MITCH: We met in court ... I'll rephrase it. I saw you in court ... Don't you remember one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate-glass window?
MELANIE: I didn't break that window. What are you, a policeman?
MITCH: No, but your little prank did. The judge should have put you behind bars. I merely believe in the law, Miss Daniels. I just thought you might like to know what it's like to be on the other end of a gag. What do you think of that?
MELANIE: I think you're a louse.
MITCH: I am.
This is our first introduction to Mitch and Melanie—and they're involved in some deceptive practical joking. Hitchcock may have thought it was amusing to have his actors be characters who are pretending right from the get-go. Very meta.
ANNIE: Did you drive up from San Francisco by the coast road?
ANNIE: Nice drive.
MELANIE: It's very beautiful.
ANNIE: Is that where you met Mitch?
ANNIE: I guess that's where everyone meets Mitch.
Annie isn't lying here, but she's not telling everything. She's keeping her relationship with Mitch close to her chest, at least for now. She's also suggesting that Mitch may not be as straightforward as he seems; how many women does he meet in San Francisco, anyway? Seems like everybody in Bodega Bay is repressing something.
MITCH: You were lying!
MELANIE: Yes, I was lying.
Melanie admits she was putting Mitch on about knowing Annie. This is an important turning point; after this, Melanie doesn't really lie any more. As the focus of the film shifts from her flirtation with Mitch to the bird attacks, Melanie's personal story matters less. Do you think this makes her less interesting as a character?
MELANIE: On Mondays and Wednesdays, I work for the Traveler's Aid at the airport.
MITCH: Helping travelers?
MELANIE: No, misdirecting them. I thought you could read my character. On Tuesdays, I take a course in General Semantics at Berkeley, finding new four-letter words. That's not a job, of course, but—
Melanie is joking that her job is to misdirect travelers, but she knows that Mitch is already under the impression that she lies and misrepresents. Maybe she thinks that by acknowledging that, she can appear more genuine to him.
SEBASTIAN SHOLES: Hell, maybe we're all getting a little carried away with this. Admittedly, a few birds did act strange, but that's no reason to—
MELANIE: I keep telling you, this isn't "a few birds"! These are gulls, crows, swifts!
MRS. BUNDY: I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn't stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?
Here's an example of self-deception. Mrs. Bundy, the amateur ornithologist, and Sebastian the fisherman are convincing themselves that the birds aren't really a danger because they don't want them to be a danger. Melanie, who lied about birds at the beginning of the film, is now telling the truth, but nobody wants to believe her. Oh, the irony. It's probably easier to disbelieve an outsider, which Melanie definitely is.
MELANIE: Just what is it you're looking for, sir?
MELANIE: Lovebirds, sir?
MITCH: Yes. I understand there are different varieties. Is that true?
MELANIE: Oh, yes, there are.
MITCH: Well, uh, these are for my sister, for her birthday, see, and uh, as she's only gonna be 11, I, I wouldn't want a pair of birds that were ... too demonstrative.
MELANIE: I understand completely.
MITCH: At the same time, I wouldn't want them to be too aloof, either.
MELANIE: No, of course not.
MITCH: Do you happen to have a pair of birds that are ... just friendly?
Here's a great example of talking about sex while not talking about sex. This opening scene with the flirtation and building of sexual tension is what starts the plot in motion.
ANNIE: Oh, pretty. What are they?
ANNIE: I see. Good luck, Miss Daniels.
Lydia says almost the same thing"Oh, I see" when she learns that the birds Melanie brought to Bodega Bay are lovebirds. Both Annie and Lydia take the lovebirds as a sign or symbol of attraction. Of course, Melanie isn't quite ready to admit she's in love or lust yet. So, the lovebirds continue to be a way for everybody to talk about love in an indirect way.
MITCH: What about the letter you wrote me, is that a lie, too?
MELANIE: No, I wrote the letter.
MITCH: Well, what did it say?
MELANIE: It said, "Dear Mr. Brenner, I think you need these lovebirds, after all. They may help your personality."
MITCH: But you tore it up?
MELANIE: Because it seemed stupid and foolish.
Writing a letter and then tearing it upa neutral observer might diagnose that as a crush. Of course, Melanie already tracked this random guy down and drove miles and miles to see him, so you probably already figured out she was pretty interested.
ANNIE: Well, you needn't worry. It's been over and done with a long time ago.
MELANIE: Annie, there's nothing between Mr. Brenner and me.
ANNIE: Isn't there? Well, maybe there isn't. Maybe there's never been anything between Mitch and any girl.
Annie makes Mitch out to be a lot more interesting than he seems to be from what the viewer can tell. In most respects, Mitch seems to be a fairly boring heroic romantic lead. But, Annie suggests that Mitch attracts loads of women but never has any intention of doing anything about it. He sure attracted Annie. She moved to Bodega Bay after they broke up just to keep some kind of relationship with him. Which is the real Mitch? And, does it matter anyway, or should you just watch the bird attacks?
MITCH: You need a mother's care, my child.
MELANIE: Not my mother's.
MITCH: Oh, I'm sorry.
MELANIE: What have you got to be sorry about? My mother? Don't waste your time. She ditched us when I was 11 and ran off with some hotel man in the east. You know what a mother's love is.
MITCH: Yes, I do.
MELANIE: You mean it's better to be ditched?
MITCH: No, I think it's better to be loved. Don't you ever see her?
MELANIE: I don't know where she is.
Evan Hunter hated this bit of dialogue, but Hitch wanted to keep it. Poor Melanie was never loved, which is why she's irresponsible and needy. Anyway, Melanie's distant relationship with her mom contrasts with Mitch's overly close relationship with his mother. Either way, these distorted relationships are made to appear to be linked to the bird attacks somehow, although this is one of Hitchcock's misdirections.
LYDIA: Mitch is important to me. I want to like whatever girl he chooses ... Well, I don't think it's going to matter very much to anyone but me ... Mitch has always done exactly what he wanted to do. But, you see, I don't want to be left alone. I don't think I could bear to be left alone. Oh, forgive me ... This business with the birds has upset me. I don't know what I'd do if Mitch weren't here ... I wish I was stronger.
Lydia is terrified that Mitch will leave her. As a result, Annie suggests, she keeps Mitch from having any romantic relationships. Some critics say the birds are a manifestation of Lydia's clinginess; they attack to prevent Mitch from finding love. If that's the case, Lydia's wish that she were "stronger" has come true via the killer birds. Lydia can finally come to accept Melanie when she's nothing but a traumatized zombie.
MAN IN DINER: It's the end of the world.
The Birds is in part a vision of one way the world might end: the planet's other residents could get sick of us and decide to wipe us out. To some extent, this is fanciful; everyone's always predicting the end of the world, and it never happens. On the other talon, our world will, in fact, end at some point. Why not through interspecies warfare? Some critics have suggested that the birds are a stand-in not for the natural world but for a future where machines or nuclear weapons will wipe us out.
MRS. BUNDY: Birds are not aggressive creatures, Miss. They bring beauty into the world. It is mankind, rather, who insists upon making it difficult for life to exist on this planet. If it weren't for birds—
The natural order is being turned upside down. Peaceful birds turn into dive-bombers; birds of a different feather are flocking together. It's what makes the townsfolk distrust Melanie's account, as it goes against everything they know. Mrs. Bundy, the ornithologist, makes the case that you should root for the birds. In this case, the birds are certainly more interesting than the human characters, but we don't think that's what she meant.
TRAVELING SALESMAN: Gulls are scavengers, anyway. Most birds are. Get yourselves guns and wipe them off the face of the earth!
MRS. BUNDY: That would hardly be possible.
DEKE CARTER (DINER OWNER): Why not, Mrs. Bundy?
MRS. BUNDY: Because there are 8,650 species of birds in the world today, Mr. Carter. It is estimated that 5,750,000,000 birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world...
TRAVELING SALESMAN: Kill 'em all. Get rid of the messy animals.
MRS. BUNDY: ... probably contain more than 100,000,000,000 birds!
Like the traveling salesman suggests, humans often do try to wipe out animals (or birds) they don't like. The fun (and horror) of The Birds is thinking about what would happen if the birds turned the tables on us. In his bird's-eye view shots, Hitchcock conveys that the birds are in control. While the humans only have their limited visual perspective, the birds can see us all down there and plot their strategy. Those shots are extremely disturbing.
MITCH: I think we're in real trouble. I don't know how or why this started, but I know it's here and we'd be crazy to ignore it ... The bird war, the bird attack, plague—call it what you like. They're amassing out there someplace, and they'll be back. You can count on that. Unless we do something right now, unless we get Bodega Bay on the move, they ... Mrs. Bundy said something about Santa Cruz, about seagulls getting lost in a fog and then flying in towards the lights ... Make our own fog ... we can use smoke pots the way the Army uses 'em.
Mitch plots to fight the birds using science and logic. What's interesting is they never actually put this plan into effect. The full-scale human vs. nature smackdown never happens; the humans just leave. Adding to the inexplicable nature of the attacks is that the birds let them leave without attacking them—a couple of pecks, but that's it.
CATHY: Mitch, can I bring the lovebirds in here?
CATHY: But Mom, they're in a cage.
LYDIA: They're birds, aren't they?
Guilt by association. Lydia draws the battle lines; nature over there, people over here. The lovebirds, caged pets, occupy an intermediate space between people and nature. They stay relatively calm throughout Bird-ageddon, never trying to bust out of their cage or attack anyone. Little Cathy is able to move past the bird phobia to bring the lovebirds with them when they flee. They seem to represent a shred of normal life in the face of all the chaos. Of course, maybe the lovebirds make their move in the fleeing car, and nobody makes it alive to San Francisco. We'll never know.
In the seagull attack scene, coming back across the bay by boat, Melanie watches Mitch drive his car around the edge of the bay to meet her. She looks amused and smug—but then, she deliberately changes her expression to one of innocence and confusion. As she does, she tilts her head like a bird. And, at that moment, a seagull flies out of the sky and strikes her forehead, bloodying it.
One critic suggested that this is Hitchcock's twisted version of getting hit by Cupid's arrow. (Source) Because Melanie is so unlikable at this point, she gets pecked by a gull instead. Is this attack retribution for Melanie's attitude and behavior, suggesting that the rest of the violence in the film can be read as just deserts for everyone? Or, is this explanation just Hitch's MacGuffin—the thing that gets the audience's attention but is ultimately meaningless?
CATHY: He has a client now who shot his wife in the head six times. Six times! Can you imagine it? I mean, even twice would be overdoing it, don't you think?
MELANIE: Why did he shoot her?
MITCH: He was watching a ballgame on television.
MITCH: His wife changed the channel.
Birds aren't the only perpetrators of unprovoked violence in this story. Violence in The Birds doesn't have a reason; it just happens, and you have to deal with the trauma (and the feathers).
MOTHER IN DINER: [to Melanie] Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you're the cause of all of this. I think you're evil. EVIL!
Is Melanie the precipitating cause of violence? The early plot of the film is structured in a way that suggests that the violence does start with her and spreads to the people she's relating to. It implies that her sexual pursuit of Mitch gets things rolling. And, after her attack, the birds seem temporarily pacified. But, there's other evidence to make us discount that theory and conclude that things have been completely random. And that's even scarier.
MELANIE: [watching a man lighting his cigar as gasoline leaks around him] Look at the gas, that man's lighting a cigar!
Melanie is in the position of you, the viewer; she's watching in horror as something horrible unfolds without being able to do anything about it. That's a classic Hitchcock suspense-building move: he gives us info that the victim is unaware of so that we have to watch helplessly to see what happens. As Hitch once said, "There's no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." (Source)
CATHY: Mitch, why are they doing this, the birds?
MITCH: We don't know, honey.
CATHY: Why are they trying to kill people?
MITCH: I wish I could say.
Explanations are comforting, but even big brother Mitch doesn't have any. If they knew why the birds were attacking, they could avoid doing whatever is provoking them, whether it's flirting, wearing fur, or ruining the environment. In Shmoop's opinion, waiting for the violence to occur in this film is scarier than seeing it. The bird attacks are horrible, but watching the crows massing on that school jungle gym? We can't even.