Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).
Birds. They're not a conspicuous presence in The Shining, but they are there. The film begins with the feel of a bird-like presence following Jack up the mountain, bird-like vocalizations also appearing in the Dies Irae soundtrack. We might not think much about this. Bird's eye view. However, that initial soaring overview of Jack's car builds an essential sense of anxiety that colors a film in which not much in the way of "horror" happens for quite a long time.
We observe an eagle sculpture in Ullman's office. Decoration. There are Norval Morrisseau's "Flock of Loons" prints that we see briefly in the secretary's office when Watson meets Jack then again toward the end of the film when Jack exits the Overlook, chasing Danny. In the "A Month Later" section, when Danny is cycling around the Colorado Lounge, we observe bird prints just before he completes his circuit. We take for granted this is all simply decor. Following this, a bird design is observed on Jack's Stovington shirt when Wendy is serving Jack breakfast. If we know anything about the book, we know the t-shirt refers to Jack's tenure as a teacher at Stovington and we assume the eagle must have been a mascot. However, if we haven't read the book, we will not know he taught at Stovington.
We observe also the eagle figure on the Adler (eagle) typewriter. A logo.
A sensible choice for a graphic on the production crew of The Shining would seem to have been the maze, perhaps the Overlook instead. Instead there is a bird on the shirts of the crew in Vivian Kubrick's documentary on the making of The Shining. Towards the beginning, as we go from Jack's dressing room down to the lobby, we see two individuals sporting them. It strikes as a little odd that a bird graphic is used as no live birds are ever physically observed in the film. The bird, in stark relief on the sweatshirts, white on black or dark gray, more reminds of Hitchcock's horror film The Birds. Yet, enough of the sense of a bird was imparted in the opening aerial bird's eye view, following Jack up the mountain, that the bird symbol doesn't feel completely out of place. Plus, there's that bird statuette in Ullman's office. There's the bird on the Stovington shirt. And there's the Adler eagle that Jack faces every time he is seated at the typewriter, which may be the most significant bird of all.
Though Hitchcock's The Birds would seem to have nothing at all to do with The Shining...
From the titles for Hitchcock's "The Birds".
...there may be a very good reason why...
Inversion of a screen grab from Hitchcock's "The Birds".
...I am reminded of The Birds when I look at those shirts with the bird graphic in the documentary of the making of The Shining.
Not only does the bird on the sweatshirts remind of the title sequence of Hitchcock's The Birds, the principle color of the opening title sequence in The Shining is very much like that in The Birds.
Kubrick made Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and The Shining all under Hawk Films. It could well be the bird on The Shining shirt worn by crew refers to Hawk Films. But what if there's more to it than that? We can at least test the waters and see if there might be. And if there's not? Then there's not.
I should give a brief account of Daphne De Maurier's story, The Birds, upon which Hitchcock's film is based, and compare with events in Hitchcock's film. I'll try to keep it concise and spare.
In De Maurier's story there is no Mitch, no Cathy as sister with her birthday and Mitch's mission to purchase love birds for her, no Lydia as Mitch's mother, no Melanie who becomes curious about Mitch after meeting him at the pet store and drives to Bodega Bay with a gift of love birds. Instead, in De Maurier's story, there is a family of four, the parents and two young girls, who live in relative isolation near the shore. They wake one night to birds having entered their home and seeming to attack them. In the morning they learn from the news that this is a widespread event, speculated as being perhaps caused by hunger amongst birds driven south from the Arctic Circle. The news advises people to board up their houses and states they will have an announcement on the situation the following day. Having already experienced an attack, the father takes the warning seriously and takes appropriate measures, boarding up the windows and doors of the house. Others he speaks with do not take the advised measures, responding with skepticism and even derision. That night, a bewildering, concerted attack against their home occurs. The birds, they realize, are active when the tide comes in and desist when the tide moves out. The next day, when the tide is out, the parents take their children and go to a neighboring farm to ask for supplies to help get them through the seige. The father, concerned as he sees the farmer had not taken precautions, approaches the farmhouse alone. The occupants are dead. Also, there is no smoke rising from the chimneys of the town, suggesting its citizens didn't take the warnings seriously either. The radio is silent; not only are there no further updates, there is no programming. The phones are dead. The family returns home with provisions that they hope will be enough to get them through the calamity, and they further fortify their home. The story ends with the family listening to the birds during the next attack, and as they listen they wonder what their country will do to protect them, wonder if Europe is similarly besieged, wonder if American allies will help as in WW II. The father determines how to better protect their doors and windows with not just boards but barbed wire.
De Maurier gives no reason for what has happened and we are left to sort out for ourselves if this is a commentary on environmental concerns or not. Having referred back to the horrors of WWII, the story carries within it a Cold War sensibility of preparation for the next apocalyptic event, such as was had with fears of nuclear war during the mid twentieth century that spurred many families to build bomb shelters and stockpile food. The attack of the birds occurs on the first really cold day, the ground suddenly frozen, and is thus also tied to the advent of winter. The children of the family expect snow, but the father tells them it will not snow, that it will be a "black winter" rather than a "white one".
Hitchcock's film, except for the attack of the birds, is quite different.
Hitchcock's The Birds opens with a wolf whistle directed at Melanie, this blending with gull cries, and Melanie turns expecting to see a man but instead smiles upon realizing the offender was a boy. She continues into a pet store where she inquires about a myna bird she's ordered. There's some banter about how old the myna bird will be (adult) and if she'll need to teach it to talk (she will). In walks Mitch Brenner, a San Francisco lawyer who is in the market for love birds for his sister's birthday. He recognizes Melanie as a jetsetting socialite who was involved in a court case concerning a window broken indirectly by a prank of hers. He teases her, pretending he believes she's a shop clerk. She accidentally lets a bird loose in the shop, which he catches, and as he returns the bird to its cage he jokes he's putting Melanie back in her gilded cage. She's angered but her interest is piqued. She orders love birds with plans of sending them to Cathy, Mitch's sister.
Melanie has been compared with the bird released from its cage and causing havoc, so a link is being forged between her and the assaulting birds. She had been in court for damage caused to property, a broken window, and the film later has many broken windows due the birds. Both in the book and film, the birds batter themselves against windows, shattering glass, in their attempts to gain access to buildings. However, the film does open with the wolf whistle that blends with the voices of the gulls, drawing a link also between the threatening birds and male predatory behavior that had at first irritated Melanie.
The next day, Saturday, Melanie pursues Mitch to his family's home in Bodega Bay. She steals into it, leaves the birds, and makes her get-away. After executing her prank, Melanie is attacked by a gull and is tended by Mitch. That day, she also meets Annie, an old flame of Mitch's who has become a school teacher in Bodega Bay. Melanie rents a room from her for the night, which provides opportunity for discussion between Annie and Melanie on Brenner family dynamics.
On Sunday, Melanie attends the birthday party for Cathy, Mitch's sister, and we have another attack by the birds. A mass attack occurs that night on the Brenner home.
Monday opens with the discovery of a farmer who has been killed by birds. Later that day a mass attack occurs at the school and then on the town itself. A woman accuses Melanie of being connected with the attack as the birds appeared with her arrival. After the attack, we learn that Annie had been killed while protecting Cathy. That night the Brenner home is attacked again. Early Tuesday morning, Melanie is attacked, after which the Brenner family attempts to escape Boedga Bay with the injured woman.
Hitchcock never explains why the birds attack.
I've looked around at what a few people have to say about Hitchcock's The Birds, and the focus tends to be on the budding relationship between Melanie and Mitch, and his widowed mother's possible interference. Hitchcock does point the viewer's focus in that direction, but if one examines the film the most crucial relationships in it are the one between Melanie and her mother and then Melanie and Lydia, Mitch's mother. Even the screenwriter seemed to have missed how central these relationships were when he said he thought a scene between Mitch and Melanie during the birthday party, when "they start talking about her empty life" was "stupid" and he didn't know who had written it. His belief was it served no purpose and only slowed down the film. Then there was another scene he had written, which he knew Hitchcock had filmed but then cut, in which Melanie and Mitch share a passionate kiss while the mother is out discovering the bird-pecked horror of farmer Dan, and the writer was puzzled why Hitch cut that as he felt it formed an appropriate and necessary bridge in their relationship to their subsequent endearments observed in the film.
I would imagine that Hitchcock excised that scene because the relationship that is most crucial is the one between Melanie and Mitch's mother, with its mother and daughter dynamics. The scene during the birthday party, Mitch and Melanie standing apart from the others, is the one in which Melanie reveals to Mitch that when she was eleven years of age her mother ran off, and she has no idea where she is. This information is all about the psychological underpinnings of Hitchcock's treatment of the story.
In fact, in the original screenplay, the writer had Melanie asking her father, over the phone, to assure her mother she was all right. So the writer's vision originally was not that Melanie had been abandoned by a parent. But Hitchcock changed it so Melanie's mother had abandoned her and she still harbors a good deal of anger and hurt over it.
"You need a mother's care, my child," Mitch jokes with her when she reveals a prank she is going to pull on an aunt.
"Not my mother's."
"What do you have to be sorry about? My mother? Don't waste your time. She ditched us when I was eleven and ran off with some hotel man in the east. You know what a mother's love is?"
Mitch hesitates before answering. "Yes, I do."
Misinterpreting Mitch's hesitation, having been told by Annie that she believed Mitch's mother was incapable of giving Mitch real affection. "You mean it's better to be ditched?"
"No, I think it's better to be loved. Don't you ever see her?"
"I don't know where she is."
At the point of crying, Melanie then tells Mitch it's time for her to join the rest of the children at the birthday party.
Where is Melanie's mother? Hitchock has her harbored in Melanie's subconscious, attacking her.
Melanie was the one first attacked by the birds in the film. Cathy is the second person to be attacked, at her eleventh birthday party, just after this revelation by Melanie.
Though we are repelled by the idea that Melania has drawn the birds to the area, Hitchcock has indeed set it up so that psychologically there's some truth in this. Melanie is given as as being a causer of chaos who appears to eschew close relationships--or at least chaos as conceived of in the 1960s. All the pain that Melanie has harbored as the abandoned eleven-year-old, with the budding mutual attraction between Mitch and Melanie, finds blind expression at Bodega Bay with what has been suppressed breaking out and attacking Melanie, the eleven-year-old Cathy, and killing Annie.
To make matters more complicated, let's look at Mitch and Cathy's mother. A widow of four years, Lydia herself confesses to Melanie that she is afraid of Mitch leaving. She is terrified of being left alone, that she just couldn't bear it. She, too, is a woman afraid of abandonment. Annie feels she keeps Mitch tied to her and interferes with his willingness to enter a long-term relationship. Now Melanie shows up just as Cathy turns eleven and is thus a threat to not only Lydia but Cathy, though Cathy only adores Melanie. Instead of Melanie spiriting Mitch away, however, the world of eleven-year-old Cathy is shredded by the birds and her family is forced to abandon their home, but the family unit remains intact and is presented by Hitchcock as being stronger for the ordeal.
Hitchcock shows us, during the film, Lydia's bedroom, and the bedroom in which Melanie stays at the Brenner's. Toward the end, when we see the bedroom in which Melanie is attacked, the birds having hacked their furious way through the roof, it is neither of the former and has a feminine canopy bed, which means it could only be Cathy's room. As Melanie comes out of her faint, having been rescued from the room and laid on the sofa, Mitch stooping over her, she claws wildly at the air. Realizing the birds are no longer there, she stops, but her eyes are only blank and dull as she looks unresponsively at Mitch and falls into shock. When Mitch then gets the car, he leaves her in Lydia's care, who washes and bandages her. They both help Melanie out to the car, and Lydia sits with Melanie in the back seat, while Cathy sits up front with Mitch and the love birds. In the back seat, Melanie embraced by Lydia, turns her eyes up to Lydia's and gives her a very brief but trusting smile, their hands clasping together.
It's not as if Hitch is telling us to forget about Mitch altogether, but this is the final human connection made in the film and Hitch thus makes it the most important one. Melanie begins to come out of shock in her response to Lydia. She has recovered a mother.
The writer of the screenplay has also puzzled over why Hitchcock left out of the film a last attack on the family as they passed through Bodega Bay and away. He felt it was perhaps too expensive. I think instead that last attack that was seemingly in the original script would have returned the focus to the birds in a way that would have detracted from Hitchcock's preferred ultimate resolution, that of Melanie and Lydia making that emotional connection of trust and care in the car.
Hitch has, yes, tossed at the audience a bit of an Oedipal complex--he even has Annie mention it in the film, though even she discounts it. Lydia is slender, like Melanie, wears her hair up much like Melanie does, and one evening is dressed in a suit very similar to Melanie's, though gray and not as form-fitting. Melanie is often presented as the ice queen, when she's actually pretty approachable in the film, and quick to befriend Cathy and even Annie--however the audience may be suspicious of her due the fact that she has lied a good deal and we don't know how honestly she may feel these intimacies. When Mitch and his mother are in the kitchen together, Mitch calls Lydia dear and darling, endearments he'll also later deliver to Melanie in the kitchen. And we have several references to Lydia's terror of being left alone, but the morning that she discovers Dan's death, she relates to Melanie not only how much she misses her husband, Frank, how he served for her as strength, how she can't sleep or rest any longer, but also how Frank was the one who had an intimate relationship with the children, one that she didn't know how to achieve. She misses talking to him, can't talk to Cathy as she's just a child, and she stresses that Mitch has his own life. When Melanie says Mitch would care very much what Lydia thinks about any woman with whom he might develop a serious relationship, Lydia insists that no, Mitch has always done exactly as he has wanted to do, and we believe her. Then later, when Mitch is trying to defend the house against the birds, Lydia rails against him, she insisting that his father, unlike Mitch, would know exactly what to do in their situation. So, I rather feel that the Oedipal complex is a bit of a smoke screen obscuring Melanie's predicament, Hitchcock revealing her abandonment as a child but then pulling our attention away from this knowledge.
When I first saw the film (I don't recollect when) the anxiety of the film blended perfectly in with the inability to escape the Cold War. The spare De Maurier story concentrates on how humans may be able to survive one another, but how will they survive if nature turns on them. Though Hitchcock kept true to quite a bit of the script writer's material, he did not include conversations that placed the focus only on symbolizing the cold war, or environmental concerns. Looking again at the film now, though the idea is that we are never supposed to understand exactly why the birds attack, and though I think we were intended to project on it the anxiety of the Cold War era, it seems to me that Hitchcock has left clear clues throughout that the birds, on a significant level, serve as a metaphor for the harm done by the abandonment of Melanie.
If this is the case, the mention of an attack the prior week on a fishing boat becomes only a coincidence. I've mentioned earlier that Melanie is at one point blamed for the birds. Shelter taken in a restaurant, a woman accuses Melanie of being a draw for the attacks, they having arrived with her, and the others in the restaurant are silent but it's obvious they harbor the same suspicion. Though Hitchcock represents the woman as hysterical and deserving of a slap from Melanie, she isn't half wrong in that she is expressing to the audience how the birds serve as a metaphor for Melanie's psychic injuries. The woman is also part of the only other "family" grouping shown in the film, she traveling through and dining at the restaurant with a young son and daughter and no husband, which recalls the Brenner family structure. She is clearly more bothered by talk of the attacks than her children but repeatedly asks that the subject not be discussed because it's upseting them. She then becomes intent on getting out of town, and arranges to follow a clearly drunk, male stranger to the highway. He is killed not by the birds but in fire/explosion caused by them. All shelter in the restaurant from this attack, which is when the woman attacks Melanie, her face framed by Hitchcock in such a way that it is reminiscent of certain shots of the birds later attacking Melanie. The only other similar attack in the film is when Lydia reproaches Mitch, insisting that perhaps they should leave now, he declining, and she then demeaning him by railing that his father would have known what to do.
Looming over all this is Mitch and Cathy's father. His portrait hangs on the living room wall in the Brenner home, and is painted in such a way that his eyes are so deeply shaded they almost appear to be blacked out, just like we have the shocking shot of the chicken farmer, discovered by Lydia, whose eyes are black holes. And Annie, too. It is suggested she suffered the same blinding when killed, but Hitchcock has already shown us the face of the chicken farmer, with whom we've no emotional connection, and thus spares the audience a view of disfigured Annie, which would have only enraged the audience. This peculiar portrait of Frank Brenner may seem a curiosity with its darkened eyes, especially as he is given as having been able to enter the world of the children in an intimate way that Lydia couldn't, which is all that we know about him other than Lydia missing him as a central pillar in her life. When the Brenner home is attacked on Sunday night, Hitchcock takes special care to show Melanie watching Lydia as she examines the wreckage, unable to fit together the broken china cups, and then straightening the portrait of her husband only to have a dead bird drop from atop the frame, which is a fresh affront. Melanie doesn't watch Mitch, her focus is intently on Lydia's reaction to her loss. The next morning, when Lydia goes to the farmer's the first hint she has that something is wrong is when she sees the broken china cups in his kitchen, which recall her own. She then finds her way to his bedroom in which she first sees wreckage, dead birds, and then the body of the dead man with the voids for eyes. This is clearly supposed to recall that peculiar portrait and the scene the night before. She flees, speechless. It is after this, resting in her bedroom, that she has the conversation with Melanie on how much she misses her husband, sharing feelings she has perhaps kept from Cathy. She begins to rely a little on Melanie. She permits Melanie to see her vulnerability. Later, when Lydia takes care of a traumatized Melanie, some see this as Lydia preferring a broken Melanie to a strong Melanie, but I don't believe that's the case.
How the portrait of Lydia's husband functions is that she too has been abandoned by her husband having died. Just as Melanie carries wounds, so does Lydia carry her own wounds, and perhaps she too is angry at her husband for having died. Certainly embittered. Moreover, afraid.
All of this said, we should consider what is not known to today's watchers of the film, and perhaps not to even many of the time. Bodega Bay had been fighting, since 1958, a battle against their town being the location of the nation's first commercially viable nuclear power plant.
"Wellock traces the birth of the anti-nuclear movement to the battle over Pacific Gas & Electric's attempt in Bodega Bay to build the nation's first commercially viable nuclear power plant. This battle began in 1958 and ended in 1964, with the forced abandonment of these plans. Attempts to build a nuclear power plant in Malibu were similar to those at Bodega Bay and had the same fate. The difference was that, unlike Bodega, which was a backwater fishing village, Malibu was the home of movie stars and other individuals who wanted to protect land values and the lifestyles of the wealthy property owners. They saw economic value in the non-materialist enjoyments of the land. What these cases had in common was that they gave nuclear power the image of a dirty, soiled, dangerous force that could not be allowed into communities. Wellock points out that these protests clouded the future of nuclear power in California."
It was important first to take a look at the possible psychological underpinnings of Hitchcock's The Birds before considering why Kubrick may have drawn a link between The Birds and The Shining. He also, in Lolita, seemingly forged a link with the bath scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, and by way of King's woman in the bathtub we revisit the terrors of the bath in The Shining.
In De Maurier's story the arrival of the birds is coincident with the sudden onset of a severe freeze, a black winter. A family is isolated by the attack from the rest of the world. This compares with Kubrick's film except that in it we instead have a "white winter", Stephen King's snow that isolates the Torrences.
In Hitchcock's story, the birds seem to fundamentally represent suppressed pain and anger for Melanie, her mother's abandonment returning to tear at her and affecting others. At the end, Melanie finds a mother in Lydia, and Lydia, given as emotionally withdrawn, becomes able to offer a physical expression of affection and care via Melanie.
Now we shall turn to King's book, The Shining, and as we do so we find several several things in King's book that Kubrick left out as far as not expressing them directly.
Kubrick is slim with back story--we only know that Jack is an alcoholic who is dry, that he used to teach, and that he injured Danny when he was still drinking.
King gives us quite a bit of back story on other events that haunt Jack. For one, he had profoundly assaulted a student by the name of George Hatfield. They'd had ongoing strife and one day he found the seventeen-year-old slashing his VW's tires. Jack was so incensed that his beating of Hatfield was interrupted by others lest he "kill him". The strife and incident pursue him, he attempting to rationalize that he wasn't jealous of and out to get the student who had almost everything in the world going for him whereas he never had the same advantages.
King also gives the back story of Jack having had a drinking buddy, Al Shockley. They are out drinking one night, Al driving while intoxicated, when they turn a corner and suddenly come upon a child's bike in the road.
They came around the last curve before the bridge at seventy, and there was a kid's bike in the road, and then the sharp, hurt squealing as rubber shredded the Jag's tires, and Jack remembered seeing Al's face looming over the steering wheel like a round white moon. Then the jingling crashing sound as they hit the bike at forty, and it had flown up like a bent and twisted bird, the handlebars striking the windshield, and then i twas in the air again, leaving the starred safety glass in front of Jack's bulging eyes. A moment later he heard the final dreadful smash as it landed on the road behind them.
The two at first believe they have run over a child. Jack says to Al, "We ran him down. I felt it." They examine the bike and wonder where the child is. Had they seen a kid? Had it just been the bike instead? It's related as a "providence" that no police appear as they search the roadside for a child, never finding one.
Later, when Jack has a dream confrontation in the Overlook bathroom in King's book, when he throws back the shower curtain to see what is in the tub, it's George Hatfield he finds with a knife in his chest. He sits up and accuses Jack. "First you tried to run me over on my bike..." George attacks him, and when Jack furiously attacks George in return he finds himself crushing Danny with a mallet. This hasn't happened, but it is what he sees at the time.
The bike in the road becomes equated with a bird smashing into a window, these things are tied together, and the bike plagues Jack to the extent that it becomes bound up with the Hatfield boy he'd assaulted.
Danny does not ride a bike in the book as he does in Kubrick's film. It may be that one of the functions the Big Wheel fulfills is bringing into Kubrick's film the collision with the bird-bike that haunts Jack and symbolizes all his guilts that he tries to suppress and rationalize. This may be a way that the bird-bike ties in with Hitchcock's birds who seem to be an expression of Melanie's tormented subconscious, all her hurt and pain. In the novel, rather than birds, King has wasps symbolize old guilts, stings of fortune, and the pains of Jack's own childhood. A story is told that sometimes a car accident might be caused by a driver losing control due a wasp, and no one would know this was the reason for a driver's death. We can tie this back to the accident in which the car hit the mysterious bike. The wasps function much like the birds, threatening physical attack, and are an often used metaphor for Jack's emotional turmoil. Kubrick chose not to use the wasps. Instead we have the eerie bird-like presence at the film's opening, a few other bird objects at the hotel, and the Adler (Eagle) typewriter on which is produced his "great work", pages upon pages of a single phrase as expression of his torment, his madness, his embitterment, his rage.
Oh, I nearly forgot to list a couple other birds that appear in The Shining film. Just before Danny has his first vision, the camera tracks in on him in the bathroom from his bedroom, and on his bedroom door we see several cartoon figures including Snoopy's Woodstock, as well as several other more realistic illustrations of birds.
Just as we are never explicitly shown the bird in the opening shots of The Shining I think it's possible that by intentional pareidolia we may see birds in Room 237 in the opposing cascades of light from a lamp in a corner.
As Jack backs out of the room, pursued by the elderly revivified corpse from the bathtub, not only do we see "light" birds ascending and descending on the wall behind him, their heads and wings, we also in the shadow between the birds see the film's opening shot of the mountain reflected in St. Mary's Lake.
When Wendy is deliberating on taking Danny down the mountain by herself, we have a similar shot of seeming opposing "light" birds, but without the shadow effect that recalls the mountains. In this scene we also hear sounds from the opening section that had seemed eerie and bird-like.
I'm not done yet. One day I thought perhaps I should take another look at The Summer of 42 again, which is the movie that Wendy watches when Danny asks if he can go upstairs and get his fire truck. I'd wondered if there was perhaps something in the film that I had missed that Kubrick saw as a connecting element to The Shining, other than the adolescent Hermie's seduction by the older Dorothy perhaps anticipating Jack, in room 237, taking a beautiful woman in his arms who turns into an old corpse. Kubrick cuts away from the film as Dorothy tells Hermie not to be in too big a rush to grow up as he'll be in the army before he knows it. Hermie's reply, which isn't in Kubrick's film, is "Well, I'm prepared to go. I'm taking preflight courses in high school and I guess I'll get my wings. And maybe I can team up with my brother. He's a paratrooper. And maybe I can drop him out."
Hermie doesn't have a brother. He's lying because of the war, to give himself a stronger heroic connection to it.
Having been playing recently with these ideas about the birds, this time around, as I watched The Summer of 42, I noticed that in the scene when Dorothy's husband is leaving for the war, as they stand on the dock, a seagull briefly swoops into the frame, makes its characteristic seagull screech, then is gone. And it hit me. I should read the book. I knew that if I read the book I would find there the reason for that bird, and I had the idea that birds would play somehow a significant role, though they don't in the movie. I wondered if they would serve as a metaphor for certain anxieties.
I was right. The book begins with the storyteller arriving at the island where the events of the summer of 42 took place, and as he looks around, he has his long flashback. One of his strong memories is of a seagull that plagued him that summer:
The tide was shifting, and the wind was changing, and Hermie used such moments for more deep thinking. But all that kept occurring to him was why that one stupid sea gull had singled him out and kept following him. It had flown over him when he walked to town that morning, barely missing him with a bombload of crud it had slung at him like a diving Stuka. And later, as he was tilling his meager Victory garden, it had circled him threateningly before coming in low in a strafing run that caught his cabbage patch unawares. And finally, the goddamned bird had come in behind him at six o'clock high and let loose a quick burst of shit that splattered on the back of his neck not ten minutes after a new haircut. It had all been very strange because Hermie had always liked to believe that he got along well with birds and woodland creatures even though he was a city kid. And so why this one hysterical bird was causing him no end of grief was a true and growing puzzle. Unless, of course, the bird was doing it all as an act of love. Cats did that. Cats would bring their kills, dead mice and such, to their masters. Yet if that were the case, wouldn't the bird just drop a fish on him instead of clobbering him with shit? It was beyond Hermie's ken. And he knew that, until the gull could find someone else to love, he'd be the recipient of all its high-flying turds, and he'd be walking around with a paralyzed neck from bird watching. Another thought occurred to him. Maybe, like in Pinocchio, the gull had been sent to be his Jiminy Cricket, to guide him through life until he became a real boy. But why the shit? Jiminy Cricket never crapped on Pinocchio, at least, not in the movie. That was probably it. The cricket crapped on Pinocchio in the book, but they cleaned it up for the movie...As for Benjie, he was studying his watch, seeing if it truly glows in the dark. "Eight thirty-one," said Benjie as evidence that his watch closed in the dark. Oscy whacked him, and he lost his place at eight thirty-one and three seconds. "Fuck you, Oscy." Some things never changed.
The book, Summer of 42, was written after the movie was done but before it came out. The author is making reference to how this material about the bird will not be in the film, which it isn't, and that the movie has been cleaned up. Kubrick did a fair amount of cleaning up characters in their transition from book to film, making them more palatable and sympathetic for the audience, such as Barry Lyndon, and even Humbert Humbert to a certain extent.
The bird appears in the book again after Hermie helps Dorothy put her boxes in the attic.
He must have left her house via the fourteen stairs to the beach because that's where he was walking, alone, trying to piece it all together so that it might make some sense. He had no idea how long he had been walking like that, glorying in the music of her and in the smell of her, when he saw the shadow coming at him--from out of the sun. The gull. Its silhouette moved swiftly, its wings spread in a devastating gliding dive. He sidestepped, but the blast still caught him, smack on his shirtfont, actually knocking him a few steps back. Four inches farther to the right and the shit would have pierced his heart. Instead, it just broke apart across his chest, a load of gull turd that splattered in the pattern of the filthy rising sun of Japan. It took no more than a few seconds. Then the bird was gone, squawking away in winged triumph. Hermie shook his fist at it. "You fuckin' dumb bird!" But the damage had been done. There was no sense in crying over spilled shit. He rubbed sand on the glob, but it just made things worse, caking up like cement. Whatever that bird had been eating, if it put its mind to it, it could shit a superhighway. What annoyed Hermie more than anything else was that he had always heard that birds couldn't shit in flight, that they had to land first. It was another legend of his youth shot to hell. Lay it alongside Santa Claus and the Easter Rabbit. Hermie wondered if it wasn't part of some kind of weird reincarnation. Maybe it was Johnny Stella come back to het him. Johnny Stella, who had challenged him to a three o'clock fight in the schoolyard, only to suffer a fantastic lucky punch from Hermie that knocked out two of his best teeth. Johnny Stella, who later got killed by a bus while riding his bike across Flatbush Avenue where it intercepted Church. Hermie yelled at the empty sky, for the gull was long since gone. "I know who you are, Johnny Stella! Try it again, boy, and you'll wish...you came back as Joe Louis! Ya dumb shit!"
He doen't tell his friends about the bird as he reflects on how his heart had been hurt once by love (his crush on the woman) and once by shit. Then Oscy notices the bird shit on his shirt and asks about his visit with the woman. "What'd she do--shit on you?" At which point Hermie is overcome with nausea and is so ill that he must sit down to try to recover.
Now a bike is involved with the bird, and a dead child, just as in the novel, The Shining, the "bird" is a child's bike that Jack and Shockley run into when drunk. At first they believe they have hit a child. Afterward, the bike haunts Jack with not only what might have happened but stands in for other guilts that plague him.
The seagull holds such significance it even ends the book after the adult is finished with his flashback reflections and is preparing to leave the island.
When he got back to his Mercedes, a single sea gull was flapping and squawking in the sky, and a big blast of shit was already beginning to harden on the car's windshield. Someone had remembered him after all, and he cried all the way home.
Hermie never figures out what the seagull means to him. Does it love him? Is it Jiminy Cricket? Is it a reincarnated boy whose teeth he'd knocked out and was later killed when a bus ran him over on his bike? Oscy seems to come close, tying the bird with the woman, asking him if she'd "shit" all over him, so that the bird represents Hermie's confusing interaction with her, his crush on her, her seduction of him that follows him the rest of his life and which he is unable to sort out, only knowing that he had been gravely emotionally injured. Oscy, instead, is introduced to sex that summer by way of a relationship with a girl about their age. He revels in it. It was between two individuals of a like emotional maturity, a process of discovery for both.
When The Birds was released, a part of the publicity was the confusion of fiction with real life. For instance, a 1963 press story reads, "But a sea gull, however well trained, can be vicious; and Miss Hedren was scratched under one eye and bitten on the cheek. 'For one 15 second scene.' Hitchcock recalls, 'Miss Hedren stood in front of a door for seven days while the trainer threw ravens at her. She bore up well till we finally got the shot perfectly. Then, for some inexplicable reason, she was in bed for four days afterward'."
Not only is the fictional character, Melanie, assailed by the birds, the press for the film presents the actress as also assaulted, injured, even approaching a mental breakdown, for at the time the connotation behind bedrest (and hospitalization) was nervous breakdown.
Do we have here the actress given as sacrificing herself for art? Or do we have a touch of Hitchcock permitting himself to be viewed as the tormentor of the actress? Which aligns with his self-portrayal as the somewhat mysterious, aloof director who sadistically, emotionally brutalizes his audience via horror.
We've much the same with Kubrick and Shelley Duvall in Vivian Kubrick's The Making of the Shining, which was filmed by her for television and edited by Gordon Stainforth. The movie vacillates between having Shelley as another Hedren, an actress who suffers extreme emotional and physical duress in the portrayal of her character, and Shelley presented as an unreliable witness, Kubrick and others dismissing her complaints. "Don't sympathize with Shelley," Kubrick says, and to Shelley, "It doesn't help you." Shelley responds, "Yes it does."
Doubtless, both actresses suffered duress. However, Shelley does in this and other interviews talk about how the film was rewarding, and that she understood the butting heads as a game that inspired a better performance. She resented Kubrick because he caused her pain and hurt her, "and it's just the necessary turmoil to get out of it what you want...we had the same end in mind, it was just that sometimes we differed in our means, and by the end the means met. And I find I really respect him and really like him, both as a person and as a director, I'm amazed. He's taught me more than I've learned on all the other pictures I've done within one year's time..."
How much input Kubrick had in Vivian's film I don't know, but if I remember correctly I think I've read he had editorial final say. What interests me is that in this documentary Kubrick at least permits, perhaps even promotes, a depiction of Shelley's experience in such a manner that one could be reminded of Hedren in The Birds.
Summer of 42 is also a film that in press was promoted as not just fiction but based on a real life event, Herman Raucher in 1971 even stating that after seeing the film "Dorothy" had contacted him saying she had worried she had traumatized him and ruined his life, that she was glad he turned out all right, and it was best for them not to revisit the past.
Certainly a haphazard synch up with Jack's Adler (eagle) typewriter, Hitchcock first saw Hedren in a commercial and Jerry Adler, a Universal Production Assistant, was the man "tasked by Hitchcock to find" her.
Lolita isn't Kubrick's only film that involves a child being sexually abused by an adult, or a youth being introduced to sex by a significantly older person. Barry Lyndon, in the book, is a young adolescent when he is seduced by his cousin who is far older than him, and the book makes clear that this relationship is what mangles him for life, not only in rash actions he makes related to it, but emotionally, in the way he relates to and abuses women. In Killer's Kiss, there are hints of at least an emotionally abusive relationship between Gloria's sister and their father, the sister giving up her promising career as a dancer to marry a rich individual so that the father will be taken care of financially while ill, then she commits suicide after the father's death, which is when Gloria runs off, at about the age of fourteen, to become a taxi dancer.
In the book The Shining, not too long before Jack's arrival at the Overlook, a wealthy woman of sixty had been a guest with a boy of no more than seventeen, they giving themselves as husband and wife. After a week he ran off and she committed suicide by drug overdose. A maid soon thereafter quit as she saw the woman's ghost floating in the bathtub. In the book, this is the woman Danny sees in the bathtub and chokes him, who has "hurt-think like the wasps" that haunt Jack. When Jack goes up to the bathroom to check out Danny's story, at first he finds nothing, and then he believes he perhaps sees the woman's form behind the shower curtain, his fear and the powerful feel of her chasing him out of the room. When he returns to Wendy and Danny, rather than tell them of his experience, of which he is fully conscious still, he says there was nothing there. It is just after this, before his fight with Wendy over taking Danny off the mountain, that he chooses to read an old play of his and then reflects on other characters in his fiction, most notably one in a story of his called "The Monkey Is Here, Paul DeLong", about a child molestor about to commit suicide.
Jack had liked Monkey very much. He sympathized with Monkey's bizarre needs, knowing that Monkey was not the only one to blame for the three rape-murders in his past. There had been bad parents, the father a beater as his own father had been, the mother a limp and silent dishrag as his mother had been. A homosexual experience in grammar school. Public humiliation. Worse experiences in high school and college. He had been arrested and sent to an institution after exposing himself to a pair of little girls getting off a school bus...He could sympathize with the parents of the murder victims. With the murdered children themselves, of course. And with Monkey DeLong. Let the reader lay blame. In those days he hadn't wanted to judge.
He reflects on the current play he has been writing, about a boy and his teacher and how it had shifted so that he hated the boy and saw him as a monster masquerading as a boy out to destroy the older teacher, which is a plot that is obviously connected to his experience with the student, George Hatfield, and how his beating up Hatfield was what led to his life as a school teacher.
As his mind drifts and he meditates on these things, Wendy is trying to talk to him about getting down off the mountain, and they begin to fight. In the novel, though Danny is lying right there in his traumatized state, as Wendy pleads with Jack to get them down off the mountain, he begins sexually stimulating her, she responds, they remember they have the Snowcat to help them down the mountain, and they make love. They sleep. They wake and argue again about taking Danny down the mountain. They sleep again and this is when Jack dreams about seeing George Hatfield in the bathroom and bringing down a mallet on Danny's head, then wakes up to find himself standing over Danny's bed.
It is a rather bizarre scene that King has written, Danny traumatized, Jack reflecting on his child-molestor-murderer character, he sexually stimulating Wendy as she is trying to talk to him about getting Danny off the mountain, and they both finally hopping in the sack for a fun time while Danny, near catatonic, sleeps in a bed next to them. And the shadow that hangs over them, from room 217 (237 in the film), is a sixty year old woman who had committed suicide after being abandoned by a boy "no more than seventeen". Except for perhaps showing Jack's initiating sex with Wendy as inappropriate, the episode strikes as odd, even gratuitous, out-of-kilter, because Jack has taken her breasts out of her shirt, caressing them as she tries to talk with him (he briefly fantasizes about twisting a breast and hurting her), Wendy responds and hops onto the bed, her breasts pointing to the ceiling, and blithely tells Jack to get to it. What the hell? It feels like King was trying to highlight certain deep issues concerning Jack, such as with his turning now to sex, his thinking about hurting Wendy sexually, but it also feels as though he never quite understands Wendy's character. Frankly, she seems like a man's fantasy of the perfect, beautiful, responsive woman. Even with their injured child lying right there, and the fear of a fourth person wandering the hotel, all Jack has to do is touch her breast and she's ready.
Kubrick cleans this up a good deal and instead has Jack traumatized by his kissing a young woman who becomes the old woman. Jack returns to Wendy to tell her nothing is in the bathroom, they fight about taking Danny off the mountain, we have a very good scene of Jack's emotionally abusive nature, as well as Wendy's horrified and traumatized response to that abusiveness.
King never expresses Jack as having been sexually abused as a child, but one wonders what other history is there, considering the importance of the woman in the bathtub and her resolving into other anxieties Jack has and even attacking Danny. She may be only a fear of death, but in the book she is an older woman who has a gigolo relationship with a youth of age to be her grandson, and King articulates the youth's horror of sleeping with her. The overarching anxiety of her is one of those things seemingly expressed in Jack's wasps, Danny even explicitly says so, whereas in Kubrick's film I think we have her connecting with the idea of the bird, just as Hitchcock has the birds representing subconscious trauma and anxieties breaking through.
Kubrick never comments on the birds in his film. The Adler eagle on Jack's typewriter may be all the commentary that is needed.