This quote, which occurs halfway through the film, succinctly sums up the implications of The Birds, as Hitchcock’s most apocalyptic film. However, what makes The Birds stand out from the other apocalyptic movies that came before it is that it does not establish this tone until the very end of the film. For most of the movie, the film presents the attacks by birds as a localized, strange event in one small town. It is only at the end of the film, when Mitch hears a radio broadcast that mentions the spread of these incidents to other towns and the importance of the attacks in Bodega Bay, that the apocalyptic message of the film becomes clear. At this point, viewers recognize that it does seem to be “the end of the world,” since there seems to be no solution to or escape from the problem of all birds suddenly attacking humans. However, when this quote is repeated in the diner by an anonymous patron, viewers do not know that this will be the conclusion of the film. It thus serves as an example of irony, as well; it is indeed the end of the world, but neither the characters nor the audience know enough to know this, yet.
“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?”
Mrs. Bundy is an unpaid, part-time ornithologist. She is arguing with a stranger who has just witnessed unimaginable behavior amongst birds: they have banded together to purposely attack humans, seemingly for no reason. As an expert on the subject, Mrs. Bundy has reason to doubt Melanie's panicked suggestion that the attacks are being perpetrated by all different kinds of birds, banding together. In fact, without having seen these events themselves, most people would probably side with Mrs. Bundy’s expertise on the issue. In the context of the film, however, this is an example of irony. Because the audience has also borne witness to the behavior Melanie describes, we know something that Mrs. Bundy does not: she is telling the truth. Mrs. Bundy’s disbelief also serves to highlight the gravity of these events, which are typically impossible in normal circumstances.
“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.”
Well before it becomes apparent to everyone else that the attacks should be taken seriously and might bring about some apocalyptic end, Mitch is convinced. His references to the attacks as a “war” or “plague” heighten the apocalyptic feeling of the situation and hint at some of the theories behind the attacks. ‘War’ calls to mind the paranoid fears of the Cold War, which Hitchcock may be paralleling in the film, and ‘plague’ puts us of the biblical idea that the attack might be a punishment for something (whether environmental destruction, Melanie’s behavior, etc.).
“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.”
Melanie is often dismissed as selfish, unruly, and even dangerous because of past mistakes that have been blown out of proportion in gossip columns. This leads to her being seen as the potential instigator of the terrifying bird attacks. However, we learn in this quote that she is an emotionally complex character, and are able to begin understanding her better. Although Mitch and Lydia originally dismiss her for being a wealthy and impulsive heiress and assume her to be superficial, Melanie goes on to prove them wrong. In this quote, she offers a more sympathetic explanation for her impulsive behavior: her mother was never around, leaving her without a maternal figure to teach her responsibility. By the end of the film, this detail will again become important as Melanie grows closer to Lydia, who serves as a kind of surrogate mother to her, as well.
“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!”
This quote seems to indicate Melanie’s complicity in the bird attacks. Hitchcock does seem to toy with the notion of building a connection between Melanie’s behavior and the attacks on Bodega Bay, but this is ultimately a red herring. Much of the first third or so of The Birds contains scenes and dialogue which hint at the possibility that Melanie and her arrival as an interloper in Bodega Bay are somehow the catalyst for the birds attacking. This quote fits into that category of dialogue. However, it also subverts this theory by making it explicit. The woman who shouts this at Melanie seems to be disturbed and prejudiced by her own fears. Thus, Hitchcock may be using this quote to show how ridiculous such a theory regarding Melanie’s complicity would actually be.
“In Bodega Bay early this morning, a large flock of crows attacked a group of children who were leaving the school during a fire drill. One little girl was seriously injured and taken to the hospital in Santa Rosa, but the majority of children reached safety. We understand there was another attack on the town. But this information is rather sketchy. So far, no word has come through to show if there have been further attacks.”
The broadcaster on the radio is communicating the events that the audience witnessed earlier to an audience outside Bodega Bay: the attack on the kids at the school, which is a major turning point in the plot. When the viewer sees this attack taking place, it is not yet clear that what is happening is anything but a very strange localized occurrence. The fact that the attack has reached the status of a news report broadcast immediately preceding a segment on the President’s State of the Union address to Congress, however, lends the story a sinister apocalyptic element. From this point forward, the film moves away from being a thriller about an isolated incident of unusual animal behavior, and toward becoming an ominously prophetic warning about an impending environmental catastrophe.
“Birds have been on this planet, Miss Daniels, since Archaeopteryx, a hundred and forty million years ago. Doesn't it seem odd that they'd wait all that time to start a...a war against humanity.”
This quote highlights the central question that drives the film. A less confident filmmaker may not have allowed Mrs. Bundy’s fundamental query to go unanswered. Hitchcock, however, ultimately allows viewers to decide on an answer for themselves. Hitchcock provides a number of clues that could support different theories about why these attacks would take place when they did—such as Melanie’s impulsive and bold behavior, or the destruction of the planet—but does not make any of them so explicit as to hint at a single right answer. Instead, it is up to viewers to decide on their own interpretation of the film.
"Back to your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels"
Mitch says this to Melanie at the end of the first scene, in which they meet. Up to this point, Mitch has led Melanie to believe that he is a stranger who thinks she works in the pet store. This line reveals that he knows who she is, and was playing an elaborate trick on her so that he could make her the punch line of such a joke. This quote shows his attitude toward her at the start of the film—he does not take her seriously and thinks of her as a criminal of sorts or at least as an undesirable personality. He continues to mock her past wrongdoings throughout much of the film, and his ceasing of such behavior indicates a development in their relationship. Additionally, his use of the word ‘gilded’ references her status as a wealthy socialite.
"You don’t know, you don’t know! When will you know? When we’re all dead? If only your father were here…"
Lydia begins to break down emotionally and psychologically toward the end of the film from the stress of the bird attacks. She screams these lines at Mitch as he tries to prepare for the coming attack the best he can, and she immediately realizes the way that her words were unfair to her son, who has always been there for her. The mention of her husband is significant in that it betrays Lydia’s underlying instability—she is still struggling to recover from the loss of her husband four years prior.
"I suppose that's where everyone meets Mitch."
Annie says this to Melanie, about the city of San Francisco, when they first meet. It is clear from her manner and from her language that she and Mitch have a history together, and most likely a romantic one. It also characterizes Mitch as something of a charmer or ladykiller. Additionally, this conversation sparks tension between Melanie and Annie that is important to the film, mostly in how it is overcome by them in the face of disaster.
The Birds Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Birds is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.