Stranger Than Fiction: The Birds

Returning to Hitchcock films, I decided to pull a card on the film The Birds. My question was one that has baffled audiences for decades: what was it that caused the birds to act the way they did?

The card I pulled was The Devil 15 Shadow of a Doubt

devil 15 soad.jpg

On the face of it, The Devil represents that which is trapped within us, which we ourselves often entrap, that can fester and grow rancid and cancerous; it can be something unresolved we repress and become, as a result, a slave to. In Shadow of a Doubt, this thing is young Charlie’s burgeoning sexuality. Her frustration with quotidian suburban life and her sudden concern for her over-worked mother reflect the awakening of her sexual self and what her role as a woman will be in society and her future life. Her beloved Uncle Charlie arrives just at this moment, as a flesh and blood manifestation of this aspect of young Charlie, but he is not the sweet and dashing hero her childhood vision of him had made – instead, he is a dark, perverted, hateful murderer of women. In short, he is a devil – her own animus, bedeviling her.

This then suggests that the birds in The Birds represent on the surface the chaotic animal within us, unleashed when Melanie brings Mitch a pair of lovebirds in a conflated act of flirtation and aggression. On a deeper level, the birds are a rebuke to the smug Melanie and Mitch, who seem so at ease and complacent in the modern world; the birds are a command for them to wake up. Deeper still, the actress Tippi Hedren had awakened in Hitchcock a sexual stirring which had reared its head with other actresses but had essentially lain dormant for decades. The birds, then, may represent Hitchcock’s fascination with Hedren, since just as young Charlie’s fascination with her uncle turned to hate, Hitchcock’s sexual frustration with Hedren grew to where the bird attacks on Melanie in the film became Hitchcock’s abuse of Hedren on set.

Curious about this particular angle, I decided to pull a card to signify why Hitchcock chose Hedren – then an unknown – to star in The Birds.

The card I pulled was Strength 8 The Birds

strength birds 8.jpg

As I learned from pulling a Marnie card for a Marnie reading, this kind of thematic doubling-up is possible. Here, it is less problematic. It seems clear, at least on the surface, that Hitchcock’s intention with casting Hedren in The Birds was to showcase and raise her up as a world-class actress. Given that it is the Strength card, the simple subtext is that Hedren overcame the hurdles, both internally and externally – such as Hitchcock’s more animal urges – to accomplish what she and Hitchcock had set out to do.

Curious about Hedron’s headspace, I decided to pull a card to signify her side of things during the making of The Birds.

The card I pulled was the 9 of Gems The Birds

9 gems b.jpg

You know, if I didn’t pull this card myself, I don’t know that I’d believe it. In fact, I did pull it myself and I still don’t know that I believe it. The 9 of Gems is obviously very similar to the Strength card, the latter Major card being a somewhat more official state of grace, control, and empowerment, whereas the former pip card indicates a hard-fought battle to attain the upper hand.

The 9 of Gems not only represents Hedren’s character Melanie in The Birds, but the film’s other female characters as well – the mother Lydia, the daughter Cathy, and the “other woman” Annie. In this way, Hedren’s role in making The Birds, enduring as she did Hitchcock’s unwanted sexual advances and the playing-out of his frustration which amounted to abuse, stands for the kind of mistreatment all women face on one level or another. As such, Hedren and the 9 of Gems signifies a hard-won victory over such maltreatment and injustice.

Published by Chas Tringham

Chas Tringham wasn't so much born on February 26 1969, as he was raised in absentia. He is the son of J.J. Bieber and a discounted sack of millet. Chas' mother was 17 years old when she became 18. His parents would never marry, or merry, Queen of Scots, but maintained a close call and the common cold regarding their son's personal acne and professional malfeasance. Growing up, Chas taught those closest to him to resent the trumpet. On or about September 9/11, Chas' step-uncle's memoir, the eminently readable "Chaps", was publicly ignored. The book tells of his/her early dinners and reads it a story before bedtime. Looking back, Chas maintained contacts with his optometrist, who later married two women and an unemployed bird enthusiast. Interested in honkies, soccer, and ice-chests, Chas keeps his aspirations in a sweat sock.

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