In a caged world – reflections on Suzanne Bier’s film BIRD BOX

Bird Box by Suzanne Bier – Netflix film, 2018, with Sandra Bullock

Suzanne Bier’s film Bird Box shows us the collapse of civilisation into human-made chaos and the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis which begins in Romania and spreads to Russia and then via Alaska to the US. Those touched by the psychosis become suicidal and self-destructive, as symbolised by multiple car crashes.

The US President decrees a state of emergency, closes the borders and advises not using social networks. At one point a character declares: ‘Let’s make the end of the world great again’. These are virtually the only ‘political’ references in the film. It is in no way a direct allegory of Trump’s America, but it does symbolise dangerous tendencies in the contemporary world as a whole. The internet is not present and is scarcely mentioned in the film, and indeed the social networks are not used. Eventually the internet goes down altogether. Mobile phones appear only to witness failed communications. There is no-one at the other end of the phone.

The collective psychosis is not a stand-in for the internet as such, nor should it be seen other than superficially as something external or non-human evil. We can see it as representing the current trend to irrationality which manifests itself across the globe in different forms of fanaticism and extremism – political, religious or around group identity.

The caged birds appear first when found in a supermarket; until the end they seem more a symbol than a part of the plot. Finally when they are released we can see them as emblems of the spirit of freedom that is blocked by the psychosis and can only express itself if humanity once again becomes closer to nature. The return to nature is symbolised by water (the river; crossing the rapids reminds us of the difficulty of the challenge), by the children (whose anonymity as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ signifies that only on the other side can they fully become themselves), and by the calm space, surrounded by nature, of the school for the blind, in which paradoxically it is possible to see what those who appeared to see have been blind to.

In this film we see humanity tearing itself apart in demented self-harm, in a process to which technology is not the solution. Only through the eyes of a child or of a blind person can the return be glimpsed to more natural and less destructive forms of human communication.

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