THE BIRDS (1963) 

IMDB Synopsis: A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boy friend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the  bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people. 

Director: Alfred Hitchcock 

Writers: Daphne Du Maurier (from the story by), Evan Hunter (screenplay) 

Stars: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy  

The most effective horror is horror from an unknown – an unexplainable  horror. Climate Change is not this kind of horror, but Alfred Hitchcock’s  The Birds is. Unlike sharks in Sharknado, birds in The Birds do not  self-organize and attack Bodega Bay because of some Global Warming  induced event. There is no science or reason for the birds in The Birds  to attack school children and “innocent” townspeople. I put innocent in  quotes because according to many readings of The Birds, Tippi Hedren is a filthy whore. 

In stark12 contrast, Chapter 8 of Rachel Carson’s call to arms, Silent  Spring (1962) is titled “And No Birds Sing.” The chapter is a collection  of personal and scientific observations lamenting the loss of robins. In  Silent Spring, birds function as a marker in time of the loss of wildlife.  

In The Birds, they serve as an emblem of conservative values attacking  The Other, the outsider. Everything in leading man Mitch’s town of  Bodega Bay hangs on conservative values. His relationships (mother,  sister, teacher) all had defined boundaries. Then along comes Melanie  (Tippi), who represents sexual freedom, and the birds rain punishment  down on the seaside town. That’s one reading. 

“And No Birds Sing” offers a counter narrative to Hitchcock’s. Carson  tells us that birds are vanishing due in part to the fact that in 1930 the  American elm was attacked by Dutch elm disease, and the solution was  intensive spraying of insecticides. Every spring elm tree were sprayed  with insecticide, and each spring the returning robins died in astounding  numbers. Consuming contaminated earthworms poisoned the robins.  This contamination caused not only robins, but also other birds and  small mammals to be poisoned. The larger predators then ate these  animals, also ingesting the DDT. As DDT moves up the food chain it  becomes more and more concentrated. And so on. 

When we meet Tippi, she is buying a Minor bird at Davidson’s Pet  Shoppe, and tricking Mitch into buying Love Birds. She’s playing love  games. 

“Have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you think it is?” She asks. 

“Must be a storm at sea that’s driving them in,” the actual store  clerk replies. 

This is not as close to science as we will get in the movie, but it is the  closest we will get to an answer for why the birds attack. The closest we  get to science will be the bitter-pinched face of Mrs. Bundy, an ornithologist holed up in the diner while the birds attack. Neither Bundy nor any  other voice of science offers an explanation. She offers but one moment  of some kind of acknowledgment of cause and effect. 

“Birds are not aggressive creatures miss, they bring beauty into the world. It is mankind rather that make it difficult for life to exist on this planet.”  

Bundy is not Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcum in Jurassic Park rambling on about chaos theory and its linkage to climate change and human behavior. Science is silent in The Birds, and it is so for an important  reason – effect. Bundy gets her one line, which comes off more as an  opportunity to chastise Hedren than a commentary on man’s impact on  the climate. 

The proximity to science, to explain of the natural world, is not wanted  in The Birds. Hitchcock has said as much. Science runs counter to the  strategy of the Horror genre, that of an unexplained threat. Hitchcock  uses this narrative strategy much in the way that H. P. Lovecraft did in  literature. For Lovecraft, the horror was always unknown, unexplainable  and even indescribable. Lovecraft said that “the oldest and strongest  emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is  fear of the unknown,” and this was the underpinning of his narrative  style. H.P.’s narrators often died at the end of a story babbling, strug gling to explain the creature or horror that was about to consume them.  From The Unnamable (Weird Tales, 6, No. 1 (July 1925), 78–82): 

“No—it wasn’t that way at all. It was everywhere—a gelatin—a slime—yet  it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were  eyes—and a blemish. It was the pit—the maelstrom—the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!” 

This is our Climate Denying Republican Party grappling with their  ideology of climate change. Science is their unnamable. In order to protect their opinion, they can’t accept any science; it has to remain an un knowable fear. Just as Hitchcock could not assign the scientific method  to The Birds, as Lovecraft refused clear narrative description of a beast,  Congress refuses to give authority to science when it comes to Climate  Change. To put a point on this ideology: they fear a sense of  environmental socialism. The House looks at Climate Change as  un-American, as contrary to the American mythos of manifest destiny, as  consumption-curbing that defeats free-market capitalism. Science has  no home in the House. In The Birds, as in today’s Congress, the separation of Science and State is required to prop up a narrative that supports  an ideology of Us/It (humans/earth) as separate entities. 

To apply a (any) causation to Climate Change calls into question climate  denier’s staunch inaction on the issue. Like Lovecraft’s Carter, DISbelief  is a survival strategy, not species survival, but the survival of a belief  system, which is easily described in one word: dominion. It is a matter  of dogma. The dominion ideology is also the unnamable beast’s ideology,  the zombie ideology – eat to eat. It is the bird’s ideology. No reason,  just belief. 

In The Birds, Hitchcock sets us up using a classic cinematographic  perspective. As the town gas station explodes, the camera pulls up and  away to get complete coverage of Bodega Bay. We see the town on fire  in its entirety – the God shot from the sky. Then a gull drifts into frame  and hovers. Then another and another and another. The framing goes  from an establishing perspective to one of surveillance and dominion. It  is the bird’s omniscience. They are surveying the damage that they have  created, picking targets. 

In the official theatrical trailer for Alien (1979), we pan over an egg,  maybe a bird, maybe a reptile, we don’t know yet. As the heart beat pace  increases, and quick flashes of the movie cut into one another, a cat  screams and a single line of text appears on the screen. “In space, no one  can hear you scream.” It’s a great line, a classic in the horror genre. It  is a scary line. 

Silent Spring can also be read as a horror story – a prequel to all climate  apocalypse tales. But Carson’s version of the Alien line is perhaps even  scarier to Climate Deniers: 

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”  


12 Stephen King wrote a book called the Dark Half about a writer whose pen name was  George Stark. “The sparrows are flying again,” was a refrain in the book. This  connection is only interesting to me.