over a course of few days, there are frequent, out of the blue violent bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay. The film is credited for turning something completely harmless into absolute menace.

Hitchcock’s dramatic techniques are like a foundation in building tension in the story, which apparently help in accomplishing and bringing out the essence of horror and suspense. As viewers, initially we get an understanding of the characters’ back story before the terror is unleashed. Hitchcock’s dramatic techniques place the viewers on tenterhooks and apparently make the story more gripping.

Click to get a unique essay

Our writers can write you a new plagiarism-free essay on any topic

The main conflict brought out in the film is of the type Character versus Nature. The conflict is between the birds attacking and trying to kill the citizens of Bodega Bay and the people, as they struggle to survive these sudden mysterious and vehement bird attacks. Another key conflict that forms an integral part of the drama is of the Character versus Character type. The icy conflict between Lydia Brenner and Melanie Daniels, predominantly over Mitch; Lydia is a dominant maternal figure and their conflict lies in Lydia’s determination to prevent anything from developing between Ms. Daniels and her son. She seems to be quite over possessive about her son. The conflict is quite evident in the scene where the farmer dies and Lydia returns home frantically. She was in more need of Mitch’s protection but felt she had to compete with Melanie because both were women in Mitch’s life and they felt helpless.

Hitchcock has developed each character’s behaviour and emotions in a way to create suspense. The actors’ performances coupled with the uniqueness in each character has been very crucial to the film and the accolades that it has won. All the characters are quite close to reality and therefore the audience can build a personal connect with them. Melanie is extremely central to the plot whose character changes as the story progresses making the audience feel much more sympathetic towards her. Undoubtedly, she is a problem to both Lydia and Annie since both are women dependent of Mitch’s love. Mitch is a character seldom in focus. He is calm and composed and the women seem to revolve around him. Lydia’s one look at Ms. Daniels is enough for the viewers to get an insight into her character. She is a very insecure woman and is very critical to any women that his son allows into his life. Her character is the most important to the drama developed by Hitchcock throughout the film. But over time, she grows open to Melanie and they grow closer.

‘The Birds’ is a film that flows flawlessly. There is a very impressive blend of action and slowly developing sense of horror. Though the film has a slow start but gradually it does gain the required tempo. Citing an example, the playground scene wherein, Melanie comes and sits on a bench outside the school building seems so fixed, as if framed in a painting. All scenes appear to be so well in place. Through pathetic fallacy the atmosphere is established in most scenes. It’s a film wherein chaos reigns from top to tail. The film starts on a lighter note with comical interactions between Melanie and Mitch and therefore Hitchcock uses bright lights and warm hues, whereas before and during the bird attacks; dim, shady colours are used. It is not until the very first bird attack upon Ms. Daniels that the mood starts to take a dark and shady turn. Towards the end, the dull and dark lighting and colour create an eerie atmosphere. The film makes tremendous use of ‘Green’ colour, right from the scenery whilst Melanie is driving to Melanie putting on the same green coat throughout the film. Generally, green is a colour of peace and harmony but Hitchcock has used it as a part of his mind-boggling techniques, to create a sense of uncertainty. Lighting has been used quite proficiently in the dead farmer scene and changes as per the mood. In the scene, initially, as Lydia walks down there is bright sunlight but as she approaches the door, the lighting turns dim and gradually there is complete absence suggesting something bad has happened.

Hitchcock uses a variety of camera angles to build up tension in the film. For example, in the phone booth scene, the camera moves around in the point of view of the birds then switches to Melanie’s view, however as she gets more and more vulnerable, high angle shots are used to make her look helpless. A large number of extreme close ups have been used to show the dread, fear and many other emotions on the characters’ faces. Dutch angle has been used in many scenes portraying the disorientation and uneasiness in the scene. For example, when Melanie and the Brenners look up towards the ceiling where the bird sounds are coming from. Wide shots have been used to establish the landscape and to show the birds plotting and attacking.

The long dialogues effectively create suspense because the audience is eager to find out the cause of the attacks and when they will attack again, thus creating an anticipating effect. “It’s the end of the world.” is one of the most powerful and ironical dialogues in this film since, when this is repeated by an anonymous patron at the restaurant, viewers are oblivion of the fact that this will be the conclusion of the film. Many a dialogue in the film hint at Melanie’s arrival in Bodega Bay being the sole reason for the out of the blue bird attacks. When a woman at the restaurant blames Melanie for the mysterious bird attacks, which is ultimately a red herring, Hitchcock tries to create a sense of doubt in the viewers’ minds.

Except for the opening scene, the entire film is set completely in Bodega Bay, a coastal town in California. This town is useful as a setting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was a remote place so it takes a while for word to spread out of that place. So, for horror-film logistics, Bodega Bay is a good place to put the action. Secondly, Bodega Bay is a contrast to San Francisco—a contrast to Melanie’s big-city socialite ways. Therefore, the small-town atmosphere makes Melanie look suspicious. Selecting a beach town, Hitchcock made sure that there were plenty of uninterrupted sky vistas since it’s all about birds. Most of the film is set during the day making the viewer unsuspecting of the bird attacks. This is done to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Hitchcock was a master of mis en scene. Citing an instance from the film, when Melanie Daniels is standing outside and we see the playground behind her gradually filling up with birds, it is an excellent example of mise en Scene.

‘The Birds’ is a jarring story and its soundtrack that is one of its kind, works for itself. The movie-goers are thrilled to quite an extent by the art of noise as used by the master of suspense to trigger a feeling of horror. The birds’ unsettling screeches have undoubtedly worked for themselves thereby, transforming seemingly harmless and friendly creatures into deadly beasts. Hitchcock had a taste for the unusual. ‘I hear sounds like that all day long. I need something that is really coming to shake people up!’ Hitchcock said. He subtly s the viewers with the idea of the birds being both omnipresent and threatening. This rightly begins with the opening credits. As the Universal logo fades in, so does the ominous sound of birds. It is right at this point that the viewers get a clue of the fact that these birds play a crucial role throughout the film. The screeching sounds in the credits fades a bit, but not completely, and bleeds seamlessly into the first scene. This make the viewer constantly feel that they are always lurking around. Another technique utilized by the filmmaker to escalate horror and suspense is introducing or elevating the sound of the birds during moments of tension and inserting moments of silence before chaos is about to begin. When Lydia leaves the dead farmer’s farmhouse, her muted scream has a very horrifying effect. It seems to be a reflection of how we react weakly to the horrors happening in our lives. The movie ends in complete silence with merely a single crow quietly squawking somewhere in the background. Nearly devoid of sound, Hitchcock draws an uncanny image.

Hitchcock said the following regarding dramatic irony:

‘The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!” A few instances that prove Hitchcock’s mastery in Dramatic irony are; when Melanie is seen walking up to the room upstairs that is locked. She is unaware that this room is filled with the birds, while the audience knows they’re there. She places her hand on the doorknob and hesitates before entering, giving the audience a moment of hope that she won’t be attacked by the birds. Another example is when Mitch sees the Birds grouping together before they start attacking the people. Dramatic irony is best brought out in the film when the ornithologist argues with Melanie at the restaurant regarding the strange behaviour among the birds. The audience stands witness to what Melanie describes and we are very well aware of the fact that she is telling the truth but the lady expresses her utter disbelief in what Melanie says.

The birds have a rather indirect and figurative meaning in the American horror-thriller. The end of the film is unresolved. These unexplained mysterious bird attacks intensify the sense of uneasiness, suspense and horror. After having watched the film, my personal interpretation of the birds is that, the birds represent the tension in the family and are figurative of Lydia’s maternal possessiveness, attacking anyone who invades her territory. I personally feel that the birds are the core of the conflict, thereby representing disharmony and uneasiness and discomfort in the characters’ minds. Another understanding of the birds could be, the representation of the exploited class standing for their rights and fighting against their oppressors. This interpretation stands valid because ‘The Birds’ by Hitchcock is loosely based on a book by the same name, by Daphne du Maurier penned shortly after World war II. Another metaphorical meaning of the birds is their fight and rage against humans who treat them with extreme cruelty. The phone booth scene also emphasizes that because Melanie is surrounded by birds mocking her which looks like a bird helpless in a cage. They could also be indicative of the doomsday which is not very far if this is the way man is going to play with nature and its elements.


We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.