Study Guide

The Birds Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

The Birds isn't that interested in a hero's journey. It's just interested in having birds destroy stuff.

Still, it sketches out a little bit of an adventure as an excuse to get you to the cool bits, like the eye-gouging. You could use Mitch or Melanie to populate this story arc. We choose Melanie.

Ordinary World

The ordinary world in The Birds would be San Francisco. That's where Melanie starts out. It's where birds (in that pet shop) are just birds, not flying nightmare avatars of death.

Maybe Melanie should have stayed there?

Call to Adventure

Melanie gets the call to adventure when Mitch shows up at the pet store and flirts with/irritates/intrigues her. Off she goes to Bodega Bay with the lovebirds.

Refusal of the Call/Meeting the Mentor/Crossing the Threshold

There's not a whole lot of refusal here. Once Melanie decides to track Mitch down, that's what she does. She's a woman who knows her own mind. Similarly, there's no real mentor. And, crossing the threshold is limited to walking into Mitch's house without anyone knowing and depositing the lovebirds.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once Melanie gets to Mitch, it should be more or less smooth sailing; he likes her, she likes him, all good. The first test is that Lydia fears having her son commit to someone else and does her best to dissuade Mitch from the relationship. Melanie's response to Lydia's treatment is to maintain a polite distance and try to be a pleasant houseguest. The later tests are all a bit more dramatic and involve a series of life-threatening attacks that Melanie handles as well as can be expected from someone having to wear the same fancy suit for three days in a row.

Cathy is an ally who welcomes her into the family circle and makes her seem more approachable. Annie helps Melanie understand the Lydia/Mitch family dynamic and offers her a place to stay while in Bodega Bay.

Enemies? Well, in addition to Lydia, there are more than a hundred billion of them (according to Mrs. Bundy).

Approach to the Inmost Cave

After the bird attacks kill Annie, Melanie stays at the Brenner home. Since this is the scene of her two biggest ordeals, we'll call this the inmost cave. She doesn't know that moving into the Brenner household will seal her fate.

Ordeal

The first ordeal—the birds' vicious attack on the Brenner home—is just a precursor to Melanie's own private ordeal in the attic. Bravely venturing to check out some suspicious fluttering, she nearly gets killed by flocks of rampaging gulls and crows.

Reward/The Road Back/Resurrection/Return With the Elixir

No reward, no resurrection, no elixir. Just driving off through the birds.

The film ends with Melanie devastated; if this is a heroic quest, she seems to have lost. We can only hope there's a road back to sanity for Melanie Daniels.