Ornitophobia is according to the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary “an abnormal and persistent fear of birds. Sufferers from ornithophobia experience undue anxiety about encountering and even being attacked by birds although they may realize their fears are quite irrational”. As I am reading about this I am sitting in my house’ backyard on a beautiful April day, and although I do not suffer from the above named condition, I cannot say I am not a bit more aware of the numerous yet hidden birds twittering in the trees around me, or the large crow which just landed on the fence next to me, than I was a few days ago, before I saw Hitchcock’s famous The Birds.
Hitchcock’s genius lies in the fact that his movies not only have an immediate effect on the viewer, but also a delayed one, which persists in the subconscious for a while after the viewing. As with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws when after seeing it many people developed a fear of water, in a few cases the fear turning into a life-long phobia, The Birds left audiences, even if just for a short while, with a fear of birds. But it is not the sort of fear which gives you nightmares, but a far more subtle one, one you aren’t even completely aware of until one day a crow lands a few feet away from you and you shudder. Only then you realize that since seeing the movie you have avoided birds as much as possible.
The fact that after forty years a movie can still have such a strong effect on an audience is only further proof, if any needed, for Hitchcock’s great talent. I don’t know how people reacted during the viewing of the film at the moment of the release, but I imagine they were much more impressed and frightened by the experience than the modern audience. Due to the evolution of cinema in general and of thriller movies in particular the immediate scaring effect of the film has been lost, but still during the viewing a feeling anxiety surrounds the viewer, slowly creeping in, so that even in the more peaceful moments a visceral lack of comfort is felt. That feeling persists after the movie, slowly fading but never ceasing completely. And that is something no modern thriller can convey, no matter how grotesque The Hostel or frightening The Ring might be, none of them contain any scene which has the power and the effect of the last scene from The Birds where the whole scenery is covered by tens of thousands of real birds, just sitting there and waiting for a next attack.
And that is Hitchcock’s contribution to cinema, whether it is birds attacking people for no apparent reason, or an airplane hunting down a man in a field of corn, as seen in North by Northwest, you can always expect that this director’s films will keep you on the edge of you seat.