Study Guide

The Birds Themes

  • Lies and Deceit

    In The Birds, Melanie is a liar. The first thing she does in the film is lie to Mitch by pretending to be a clerk in the pet store. Later on, she lies about why she's gone to Bodega Bay and about how she knows Annie. It's only as the birds start attacking and killing that she stops the lying and gets down to the business of survival. She even confides in Mitch about her traumatic past, something you sense she never does. You could see the birds as a kind of lie detector, forcing Melanie to cast off her superficial persona and face reality for once in her life.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. What evidence is there that Melanie lies because she's insecure?
    2. Is Melanie telling the truth when she says she was thrown into the fountain in Italy? Why do you think so?
    3. Is Mitch more honest than Melanie?

    Chew on This

    Bodega Bay's honest, down-to-earth atmosphere contrasts with the more sophisticated, deceitful society of San Francisco.

    As an attorney, Mitch is used to liars; that's why he tolerates Melanie.

  • Love

    The Birds begins with lovebirds—the feathered kind. And, while we're all eagerly waiting for the birds to viciously attack the unsuspecting residents of Bodega Bay, we're watching a romance unfold. Sort of. We see Mitch and Melanie flirting and starting a relationship. But then, people start getting pecked to death, and that's a romance killer for sure.

    Many critics have wondered what's the point of the love story in this film. The attacks begin with Melanie's arrival in Bodega Bay in pursuit of Mitch, but is this plot just a distraction? Are the attacks related to Melanie's pursuit of Mitch?

    The other relationship subplot is the distorted relationship between Mitch and his mom—a little too close for comfort. Maybe the bird attacks, which illustrate nature gone haywire, relate in some mysterious way to the relationship dynamics. If so, it's not a very optimistic statement about family love.

    Questions About Love

    1. Why do you think Annie and Mitch broke up? What evidence is there in the film?
    2. Does Mitch love Melanie? Does Melanie love Mitch? What evidence is there?
    3. We don't see much loving behavior between Lydia and Cathy. Why is that?

    Chew on This

    The Birds is essentially a horror film, and the relationship plot is not really important.

    Annie seems much more capable of love than Melanie.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Humans vs. nature (or human vs. critters) is an obvious theme of The Birds. The film is in some ways a natural-disaster film; it could be about a tidal wave or an earthquake or a hurricane. The natural world is fierce and harsh, and humans can't do much to tame it. But, people don't usually have to struggle against birds, and this is what makes the film so unsettling. Most of us have completely positive feelings about our little feathered friends and think of them as creatures that brighten our days with their cheerful song. They even help with the housework.

    In his typical fashion, Hitchcock turns our expectations completely upside down. What's enjoyable and comforting is now threatening and terrifying.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. How do the birds show humanity's limited understanding of the natural world?
    2. Would it be a happy ending if the humans defeated the birds? Why or why not?
    3. Does the film have supernatural overtones?

    Chew on This

    The Birds shows that the natural world is unpredictable and uncontrollable.

    The Birds suggests that human attempts to control the natural world contribute to our own demise.

  • Violence

    Horror films are generally … violent. Yeah, no one's surprised.

    The Birds is no different; people get pecked and bloodied and killed. A farmer has his eyes plucked out. Hitchcock doesn't overdo it, though. When we see Annie lying motionless on the lawn, we don't see what's happened; Mitch covers her face so Cathy and Melanie don't have to see it. We've already seen the dead farmer, so we can imagine what happened to Annie. That's almost worse. Hitchcock is a master at getting the greatest effect from the least amount of graphic violence.

    What's unusual and terrifying about the violence in The Birds is that there's no reason for it. Dracula sucks your blood because he needs blood to survive; the crazed killer attacks because he's crazed. But, there's no apparent justification for the violence in The Birds. It just whooshes arbitrarily down from the sky. If you can't predict it or understand it, you can't avoid it.

    And that's scary.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What's the most violent scene in The Birds? Do you think it's necessary? Why or why not?
    2. Do the humans commit any violence against the birds?

    Chew on This

    The birds in The Birds show how violent nature can be.

    Human violence is usually intentional. In The Birds, the birds' violence almost seems intentional, but ultimately, it's just arbitrary.