Remember when Bird Box came out and everyone on Twitter and Instagram were freaking out about how innovative and scarry it was? It seemed to be the sleeper hit of the year, but when I sat down to watch it (after countless recommendations from friends and memes) I was kinda confused:
This was the movie everyone was raving about?
While Sandra Bullock’s performance was great, it didn’t manage to rescue the rest of the film from going up a river of boredom.
One thing I’m not too keen on in films are flashbacks that explain how we got here. It might just be a me thing, but I’d rather a quick line from someone saying “we started from the bottom, now we’re here.” So I was pretty frustrated that Bird Box quickly took me out of an awesome idea of a blind survival film set on river rapids and placed me in a boring house that included every single cliche from every zombie movie ever. Not only that, but the majority of the movie is set in the flashbacks, why??? But I’m not going to get into that.
Instead of talking about the cliches of the movie (read my article How to Avoid Cliches: Bird Box Edition) or how the monsters made no sense, I’m going to talk about theme, because this movie has no clue what it’s trying to say.
THE MOVIE ACTIVELY WORKS AGAINST ITSELF
I think the filmmakers were aiming for a “we’re stronger together/motherhood” message, but it really missed the mark for me. Malorie (Sandra Bullock) starts the movie off refusing help from everyone and has no desire to become attached to anyone, including her unborn child. Pretty strong start for a character, not a bad start. However, the movie never proves her wrong.
Her two mentors in the film are Douglass (John Malkovich) and her love interest Tom (Trevante Rhodes). Douglass is who she’ll end up like if she keeps pushing people away and Tom tries to show her the value of not giving up on people. Thing is, Douglass is ALWAYS right.
In the beginning of the film he warns his neighbor about having too many people in the house.
Two of the strangers end up stealing the only car and most of the supplies, leaving our heroes with not enough food and too many mouths, just like Douglass predicts.
Towards the middle of the movie the group lets in another new person, Olympia. Douglass protests and no one listens.
Olympia ends up replicating the same kindness shown to her and lets in another stranger who ends up betraying the group and gets everyone killed. The movie actively kills and punishes any character who tries to help someone else.
To be fair, Douglass does end up rescuing Malorie… but he also gets killed for it. Even his death which plays out like a sacrificial death is really just Douglass trying to kill the guy that’s out to kill him. If he hadn’t of died, the first words out of his mouth would have been “See, I told you so!”
Tom, Sandra, her child and Olympia’s child are the only survivors. Sandra Bullock, who has now learned her lesson about getting attached to people, refuses to even name the children who could end up dying at any moment, alternatively calling one boy and the other girl.
Tom keeps on telling her she can’t live this way … but the movie just spent the last two thirds showing us that she does.
There’s even a moment where Tom has to risk looking at the monsters to save the family, but of course he dies because of it.
See what I mean, we’re shown why you shouldn’t care for others, but only told why we should.
Anyways the movie builds to this moment on the river where the only way to cross the rapids is to see and Sandra can’t be the one who looks because then everyone could die. Her dilemma is what kid does she choose, her own, or Olympia’s.
Sandra ends up deciding that no one is going to look and they’re all going to risk it. While this moment is touching, the choice is honestly out of character. Choices like this in movies are when the hero finally gets to use what they learned throughout the story. Like Luke deciding to let go and trust the force, or a skeptical Indiana Jones averting his eyes, this is the character change moment. But with Bird Box there’s no real reason given to us why you shouldn’t pick a kid, and the only reason the movie gets away with it is because child suicide is not a thing anyone wants to see.
The family ends up safe and protected in a school for the blind, which doesn’t tie into anything and is a pretty lousy twist in my opinion.
But the blind being spared and Tom’s death are frustrating for another reason …
THE MONSTERS MAKE NO SENSE
Thematically they make no sense.
In the beginning of the movie when our heroes are wondering what these monsters are, the conspiracy fanatic of the group calls them some kind of cosmic judges, they pop up in religion and myth and they exist for our Judgement Day. What the movie never tells us though is, what are they judging us for??
This is a big one for me. Scene Writing 101 is basically this, every scene exists to either ask, or answer a question. For example, if someone knocks on the door, the question is, ‘Who is at the door?’ and the answer is, of course, the identity of the knocker.
Now don’t get me wrong things in movies can go unanswered (i.e the case in Pulp Fiction) but if you’re introducing cosmic JUDGES … then maybe have a game plan. Otherwise, the attacks make no sense.
If we’re being judged for our sins, then why is Tom killed for being selfless? And why are the only ones who are spared the criminally insane? Why do you escape judgement if you’re blind? It’s not even about rules at this point, it’s a huge thematic problem.
And that’s where I’ll leave it. Next time you’re writing/reading/watching something, ask questions like, “What’s this trying to say?” and then find support for your claim. That’s something no one tells you about movies, they’re really just creative essays and arguments with intros, body paragraphs and conclusions and if they don’t have a good thesis, then why bother.