Saw Bird Box over the weekend. I know it was good, because I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking about it so much. Replaying every scene in my head over and over.
It’s just everything. Just good storytelling, good movie-making. I tweeted, while I was watching it, “No one should ever be allowed to make something this good.”
Or it could be horror movies. The last time this happened to me was Saw. And that was as much being scared of the irony vs. deconstructing the plot holes (there’s no way that guy could lay on the floor that long and not move). Anyway, Bird Box.
The whole thing’s a metaphor for becoming a mother.
There’s been a strange increase in this new genre of “family horror” (a name which is terribly misleading) in the past handful of years. The Babadook, Hereditary, A Quiet Place*, Halloween (the newest one), The VVitch, mother!, Insidious, 10 Cloverfield Lane. Women are no longer in trouble because of an axe-wielding masked maniac. Now they’re in trouble because something’s trying to hurt their kids. The allegory of sex has become the allegory of parenthood.
*It’s kind of funny that the two best horror movies of the last two years–“A Quiet Place” and “Get Out”–are opposite each other. Think about it. Both are “Monster in the House”, but one is about one who gets treated as the invading monster and the other is about a family attacked by the invading monster.**
**And while I’m thinking about it, “A Quiet Place” and “Bird Box” are kinda opposites too. In one, you must be soundless. In the other, you must be sightless.
The Babadook is the most obvious allegory for family trauma. It represents the feelings of guilt, grief, and depression after a traumatic death (her husband, in this case). As the “Babadook” gets closer, the mother acts out against her child. (Or is it the other way around and she acts out, causing the Babadook to move closer, hm?) She only wins when she confronts it, both the monster and her husband’s death. But, like grief, it’s not something she can get rid of. When the movie ends, it’s still in her basement. The grief is never going to go away, but it’s manageable.
In Bird Box, the story starts with pregnant Malorie… who is surprisingly uninterested. She’s dispassionately painting some dispassionate people while her sister gets all her groceries. She’s pretty unattached to everything. I thought maybe she was on the spectrum at first. She seemed like she couldn’t understand empathy.
Anyway, the doctor tells her “the baby is coming whether you want it or not, so you better get used to it”. That’s the first time she throws up. It’s not morning sickness, it’s nerves. My wife did the same thing.
The whole movie is an allegory for the unknowns that come with being a parent for the first time. Hence the blindfold–you’re going into it blind and there’s nothing that can guide you. Dr. Spock can write as many books as he wants but he’s not going to be there at 3 in the morning when your kid is crying and can’t stop.
Malorie seems like a woman who always knows what to do. A good planner. Someone in control. Parenthood is not about that. It’s about rolling with the punches. Adapt, overcome, survive. Be like water. You’re driving blind (which they actually do).
So as soon as shit gets cray-cray, she’s in a house with other survivors. Now, we all know that the biggest threat in these movies isn’t the monster, but man.
So who do the survivors represent? Well, when you have a baby, your relationships with people are going to change. You don’t have as much time as you used to. No one wants your job but everybody thinks they can do better. So you got Charlie (the weird cousin), Greg (the helpful gay guy), Lucy (the useless friend who says she’s going to be there for you because she’s always out on Friday night in her selfish hedonistic ways), and Douglas, the angry father-in-law with a shotgun (played by John Malkovich, need I say more?).
We also got Olympia. She’s also pregnant, and she’s the other side of Malorie’s coin. She’s all excited, but also never experienced hardship. She’s the sweet innocent who lets in Gary, the impetus of their demise.
Gary is the guy a single mother dates who says he’s going to be there for you, be there for your kid, but just wrecks everything. Takes it all away. I think the movie was too nice letting the handsome Tom survive.
So now Malorie’s got her own kid and Olympia’s. And her fears have come to fruition. Tom, the co-parent, is the fun one, but she’s the hardass. Get to bed, brush your teeth, do not take off your blindfold or I will hurt you. She doesn’t even give them names, they’re “Boy” and “Girl”.* Is this her spectrum showing? Or is this some kind of Adam and Eve grandeur.
*(Please please please let this movie be popular enough to start a new naming trend, like “Bella” and “Khaleesi”.)
Anyway, the backstory is over and this is where the “movie part” of the movie happens. All the tension and drama and action. So we don’t get to wrap up this allegory until the end. Everyone has wandered off and Malorie makes a plea to her children to come back. This is especially poignant with Girl, who she threatened before because she went wandering after Malorie, thinking she was in trouble, and got harshly reprimanded.
Malorie promises to let her listen to the end of the story, to show her wonderful things. This is both the dark night of the soul and rising up to the challenge. Because being a mother isn’t about control or “winning”, it’s about being and staying together. And when they’re safe, Malorie gives them names, indicating their new, more personal, relationship.
So that’s Malorie. That’s her journey from detached and connectionless and depressed to smiling and content. Really, you don’t even need monsters for a story like that. So then, what is the monster?
It’s Malorie’s own self-judgment. It’s the monster she sees when she looks inside herself. Think about it–people who see the monster become locked off. They can’t be reached, can’t be reasoned with, can, and become conclusively sad. They can’t love or be loved. And that’s what she sees when she looks outside her body. She is cut off from people, accepting of no love, only sadness and fear.
The crazies play a role in this too. They’re byproducts of the monster. They bring others down around them, make them sad. They’re what Malorie is afraid for the people around her. They’re going to drag everyone down with them.
And the reason why victims of the monster commit suicide is because that’s what Malorie’s thinking in the back of her mind. She’s worried that she’s not worth it in the long run. You’ll note she’s never very happy during the movie. Not that that’s surprising given the situation. But also, she has nothing she’s moving toward, nothing to go to. No reason to hope. She’s afraid she’s not worth being here. The monster is Malorie’s worst self.
Since these scenes are sprinkled throughout the running time, they’re meant to run parallel with the flashbacks (and you can see that with the “one of you will have to look” kind of thing and the placement of the psycho in the river with the psycho in the grocery store). In this way, the scenes in the present show us the tension and mood for the past. Malorie is still a hardass and still not quite capable of loving her children. Not till the very end when she realize what she could lose–the future. More specifically, their future. Cause parenthood isn’t about you, it’s about helping someone else.
So yeah, that’s Bird Box. I was surprised that it’s Rotten Tomatoes score was so low. It should have been at least a 70%. And Sandra Bullock hits all the right buttons.