Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day, and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"

I am still here.  Here on earth, that is.

My body did not ascend into the heavens today.  So either I am damned; or else the publicized prediction that Judgment Day would occur this evening at 6pm was, predictably, a hoax.  Was there really any doubt?  (About the latter, I mean.)

(Discussed here two weeks ago: "Are You Ready For the End of the World on May 21?")

When we walked into a coffee shop in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood tonight, the staff, in a spirit of wicked fun, played  Mozart's "Requiem Mass in D Minor" over the house speakers to celebrate the "rapture". 

As I adjusted to the fact that I was not one of the charmed or chosen, and as I contemplated the wonder of my continued ability to walk the earth, my mind naturally turned to the movies!

Alfred Hitchcock described his 1963 thriller, "The Birds", as his "vision of Judgment Day".  And, as movie Judgment Days go, it is probably one of the most creepy, haunting, and unforgettable (even if Mr. Hitchcock held tongue firmly in cheek in stating this: After all, he described "Psycho" as a big comedy).

I love that scene in the diner, in which frightened adults and children are trying to make sense of the chaos and to derive comfort from one another.  Here, Hitchcock introduces two characters in brief and indelible appearances.  First is a bird expert, who does her best to interpret the accepted evidence that birds would not attack at random. Second is a drunken buffoon, who is as certain of his interpretation of the Apocalypse as the folks who insisted on tonight's rapture (and yet continued to take donations).  He keeps repeating: "It's the end of the world!"

Unfortunately, in "The Birds", the guy at the bar seemed to be right.

My inner 12-year-old still thinks this movie is pretty cool.  My more "mature" reading of the film finds the mystery intriguing and chilling; the terrible tragedy visited upon regular people by creatures we all assume are benign, is horrifying.

Most of us are familiar with the terrifying scenes of bird attacks on the quiet coastal town of Bodega Bay. Nothing seemed to provoke them.  They amassed with murderous intent, picking off (or pecking off) the residents haphazardly, until the chilling finale, when the battered and conquered protagonists slowly, tentatively drive into a horizon bathed in heavenly light.  It is an interesting image of the raptor  rapture. 

All silly remarks aside, I do happen to think that Melanie and Lydia's reconciliation, and Cathy's insistence on bringing the lovebirds (in a strangely calming symbolic gesture), and the car's slow movement, with the threat all around them, with no explanation offered...  is one of the most awesome apocalyptic movie finales I can think of.

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