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Netflix’s Bird Box can be viewed as one of the most intelligent movies in the current climate. It is a cleverly disguised science fiction film where art imitates life. The viewer is brought along a metaphorical path submerged into the depths of ignorance as forced behavior.
Bird Box sensitively tackles the question of mental health in society. It delves into how it is perceived from those directly affected, to those who view it and how those attitudes are communicated. The movie suggests a split in society, an ‘us and them’ situation. And one wonders whether the film would have been such a roaring success if these themes had been addressed more directly within its narrative.
Through clever symbolism, director Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) subtly gets her point across. In Bird Box, we are told an unseen force has the power to cause people who stare towards it to become unbalanced and overwhelmed with the suggestion of suicide. This in turn leads to the protagonist and main characters of the story wearing blindfolds in public to remain unaffected.
The film is a response to a culture of ‘don’t look and it won’t affect you’, so alive today. An ‘alien’ who remains frustratingly unseen, faceless, invisible throughout the movie serves to represent that which people try to repress from their consciousness.
There are characters in the movie who want to stare at the monster, who are not afraid to see and encourage others desperately to do the same. It is pointed out these people have escaped from asylums and they are the key to understanding this layered story. Within the narrative, these characters are in league with the unseen and symbolic ‘alien’. They are cast as evil by the protagonists, not to be trusted and avoided at all costs.
However, as the film continues we come to understand that many of the protagonists are also dealing with their own personal demons, highlighting that victims are not always those you suspect. They may not even have the illness directly. They can be the relatives, friends, and partners. The onlookers.
In Bird Box’s final scenes when Sandra Bullock’s Malorie and her two children attempt to reach a promised ‘safe place’, they have to use their voices and rely solely on speech. The tension that builds as they try to get to this haven, becomes inherent of the struggle to be understood, to use the voice so many suppress as they try cope with mental health issues.
Actually a school for the blind, the safe haven the family reach symbolises within the story a perfect society. Within it, all the inhabitants have their eyes open but are unaffected. They are not afraid to confront the ‘aliens’, shedding the blindfolds representative of ignorance. The birds Malorie had kept within a box to serve as a warning of danger – suggestive of the stigma society carries – are let free when they are no longer needed.
As the finale reveals the movies’ intention fully, the questions raised remain simply that. No answer is fully given as to the monster’s true form. Instead, what’s truly important is the protagonist’s changing attitude. She is no longer scared to look, to speak.
Ultimately, any answers we search for exist solely in our own ability to be accepting of others. Only through this, can we let go of our judgments and our blindfolds.