The Birds

Not AH’s movie of the same name, but the caged creatures shown fleetingly at the beginning and end of RW. They don’t really do anything, but they’re there. Do they mean something?

Birds are frequent visitors to Hitchcock’s cinema, they perch in Sabotage and Foreign Correspondent, the sinister shadow of one hovers in a dream in Spellbound. If you care to stretch a point, there is even a giant, machine-gun-firing bird that menaces Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Famously, stuffed birds decorate Norman Bates’s inner office in Psycho. And of course, birds are the point of The Birds.

There are those—let us call them motif mongers—who see all these birds about and shout, Symbol, symbol! They attempt to ascribe to the motif a single, unvarying association. And because the birds of The Birds are the most flamboyant members of their kind, visiting mayhem on humanity, your typical motif monger would have us believe birds in Hitchcock are always portents of death or destruction.

But not so fast, birdseed breath! The matter is more complicated than that. Let’s remember that even in The Birds there is a benign avian pair out of sync with their rampaging brothers and sisters. These lovebirds are present at the beginning of the film, and actually bring the hero and heroine together. At the end of the film, the lovebirds are retained, even as the couple are fleeing all the other birds. Clearly, there are distinctions to be drawn among birds.

Let us return to RW. I can’t tell how many birds are in the cage at the beginning of the film, but at the end there are two—at least, I’d like to think there are. Nothing malign can attach to these creatures. In fact, given the tenor of the film’s ending, might not the birds reappear at that point simply to share in the harmony and bliss that is building about the courtyard? Hmmm, what kind of birds are they, anyway?Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

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