When you think of birds in the movies, this image probably comes to mind:
Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds, tells the story of Bodega Bay, a small town near San Francisco, California that is dealing with violent and random bird attacks. Crows are inexplicably attacking people in their homes, in phone booths, outside, anywhere. The film never explains why the birds are attacking. Hitchock purposely eschewed the use of music in the film. The only sounds we hear aside from dialogue and natural sounds from the actions in the film are the sounds of the birds crowing. Each time the birds appear onscreen, we know that another attack is about to happen. The film ends with no resolution. In Bodega Bay, the birds are still out there and are to be feared.
In The Birds, there are two birds featured in the film who are not to be feared–the lovebirds that Rob Taylor wants to purchase from Tippi Hedren (who doesn’t actually work at the bird shop, but is shopping for a cage for her myna bird). People who own lovebirds typically purchase them in pairs, as a pair of lovebirds will bond for life. A solitary lovebird who doesn’t have a constant companion will be very sad. Owners can own just one lovebird, but they should be prepared to spend a lot of time with their bird. In The Birds, I believe that these lovebirds represent Taylor and Hedren’s characters.
Hedren’s character is a bit of a wild woman who somewhat lives in a gilded cage. She’s basically a rich socialite with little regard for others. Due to her behavior and attitude, she’s somewhat trapped by her lifestyle. The only reason she goes to Bodega Bay initially, is to use the lovebirds as a means to pursue Taylor. She’s rich and isn’t used to not getting what she wants. Taylor makes it clear to Hedren in the pet shop that she’s not interested in people of her type.
Lovebirds may represent the antithesis to the other birds in the film. Birds don’t have to be evil or be killers–they can be sweet, wonderful companions for humans and other birds. The lovebirds in The Birds demonstrate that maybe humanity and nature can restore harmony soon.
Aside from the birds in The Birds, there are other ways birds are represented in film:
- Iago the Scarlet Macaw parrot in Aladdin, while an evil bird, he is a wiseacre and says what’s on his mind regardless of whether he’s talking to his master, Jafar, or mocking the Sultan.
- Kevin in Up is a goofy bird and the comic relief of the film. Kevin is a made-up tropical bird who helps Carl and Russell make it to Victoria Falls. Kevin also provides the conflict of the film. Famed aviator Charles Muntz has been looking for Kevin’s species for years. Kevin is like many real birds in that when she (yes “she”) feels that someone is a friend, she will be kind and loyal. However, if she senses someone is a threat, or that person was mean to her, she’ll be hostile and combative. Also, like real birds, Kevin is very curious and gets into everything.
- Hedwig in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter’s loyal owl. She is a constant companion for Harry through all of his adventures. She would deliver Harry’s mail, but was also a faithful friend. Hedwig also demonstrated how smart and clever birds can be.
- Zazu in The Lion King. Zazu is a hornbill who is not only Mufasa’s personal assistant and adviser, but he also takes care of Simba after Mufasa’s tragic death. Zazu’s allegiance is partially out of duty to the kingdom, but I also feel that he feels a sense of loyalty to the deceased Mufasa. Zazu also doesn’t want to see Scar in charge.
- Maleficent’s black crow, who I don’t believe has a name, is as evil as evil gets. He keeps Maleficent informed on the goings on in the fairies’ cottage and is the first one to inform Maleficent of Princess Aurora’s location when he spies magic coming up through the fairies’ chimney.
- Owl in Winnie the Pooh dispenses advise to Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods.
- Scuttle in The Little Mermaid, while definitely not smart like Owl, he lives above the sea and regularly watches and interacts with the humans. Mermaid Ariel, who desperately wants to live out of the sea meets up with Scuttle, often bringing objects from the ocean floor that she has found. She asks Scuttle as to what the objects are. While Scuttle is usually wrong (e.g. telling Ariel that a dinner fork is a “dinglehopper” and is used to comb her hair), he is very kind and tries to keep Ariel informed about what’s going on above the sea.
- In The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston’s directorial debut and the first film noir, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. While investigating the murder of his partner, Miles Archer, Bogart gets involved with a cast of characters who not only have something to do with Archer’s death, but who are searching for the elusive Maltese Falcon statue. This bejeweled statue has traveled the world and is apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars. When the statue is finally found, it is determined to be a fake. The criminals are angry and frustrated, but seek to continue looking for it. While holding the fake statue, a detective asks Bogart, “Heavy? What is it?” Bogart says, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.” This faux bird represents the lack of loyalty the criminals displayed to one another during their journey. A bird, when treated with love and kindness, can be a loyal and generous friend. They’ll be by your side constantly and will give affection. They’ll also give you their dinner if you don’t pay attention, they want to make sure you eat. The criminals are so shady in this film, that they don’t deserve to succeed at the end.
- There is much bird imagery in Psycho. It is mostly used in the scene between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in the motel office. The birds in these scenes foreshadow Norman’s psyche and Marion’s eventual fate. Norman has a variety of stuffed birds: everything from the predator hawk to a small songbird. Norman mentions to Marion Crane (his eventual victim) that one of his hobbies is “stuffing things” i.e. taxidermy. This foreshadows the fact that he’s been perhaps practicing his taxidermy skills elsewhere, like on his mother’s corpse, for example (granted she is a skeleton, but he’s been preserving her). The birds are creepy as there are a lot of them. One could argue that the different types of birds are representative of the characters in the film. There is an owl and hawk, two predator birds, that are featured prominently on the wall. Norman’s mother is a predator, her personality has completely consumed Norman’s. There are also some small songbirds who represent Marion. These birds would be consumed in no second flat by a predator, just like it doesn’t take long for Marion’s demise at the Bates Motel. Birds are very fragile, just like Norman Bates’ psyche. Women are often presented as fragile and delicate, in which a bird could represent Marion. Norman even tells Marion that she “eats like a bird” as she picks at the bread on her sandwich. Birds actually eat a lot, a fact which Norman even mentions to Marion. There is so much going on in this scene that it would probably warrant its own blog entry.
- Birds can also represent a variety of other themes: freedom, the feeling of being trapped, evil, arrogance, and mischievousness.
Other favorite birds of mine:
- Donald Duck. Look for him in Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (1959). Perhaps the only good math-related movie ever made.
- Daffy Duck. His “Duck Amuck” (1953) cartoon is hilarious.
- Woodstock from Peanuts. He doesn’t do much except be Snoopy’s companion, but he has his moments.
- Roadrunner. He says so much by saying so little “beep beep” which roughly translates to “ha ha” when said to Wile E. Coyote after successfully evading yet another trap. Why does Wile E. Coyote want to eat him so much anyway? I doubt he’s got that much meat on him.
- Piper from the Pixar short. This bird is just so cute!
This post was inspired by my bird, Buddy, a yellow-sided green cheek conure:
2 thoughts on “The “Free For All” Blogathon–“Birds in Film””
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What fun! I’m crazy about Donald and Daffy. My kids often exhibit the smart-alecky traits of Tweety.
I think you are right about Hitch’s movie being the first thing that comes to most folks’ minds. It is not a particularly endearing symbol. I’ll be checking out birds in movies from now on.
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