Hitchcock's The Birds has been terrorizing us for 60 years

Hitchcock's The Birds has been terrorizing us for 60 years

The Birds occupies a first-rate place within the cinematography of master Alfred Hitchcock, so much so that it can still be referred to today as perhaps his most intimate film.

Certainly he is also one of those who has been able to influence cinema the most, indeed from certain points of view perhaps creating more sub-genres which have then become increasingly important.

Exactly sixty years have passed since the audience left the hall dazed, terrified and shaken by this sort of journey into the concepts of madness and irrationality. Even today this film stands as a complex and undeniable symbol of the genius and sensitivity of a director who changed our way of conceiving fear and its meanings in our world.

The construction of a terror arriving from the skies

Alfred Hitchcock's Birds is, as known, taken from the story written by Daphne du Maurier more than a century earlier, from which, however, he differed in reality quite clearly when it came to making a screenplay for the big screen. A complicated process that brought the director to loggerheads with the screenwriter Evan Hunter (one of the many pseudonyms of Ed McBain). But then, it is known that working with Hitchcock was anything but relaxing or easy.

This film was no exception in that 1963, even though the goodness of the final result (not immediately caught by the critics as often happens) still today basically silences everyone. The plot began in enigmatic San Francisco and from there to Bodega Bay, following Mitch Brenner ( Rod Taylor ) and the beautiful Melania Daniels ( Tippi Hedren ), who have some unfinished business to see them, but who are also hopelessly attracted to each other towards the other.

The film initially appears almost as a kind of sui generis romantic comedy or something similar. Then suddenly, Hitchcock scales the gears, besieges us and the inhabitants armed with an increasingly unbearable suspense caused by the growing and feral attack brought by flocks of birds towards unarmed people, the first of which takes place against Melania . A seagull launches it and the fact that this happens while she is on board a boat and observes Mitch who is waiting for her at the pier is absolutely not accidental, because nothing in this film is, as in any other work by the great master. Alfred Hitchcock had already enchanted with Psycho but here he decided to create a film which, through his ability to work on the principle of gaze and space, made characters, as well as animals, bearers of complex and unprecedented meanings. They ranged from the representation of humanity's relationship with nature, to that of fear in man, of which he explored the most hidden and obscure meanders.

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Look at the gallery But even more, the Birds remains a sort of cinematographic treatise on psychoanalysis, focused on theme of abandonment, of refusal, with all the consequences that it brings.

All the protagonists we get to know, good or bad, have suffered or are afraid of being abandoned, live in a state of anguish, fear towards the emotional consequences of this phenomenon. All of this Hitchcock palpably defines as he progressively drags us from a realistic vision to one that unpredictably embraces the fantastic and the most unsettling horrendous. There is something growing, moving, falling from above towards an unaware but not at all serene humanity, caged like the two little birds that Melania would like to give to Mitch. The first of many ingenious metaphors. Because loneliness and lack of freedom besiege everything and everyone in that bay, which can't get help from anyone in the world.

Here then, that the Birds becomes above all the metaphor of humanity's most hidden nemeses in both a private and collective sense, also going towards the arcane, the religious, as well as the historical in the most current sense.

Gli Uccelli mainly sees seagulls and crows attacking people, sowing death and destruction. This is not a random choice, because we all know, without disturbing Chekhov and other illustrious narrators more than necessary, that the seagull has a precise role in maritime culture. He acts as a messenger of salvation and an emissary of light, a symbol of freedom and lightheartedness, of the ability to break down what oppresses us. The crow on the contrary, as seen in this film in which it feeds on men's eyes, blinds them, is an emissary of death, of a macabre and powerful elsewhere, of divinity. But it is also a totem of transformation in the most universal sense of the term. From Norse to Native American mythology, the crow is connected to the manifestation of the divine in the world, symbolizing the transition from life to death, from night to day, as well as from good to evil. The fact that both of these species attack the inhabitants is the symbol of a total reversal of the natural order of things, the proof of an epochal cataclysm that hangs over us all. In fact, one of the most brilliant intuitions ever seen.

Between historical symbolism and apocalyptic promise

In that 1963 there was no lack of those who saw good or bad in birds, even a manifestation of dormant desires, those that were unmentionable and socially reprehensible. But the link with those historical dramas that we had theoretically just left behind, but which raged in our memory, in the daily life of humanity, is clear in the Birds. In fact, the Birds remind us of the Stukas and the many aircraft involved in horrendous bombings which had marked the Second World War, and whose memory was still alive in the population.

But in their irruption into everyday life, into homes, upsetting them without warning and the possibility of a reaction, the nuclear nightmare that dominated everyone's fears shines bleakly in those years. Moreover, we were in the midst of the Cold War which according to many had brought the world to the brink of destruction, with the Cuban missile crisis and the consequent arms race. An apocalyptic promise loomed over civilization capable of forever upsetting our lives, society and its values.

Hitchcock's Birds, anticipating from this point of view another masterpiece such as Spielberg's Jaws, brought to the surface an atavistic, primitive fear, that of man towards nature and his creatures. He did it also thanks to a precise desire to detach himself from the cinematographic narration in the musical dimension, here substantially absent, in suggesting a truthfulness or plausibility of the events, however incredible. The set aimed at favoring a semantic penetration of the most apocalyptic religiosity in the cinematographic narration of a "normal" world. The ending itself, among the most legendary and disturbing ever, with the flock of birds that silently and menacingly witnesses the departure of the survivors, stands as a biblical warning, that of the old testament towards sinful and outcast humanity. Gli Uccelli suggests a zeroing of our social creed, of civilization, submerged by a new global flood, by God's wrath, by a surgical and selective Apocalypse, which will have no end that day.

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Sixty years have passed since that film. Hitchcock's The Birds, in addition to being the stylistic and semantic summa of his cinema, of his playing with time and space, with the gaze and our knowledge of spectators, was also perhaps, together with Psycho, his most influential film.

The disaster movie sub-genre had its origin precisely on March 23, 1963, with this film that paved the way for zombie movies as well. In general what George A. Romero , Roland Emmerich, the great John Carpenter , and in more recent times of course the histrionic M. Night Shyamalan have given us with their cinema, we can say that it was born with this gloomy and inexplicable film . To all of them, Hitchcock taught how to create the idea of ​​an invisible world behind the visible one, how that essence was actually a reflection of what we are not but would like to be, of what we desire but cannot have, of our failure as creatures convinced that they can deceive ourselves and others.


It was a profoundly metaphysical film, innovative in an almost shocking way as regards the technical and formal aspect, as well as the semiotic one, making the spectator an omniscient persecuted by terror precisely because of this element. Even today, the whole leads us to question ourselves about the loss of control we are subjected to, it forces us to admit our inferiority towards the universe, to question our supremacy towards the reality that surrounds us. If Truffaut's definition that the Birds was the representation of a fantasy and a collective suggestion is valid, it must be said that it was in all probability the best thought out and most profound ever created in the history of cinema. In fact, no cinematic angst has ever managed to surpass The Birds, with which Alfred Hitchcock mocked our certainties, thanks to the ability to make the different shots, a symbol of how the imagined unknown is the most terrifying thing that exists.

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