In 2017, Netflix released a film (Bright) where black race is represented by intellectually inferior orcs whose ancestors allied with the dark lord. A year later, on the same day, they unleashed another film (Bird box) that suggests that people suffering from mental illness are the servants of evil. Underneath the glossy wrapping of a cool concept, both the films contain ill-suited metaphors and problematic themes.
Bird Box has become Netflix’s most-watched film yet. The film is based on Josh Malerman’s best selling novel, adapted by Oscar-nominated writer Eric Heisserer, and stars Sandra Bullock in a leading role. Sadly, these are the only good things I have to say about the movie. Remember A Quiet Place? Another successful monster movie of 2018 where characters are forced not to use one of their senses in order to survive. It worked because it had a simple premise and they committed to it. Bird Box, on the other hand, has a very confusing premise— if you see the monster, it takes the form of your worst fear, drives you crazy and forces you to commit suicide in the goriest way. But there is an exception. The crazies i.e. people with mental disorder find the sight of the monsters blissful and want others to witness it.
The idea of a monster movie where monsters are not revealed sounds exciting on paper. However, Bird Box compensates for its lack of monsters by making ‘crazy’ people the real villains of the movie. Let’s delve deeper into who these monsters really are. In the book, the monster is described as the unknown entity that may not necessarily be evil. People just happen to die when they see them. They don’t even attack people because they don’t have to. In the movie, the monster is described as ‘Aka Manah’, which roughly translates to ‘Mind Made Evil’. They seem to have the ability to manipulate minds and evoke the visions of utmost sadness.
The people described as ‘crazy’ in the film are patients from mental institutions, some of them have criminal records. Apparently, they’re too dumb to be manipulated by the monsters. This is where the film gets confusing. It is clearly established that the monsters can’t control the crazies, and yet Fish Fingers, a mentally ill person, was tricked by them and left to rot inside a freezer. My major problem with the film is depicting mentally ill people as the vehicles for mass murder. Why do they worship the monsters? Hollywood has a long history of depicting a mentally ill person as violent. This notion is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that we’ve criminals pretending to be mentally ill to get away with murder in some of the movies. There is a scene in Bird Box where one of the characters refuses to look at the monster and the antagonist, of course, a mentally ill person, stabs him in the chest with scissors. His intention is not just to make him see the monster, but kill him by any means.
For a moment let’s assume that Bird Box’s message is not all negative. Maybe its intention is to spread awareness about mental illness. Maybe the film is trying to say that if we could see what people suffering from mental illness see, we’d commit suicide. We still can’t ignore the fact that the so-called crazy people are forcing others to see the monster. If the monster is indeed the personification of mental illness, why would it make them ecstatic? The film is essentially saying that people with mental illness enjoy it and want others to experience it.
Another problematic aspect of Bird Box is how it portrays suicide. The monsters can’t physically harm people, they can only compel them to do self-harm. This rule makes up for some of the most disturbing and gruesome scenes in the movie. The graphic depiction of mass suicide doesn’t come with a trigger warning. Throughout the film, we see people slitting their throats, running into ongoing traffic, jumping from the roof. If 13 Reasons Why glorified suicide, Bird Box is just a tutorial on different ways of committing suicide. And the sad thing is, the gory suicide scenes exist in the film solely for the entertainment purpose. Why couldn’t they stick to the simple premise of ‘people die if they see the monster’?
Bird Box is a giant confusing mess. It has nothing significant to offer other than meme templates and life-threatening internet challenge. Netflix, being the largest streaming platform, needs to be more responsible while depicting sensitive subjects like mental health and suicide.