The Birds (1963)

Viewed May 13th


A woman pursues a man to his family home in remote Bodega Bay when the birds start attacking. 

Building off of Robin Wood's influential interpretation of this filmthe birds aren't attacking for a particular reason. The attacks can't be reduced to a series of psychological explanations in the way that Norman Bates' murders can. On the contrary, they represent something perhaps more deeply terrifying: pure chaotic unreason. The most common line of dialogue in The Birds is "Why are they doing this?" And although varied answers are offered, they're categorically presented as absurd. The most common answer and the only one that seems reasonable is "I don't know." This is paralleled in dialogue between Melanie and Annie, in which Annie describes how Mitch's mother turned on her:  


When I got back to San Francisco I spent days trying to figure out just what I'd done to displease her.


And what had you done?


Nothing! I simply existed.


The use of the word "existed" hearkens to the then-still-fashionable existentialist philosophies of the post-World War II era, in which (at least in the Nietzschean sense) the individual must will his or her desire into existence in the face of an uncaring, meaningless universe. Tippi Hedren's character Melanie is used to doing just that. And just at the very moment when her plan to capture the attention of the hunky lawyer Mitch is about to be fulfilled and her face reveals the satisfaction of yet another victory over the wills of others, the depth of Hitchcockian terror is unleashed.