The Birds and Vertigo: Alfred Hitchcock's Masterpieces

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For the movie The Birds I chose to look at it through a feminist lens. In the movie unlike Hitchcock’s other movies, there is a lot of female representation throughout the film. The main character Melanie is a very important role in the movie. Not only is she the main character but she is also the main contributor to the movie. While the same issues still arise with her as do other films. She is a typical blonde, wealthy, good looking woman. They always capture her in the best lighting to ensure she looks her best when she is being filmed. As Pauline Kael once wrote of Julie Christie with indeterminate praise, Hedren “is extraordinary just to look at” and, “indeed, it would seem as though this were the actress’ only job, at least at first.”(Kael). This further enforced the fact that Hitchcock used Melanie (Tippi Hedren), to give the men viewers something to look at and to enjoy. While this was not the only reasoning for her being there but it was most likely a thought. There are more important roles also held by women. One is Lydia, Mitch's mother, who is a predominant role throughout the movie and is an actual proper female role in my opinion. The movie still fails to accurately represent women with roles that don’t involve them with men in a romantic way. All the films have a male role who dominant when it comes to importance and even decision making women seem less relevant and important in the film.

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There is also jealousy in the movie which is between two women, Melanie and Annie. When Annie finds out that she was Mitch, she has a look of jealousy on her face as she is told that. It is a very subtle jealousy and doesn’t really come out that many times nor does she say anything about it aloud. This attempts to show that women are being emotional and that Mitch the man is so desirable. When Melanie had appeared at Mitch's the first time, his mother almost immediately became very weird and off in a way. She seemed to not be accepting of her. She seemed to be jealous that Mitch was spending time with her. His mother was afraid to be lonely so she wants Melanie gone.

So I feel as if this movie does eventually fall back with the typical Alfred Hitchcock films with women being objectified and falling subject to being reduced to a play thing and eye candy for men to enjoy their time. None of them really ever have any control over their situations either. They always have to be the damsel in distress and are always being saved and aren’t the ones saving others. They never seem to be able to have a say in where they go or what they do.

After watching the movie Vertigo, I can also connect the feminist theory to this Hitchcock film as well. This movie yet again shows a woman who is looked at as beautiful and as eye candy for the male main character. In many of the situations, the women are forced to do what the male wants and have no say in the situation. In the movie, Madeleine Elster, impersonates Gavin's wife as part of a murder plot. Gavin deliberately takes advantage of Scotties acrophobia and lures him to substitute his wife’s freshly killed body. This is where Judy, another love interest in the film becomes more important. She reads all of that in a letter but proceeded to rip it up because of her love for Scottie. Judy and Scottie begin seeing each other but there is one issue with this. Scottie is still obsessed with Madeleine and asks Judy to change her hair and clothes to more closely resemble the late Madeleine. This is another instance of the woman being forced into doing something she may not want to do in her heart. She is in love with Scottie so she would not want to hurt him and thus do whatever he asks of her. If this had been on her own, she would most likely choose to be who she is, not another lady. Once this happens and Judy agrees to his wishes, they believe all is well and he will finally be all about Judy. This isn’t the case however, as he notices the necklace she happens to be wearing. This necklace was the same one Carlotta was pictured wearing earlier in the film. He then realizes that Judy has been Elsters mistress but cast aside just like Carlotta has been. Scottie once again takes charge and decides for Judy what they both must do. He says they must go back to where all the issues arrived and go back up the bell tower. He then forces her against her will slowly up to the top of the bell tower. Now since Scottie has acrophobia, this was a hard task for him to ascend to such a high altitude. However, he is able to reach the top of the tower and beat his syndrome. Judy then proceeds to admit she was paid to impersonate a “possessed” Madeleine and that what actually happened was that Gavin had faked it by throwing his wife’s body from the bell tower. These are multiple examples of how Scottie manipulates and forced Judy into doing things. Although Judy was lying to him about who she really was in a sense, he still was the dominant person and had taken control of her. If he didn’t force her up the bell tower, chances are she wouldn’t have died at all. As a matter of fact, she wouldn’t have died because she wouldn’t have been forced against her will to go up the tower just so Scottie could relive the past and somehow redeem himself for past mistakes. As we saw this isn’t what happens as Judy plummets to her unfortunate death.

The movie also goes into other feminist idealistics. The belief that women are needed to present themselves at all times at their best for their male counterpart. Women are highly expected to answer to their husbands and to always look pretty. This is quite evident in this movie as he insists that she changes her appearance for his pleasure because he missed Madeleine. He knows that she will comply with his every need because of the love she has for him. Scottie can barely even touch Judy without thinking about Madeleine and it shows in a kissing scene when she even says that he doesn’t want to touch her. To further the point that women were not treated fairly at all was a quote I found stating that the female characters in the film were “unhinged, duplicitous and submissive puppets”(Vertigo is…). From the same website was a quote that stated “The sexual fantasies of his adult life were lavish and peculiar, and, from the evidence of his films, he enjoyed devising the rape and murder of women,” wrote Peter Ackroyd wrote in Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life. This shows some background as to why Hitchcock possibly uses mainly blonde women who in the end are punished and or killed by the end of the film. Bidisha, a British broadcaster also had similar views on the movies. 

In the article “Vertigo is not the last word misogyny, but a feminist deconstruction of it”. She was quoted as saying “They all get punished in the end,”(Vertigo is not…) which from looking at the films goes right along with what occurs. They were blond. They were icy and remote,” wrote Roger Ebert, an American film critic. He goes on to say “Sooner or later, every Hitchcock woman was humiliated.”(Vertigo is not…). Hitchcock himself is to blame for some of the issues that arise in the films. He uses his own ideology and was quoted as saying “I always believe in following the advice of the playwright Sardou. He said: ‘Torture the women!’ ... The trouble today is that we don’t torment women enough.”(Vertigo is not…). This furthers the point that he got too personally involved and in the end, it may hurt some roles of women in the movies that he made. As most of the women were only love interests and in no instance was there only a woman in a film of his that didn’t need a man to help her and to guide her to what to do. While this isn’t always evident, it is predominantly the outcome of all the movies. In the previous ones we have seen, all the women have been oppressed in some way, big or small at that. Vertigo is a good example to use as in many instances Judy doesn’t have a choice for herself it is the choice of Scottie. As stated previously, Scottie knows she loves him so, and Is able to use that to his advantage. Not that he doesn’t move her, but the fact that he is using her to be able to change his life. He was trying to use her to be able to fix the past in some way, thinking that reenacting the horrible act was necessary to move on.

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