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 – falling within the post-apocalyptic genre and based on the 2014 novel of that name by Josh Malerman, and with the main character, Mallorie, played by Sandra Bullock – dramatises the collapse of civilisation into chaos, but also the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis = externalised in the form of malicious alien ‘creatures’ which drive those who look on them mad and can only be circumvented by wearing blindfolds – 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. As an example of its genre ‘Bird Box’ bears some resemblance to ‘Blindness’ {in the Portuguese original, ‘Ensaio sobre a Cegueira’), José Saramago’s novel of 1995 – also a film – which relates a mysterious blinding pandemic.

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 goes down and mobile phones only witness the failure of communication systems. The collective psychosis could be seen as representing the trend to irrationality which currently 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 two children who accompany Malorie, her own boy and an adopted girl (whose anonymity as ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’, transcended only at the end, 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 a greater spiritual seeing evolves.

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.

Note: I have added an entry on Josh Malerman’s book Bird Box, published on 2 April 2020. 

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