The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock is a stunning is a drama where the majority of the film is taken up by panoramic shots of the birds flying over Bodega Bay. When the birds are gathering planning to attack there is no music; there is also very little conversation, save the screams of the victims. These anguished howls and the caw of the birds seem to blend harmoniously to create a paralyzing cacophony of sounds that express terror far better than mere words could have. In the final scene there is the most poignant use of sound and disregard for words whereby the soundtrack fills with bird noises, punctuated by electronic shrieks.

It is only logical to now ask why The Birds end on such an open and unresolved note. The conclusion of the film?and the conclusion of what many observers regard as the most heroic period in Hitchcock?s career?may grow directly from the distrust of language that is a prominent motif in The Birds, in which spoken communication is of little use and even the hero sounds foolish when called on to articulate solutions to the crises of the story. Indeed, Hitchcock inaugurated his sound-film career by worrying out loud that dialogue might displace “the technique of the pure motion picture.”

This tendency veers into logophobia (fear of excessively using speech) in The Birds, which is about the futility of language. The more its characters talk among themselves, the more extreme their problems become. By contrast, birds cannot talk, write, or use language in any way that a human could identify; yet they seem ever more organized and unified in the movie. This pattern accounts for some of the film?s boldest scenes, as when Melanie and the others make their final escape only when Melanie loses the power of speech and effective movement after a particularly traumatic bout with the birds.

On a more sweeping level, the movie?s lack of a conventionally resolved ending signals Hitchcock?s ultimate gesture of despair over the power not only of words but of screenwriting and storytelling itself. His tale is not yet concluded by any traditional standard: The protagonists are still in danger, their antagonists are stronger than ever, and the emotional relationships of the characters are only partially and tentatively untangled. Yet at this moment Hitchcock, like Prospero, abjures his powers of magic and language making. It is the resulting visual and narrative stasis that mysteriously allows his characters to grope their way toward?if not actually to enter ?a better world.


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