The Story (continued)
The Birds (1963)
Mitch finally arrives at the bar with the sheriff after visiting the murder scene at Dan Fawcett's farm: "And he was killed last night by birds." The sheriff (and Santa Rosa police) are skeptical - downplaying the theory that the birds were responsible. Instead, they believe it was a felony murder: "They think a burglar broke in and killed him...(The birds) got in after the old man was killed." The crazy drunk offers another Biblical verse: "Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap. Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them." The salesman and Mrs. Bundy both recall a similar incident the previous year in another coastal California town, Santa Cruz:
The town was just covered with seagulls...A large flock of seagulls got lost in the fog and headed into the town where all the lights were. And they made some mess too. Smashing into buildings and everything. They always make a mess. The point is that no-one seemed to be upset about it. They were all gone the next morning just as though nothing at all had happened. Poor things.
The dubious, 'foggy' conversation about the causes of the current attacks leaves unanswered questions. Mitch is alarmed and worried and proposes to make war on the birds with a "fog" counter-attack, but he has difficulty convincing Sholes - as gull noises intrude on the soundtrack:
I think we're in real trouble. I don't know how this started or why, but I know it's here and we'd be crazy to ignore it...The bird war, the bird attack, plague - call it what you like. They're amassing out there someplace and they'll be back. You can count on it...Unless we do something right now, unless we get Bodega Bay on the move, they...Mrs. Bundy said something about Santa Cruz, about seagulls getting lost in a fog and then flying in towards the lights...Make our own fog...we can use smoke pots the way the Army uses 'em.
Through the restaurant's window, Melanie notices that seagulls are swooping down on a gas station attendant at the nearby Capitol Oil Co and cries out: "Look!" [ATTACK # 7] After one pass, they strike him and knock him to the ground, along with the gasoline hose/nozzle with flowing gasoline. As the men run out of the restaurant to help the man, the mother fights her way in the door as they exit. They assist the fallen individual, ignoring a stream of gasoline running downhill on the pavement. Melanie and other patrons-spectators watch helplessly and passively from the window in the restaurant - she is the first to notice the bellicose traveling salesman [his car's license plate is DMN 078 - "demon"] lighting a cigar, and suspensefully anticipates his horrible fate: "Look at the gas. That man's lighting a cigar." When they slide open the window, their symphony of warning screams is misunderstood. He burns his fingers with the lighted match, drops it in the path of flammable liquid, sets off an explosion at his car, and is suddenly engulfed by flames. [His violent demise was foreshadowed earlier, when he proposed to wipe the birds off the face of the earth.] As everyone watches with fearful paralysis, the fire streaks back toward the service station and explodes in an inferno.
From a bird's point of view, a shot high above Bodega Bay, a single seagull (joined shortly by others) floats into the foreground, looking down on the fire below that has spread through the entire town square. They noisily screech in triumph and gather together for an attack. Everyone evacuates from the restaurant, rushing into a frantic scene of flames and flapping, screeching birds. Melanie seeks shelter in a telephone booth as she did earlier into a car, where she is trapped and powerless in a mechanism of communication - like a bird in a cage. A brilliant overhead shot captures her terror-stricken position as she beats her arms around (bird-like) in the enclosure, with birds assaulting her from every direction. A man blinded by the birds (that attack him as he drives his car) plows into parked cars and it bursts into flames. Firefighters arrive bringing firehoses - one out-of-control hose spews water toward the booth enclosing Melanie and obscures her vision. Two horses pulling a wagon without a driver gallop and careen through the street. One individual with a bloodied face and birds attacking his face leans against the outside of the booth where Melanie is entrapped. Two seagulls aim for her - they smash into and break the glass on two sides of the booth. Mitch saves her and protectively leads her into the now-empty restaurant.
They find the waitresses, other female customers (including a shamed Mrs. Bundy hiding with her back to the camera) and the mother with her two children - all huddled in the back hallway with accusatory stares directed toward them. The mother rises hysterically, and speaks directly into the camera (implicating the audience), blaming an "evil" Melanie for causing the bird attacks and bringing punishment into their midst:
Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil. (Shrieking) EVIL!
After being brutally accosted with verbal insults, Melanie slaps the woman to silence her inappropriate, irrational outburst. After slapping sense into the woman, she turns to find some solace in Mitch's grasp. Appropriately, Deke runs in with a report: "I think they're going." Flocks of birds are viewed flying away.
Mitch and Melanie run on foot up the hill to Annie's house to get Cathy. Blackbirds still hover on the rooftop of the schoolhouse, line the telephone wires, and blanket the jungle-jim in the playground. Stealthily, they creep slowly by and reach Annie's house. [ATTACK # 8] As they walk by the front fence, the point-of-view camera sees Annie's body sprawled on her front steps, with her legs slightly splayed apart and elevated as if she had been raped. Melanie cries with a mortified scream, as Mitch shields Annie's bloody face from her view. Cathy is inside behind a window in the house - safe but crying and deathly frightened. In an impotent gesture, Mitch angrily picks up a rock from the garden to heave at the birds on the roof, but Melanie (now shielding Cathy in her arms) screams for him to drop it: "Mitch! Don't!" Instead, he covers Annie's body with his coat jacket. Melanie pleads for him to not leave her there, so he carries her body into the house, and then guides them past the watchful birds to Melanie's car. During their drive to the Brenner house across the bay, Cathy tearfully recalls in broken sobs what happened - how Annie sacrificed herself to save her life:
When we got back from taking Michelle home, we heard the explosion and went outside to see what it was. All at once, the birds were everywhere. All at once, she pushed me inside and they covered her. Annie, she pushed me inside.
On a ladder, Mitch nails boards - with Melanie's assistance - on all of the attic windows to barricade the fragile windows from further assaults, ultimately making the house a caged prison. In the distance, the birds have been gathering for fifteen minutes and darkening the sky, repeating a pattern: "They strike, then disappear, and then start massing again." To hamper further communication, "the phone's dead," and Mitch asks Melanie - in a clever double entendre: "We've still got power, haven't we?" Lydia calls out to them about a radio broadcast from San Francisco. They walk in the door between a framed scene with Lydia on the left and Cathy on the right. Mitch blocks (or shields) the view of Melanie as he walks forward - Mitch joins the side of his mother, while Melanie chooses the right side with Cathy. They hear the announcer's first word, identifying Mitch as "the suspect" when he enters:
...the suspect...and the work of a team of professionals. End quote. In Bodega Bay early this morning, a large flock of crows attacked a group of children who were leaving the school during a fire drill. One little girl was seriously injured and taken to the hospital in Santa Rosa, but the majority of children reached safety. We understand there was another attack on the town. But this information is rather sketchy. So far, no word has come through to show if there have been further attacks.
The report reveals that the outside world has only "sketchy" information on Bodega Bay's (and their) perilous situation. Mitch builds a fire to keep the birds from entering through the chimney. Increasingly anxious and hysterical, Lydia questions Mitch with unanswerable questions and finally screams in panic as she expresses her ultimate Achilles heel - "If only your father were here!":
Lydia: When do you think they'll come?
Mitch: I don't know.
Lydia: If they're bigger birds, Mitch, they'll get into the house.
Mitch: Well, it's just a chance we'll have to take.
Lydia: Maybe we ought to leave.
Mitch: No, not now. Not while they're massing out there.
Mitch: We'll just see what happens.
Lydia: Where will we go?
Mitch: I don't know. We're safe here for the time being...
Lydia: What happens when you run out of wood?
Mitch: I don't know. We'll break up the furniture.
Lydia: You don't know. You don't know. When will you know? When we're all dead? (Cathy bursts into tears) If only your father were here! (pause) I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Mitch.
Mitch: Make us all some coffee, huh, dear? (As he walks away, Melanie is revealed behind them, with her back to the camera)
Outside again to fetch firewood, Mitch and Melanie watch as flocks of birds fly by to "somewhere inland," Mitch speculates. Later, the family members are distantly separated from each other. Lydia is tensely positioned in the corner by the piano and the portrait of her husband. Melanie is huddled with Cathy on the sofa, and Mitch is testing one of the boards/barricades. When Mitch moves to Lydia's side of the room, the subject of the lovebirds, forgotten for most of the film, is re-opened. He affirms his mother's objection:
Cathy: Mitch, can I bring the lovebirds in here?
Cathy: But Mom, they're in a cage.
Lydia: They're birds, aren't they?
Mitch: Let's leave them in the kitchen, huh honey?
While testing more barricades in the kitchen, Mitch glances at the two harmless lovebirds. When he returns, Cathy asks more difficult questions about the reasons for the attacks:
Cathy: Mitch, why are they doing this, the birds?
Mitch: We don't know, honey.
Cathy: Why are they trying to kill people?
Mitch: I wish I could say.
To fulfill her routine domestic duty, Lydia rises and removes a tray of teacups and saucers from the room, pauses by the lovebirds in the kitchen, comes back, and returns to her seat - her hands nervously clenched. Feeling sick and deathly pale, Cathy leaves with Melanie rather than her mother for a brief time. An abrupt camera angle emphasizes Lydia's captured pose and sense of futility in the corner, with the portrait filling the space between her and her son.
[ATTACK # 9] Bird chirping and rustling sounds grow stronger - Lydia stands and grabs a wall pillar for support. Cathy runs into her mother's arms. Mitch stokes the fire, and Melanie backs up with her arms outstretched to a sofa against a wall, squirming and attempting to hide from the scrutiny of the unknown, screeching forces. As she presses herself back and cowers prostrate on the sofa with her legs up (still wearing her pressed green outfit), she can hardly bear the intolerable intensity of the approaching conflict. Mitch grabs a bird that has smashed through a window and intruded, and struggles to push it out. The wood is slowly being damaged on the inside of one of the doors from bird pecks. An overhead shot emphasizes Melanie's engulfing terror as she backs further against the wall and upsets a lamp-shade. Pecking birds draw blood from Mitch's hand as he reaches to pull the shutter closed - he eventually secures the shutter with a lampcord. He comforts Lydia and Cathy, who have been terrified and seen scurrying around the room to find some shelter from the horror, and leads them to an armchair. Although his anguished mother wants him to remain with them, he seeks out Melanie on the other side of the room. He rejects her wish to bandage his bloodied, ripped-up hand.
In another room where he swathes his own hand with a bandage, he notices the shredded damage to the door. To block the birds' entry, he places a heavy piece of hall furniture (with a long mirror) to blockade the door and nails it firmly in place. [As he props it against the door, his image is reflected back at himself - a symbol of the soul-searching and reassessment he and the other characters are facing.] Suddenly, the lights go out - and the pecking appears to cease for no apparent reason - Mitch exclaims: "They're gone." Three identically-shot close-ups each begin with a view of the ceiling above or upper wall, and then the heads of Mitch, Melanie, and Lydia - each rising in a low-angle from the bottom of the screen. Each appears mesmerized while listening expectantly to the abrupt silence. After Lydia's close-up, the camera slowly tracks backward, diagonally adding the figures of Melanie and Mitch spatially located a distance away on the left.
After a dissolve [early Tuesday in AM, probably], the logs in the fireplace in the next shot are super-imposed on the fading figures of Melanie and Mitch. Lydia is slumped down in rest on the piano bench. Panning right, Melanie is wide-eyed and awake, Cathy is curled up on the sofa asleep, and Mitch's head is propped up by his bandaged left hand - his other hand rests in his lap. Melanie is startled by the sound of the fluttering of a few bird's wings, but she cannot rouse Mitch. Taking charge, she reaches for a large-handled, wide-headed flashlight [potent male phallic symbol?] and goes to investigate for herself, checking first on the peaceful lovebirds in the kitchen. She turns her uneasy beam of light on the stairs and approaches - filmed subjectively from her point-of-view perspective as she ascends. At the bedroom doorknob, she lingers.
[ATTACK # 10] Once the door is slowly pushed open, she looks up and sees a gaping hole in the roof - her own mouth widens and she gasps - she raises her flashlight and its wide beam illuminates hundreds of birds - almost erotically blinding her and paralyzing her with fear. As she defensively shields her eyes and face with upraised arms and hands, the birds swoop down on her and begin cutting into her flesh. Ineffectually, she reaches for the doorknob to escape. The flashlight waves uselessly as a weapon against them. The overpowering, brutal attack, similar to the one in Hitchcock's infamous shower sequence in Psycho, intensifies as, in anguish and pain, she breathes heavily and surrenders to their tearing and pecking. Her cool-green outfit is torn apart as she collapses unconscious next to the door, exclaiming: "Is Cathy in the...?" Mitch calls out for her at the top of the stairs, but struggles to open the door, now blockaded by her body. Both Lydia and Mitch fight off the birds as Mitch claws for her arm and pulls her to safety. He cradles her in his arms and carries her downstairs, as Lydia carries a lantern to light the way and compassionately pities her suffering: "Oh, poor thing." [Earlier in the film, Annie called the dead bird at her doorstep a "poor thing," and Mrs. Bundy spoke of the birds that died in a Santa Cruz incident "poor things." Now, Lydia sympathically identifies Melanie as a "poor thing."]
Downstairs on the sofa after waking up, Melanie frantically flails and claws at imaginary birds - directly toward the camera - until Mitch controls her terror, grabs her hands, and her fears subside: "No, it's alright." As he folds her arms passively across her chest, they look into each other's eyes trustingly. He cups his hand behind her head as she sips brandy. Worried for her state of lifelessness, blank stare, speechlessness and broken spirit, Mitch determinedly insists that they take her to a hospital for healing: "We have to try...We can't stay here, she needs help." Lydia dabs Melanie's injured face with cotton soaked in antiseptic and soon wraps bandages around her forehead and head. She is hesitant and "terribly frightened - I don't know what's outside there" - a perfect summation of the fear of the unknown.
It is now early dawn on Tuesday with shafts of sunlight streaming down, as Mitch opens the pecked door and discovers masses of birds - thousands of them gathered, seated, surrounding and watching the house. Cautiously, he steps through them, and is pecked by a large raven, but the birds remain fairly calm. Proceeding into the garage where Melanie's car is parked, he breathes a large sigh of relief. He slips into her car, and scans the radio for an announcer's report:
The bird attacks have subsided for the time being. Bodega Bay seems to be the center, though there are reports of minor attacks on Sebastopol and a few on Santa Rosa. Bodega Bay has been cordoned off by roadblocks. Most of the townspeople have managed to get out, but there are still some isolated pockets of people. No decision has been arrived at yet as to what the next step will be but there's been some discussion as to whether the military should go in. It appears that the bird attacks come in waves with long intervals between. The reason for this does not seem clear as yet.
He opens the garage door, carefully drives the car to the front door, and returns inside. Lydia is supportively cradling an expressionless, blank-staring Melanie (now re-dressed in her mink coat) in her arms on the sofa. They both guide Melanie (between them) outside, passing through a dark shadow on the way. When the front door is opened, their faces are illuminated by the shocking sight of birds tyrannically claiming their home. Melanie is startled and hesitates, crying out: "No! No!" But the birds let their human prey through and Melanie is put in the car. Innocent to the dangers and forever hopeful, Cathy asks permission to carry the covered cage of lovebirds out to the car - the last spoken lines of dialogue: "Can I bring the lovebirds, Mitch? They haven't harmed anyone." Melanie's hand, with chipped nails, grasps Lydia's wrist for strength - optimistically, Melanie looks up with gratitude toward her new 'maternal' figure - and they smile at each other. They drive away from the house toward an uncertain future, surrounded on the left by the barn, in the foreground by threatening birds amassing for their next attack, and on the right by a tree. The triumphant birds appear to chatter and applaud their conquest. [The final image is a complex shot involving 32 different pieces of film.]
The unsettling ending - an open-ended one of continuing terror - is not accompanied by a customary "THE END" title.
Also Worth Your Attention...
AMC Filmcritic's Review of The Birds