Hitchcock’s The Birds and the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the Coronavirus Pandemic unfolds across the world, and we watch various Government’s response to it, we are reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s remarks to the French director Francois Truffaut during the making of The Birds in 1962. Hitchcock said that his film was about ‘complacency’ particularly the central characters reactions and their response to the unpredictable and escalating bird attacks.

No more than today does Hitchcock’s remarks seem more relevant, as countries struggling to control the Coronavirus from overwhelming their health systems, introduce shutdowns and a variety of social distancing measures. Some countries like South Korea acted quickly, while others such as Spain, the US and UK were slower to enforce lockdowns and are now paying the price for the number of positive cases escalating in Europe and the USA.

Alfred Hitchcock was always ahead of the curve. Psycho(1960) was a pioneering cinematic landmark,  a forerunner of the horror and slasher movies which would dominate the next few decades, while The Birds(1963) preceded the wave of disaster movies and Man vs Nature catastrophes that became so fashionable in the 1970s. Like the mysterious birds that attack Bodega Bay, Coronavirus seems to have come out of nowhere – reportedly from a wet market in China – and quickly spread across the globe, facilitated by our predilection for international travel.

Suddenly all our lives are affected. We are now caged in our houses and apartments, under government orders to stay at home, businesses are shut down and capital cities are in lockdown. Outside, there is evidence that nature is reclaiming what we stole from it. Sika Deer have been spotted in Japan’s cities, raccoons on an empty beach in Panama and coyotes are being seen on the streets of San Francisco. These reports suggest that Nature is rebalancing itself, after decades of being crowded out by an ever increasing human population. Others suggest the pandemic is retribution, as the intermediate host of Coronavirus is the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Like the pivotal scene in The Birds when the residents of Bodega Bay take shelter inside the Tides restaurant, countries blame each other for starting the virus. America blames China. China blames America. Social distancing bans are ignored, subways and buses are crammed, and the complacent attitude of nothing bad is really going to happen to me, is all too prevalent in our society,

Why does Melanie Daniels go up to the attic for the climatic bird attack? Despite all the warnings and everything she has been through, she still enters the avian filled room. Maybe like us she doesn’t think anything bad will happen to her. Complacency must be beaten out of her by the birds, and she narrowly escapes with her life. Just like Coronavirus has taken its toll on those who think of it just as a virus, one notch above the common cold.

The Birds inexplicably attack in waves followed by an eerie retreat. There are predictions that Coronavirus will suddenly disappear. The world will wait and watch. “It’s the end of the world!” spurts the drunk at the Tides restaurant. Coronavirus won’t kill off the human race, but like the fury of the birds, hopefully it will remind us to be more respectful in our attitudes to nature.