Allegories do little to change the world.
Here’s all you need to know about Bird Box:
- Malkovich is a Trump supporter
- The door to the house is the border wall
- The bird box is your iPhone—
—and all the birds inside are Twitter, alerting you when all the “crazies” are around.
I half-expected Tim Robbins to be the one opening the door to the shelter for “the blind”—and laughed when I hear the man speak (it wasn’t him).
Screen Rant's review says it all:
Bird Box is a respectably moody and intelligent psychological thriller, if also a relatively muddled supernatural horror allegory.
Bird Box works as a cautionary tale—nothing more. The film's failure to craft a complete argument exaggerates its image systems—
—leaving one with no other alternative than to quietly roll his eyes when Malkovich proclaims, “Let’s make the end of the world great again!”
Half an Argument
Someone mentioned to me that he felt you could remove an hour from Bird Box and it would be the same film.
This is what happens when you double up on only half of a complete story. You fill the gaps with thematic material already well-established. You end up repeating yourself, instead of circling around and addressing all sides of an argument.
Only then can you make a lasting and robust case for your approach over others.
In Bird Box, we see strong evidence of an Objective Story Throughline perspective and a Main Character Throughline perspective. The end-of-the-world virus that leads to mass suicides supplies the former, while Mallory’s inability to accept her role as mother covers the latter.
Save for one moment where potential Influence Character Tom argues the saving grace of Hope, these important counter-balances lead to what is essentially a one-sided argument.
One that won’t convince the already converted.
The Reason for a Main Character
The Main Character perspective exists to offer the Audience an opportunity to witness the same kind of conflict both from within and from without.
In our real lives, we can’t simultaneously be both within ourselves and without—we can’t see ourselves objectively.
Stories can. And do.
That’s why we love them—stories give us an experience we can’t find in our own lives.
But that point of conflict needs to be the same if we’re ever to acquire any meaning from the story.
Confusing the Source of Conflict
In Bird Box, the Objective Story Throughline Problem is Protection. Like the current political argument over the building of a southern border wall, the motivation to protect and to safeguard against outside enemies creates a massive amount of conflict.
The Solution to Protection is Inaction—to just do nothing. And that’s what Mallory does when she reaches the rapids. Faced with a post-apocalyptic Sophie’s choice, she decides not to decide and allow the raging waters of conflict carry her home.
And both her and the two children survive.
Unfortunately, the problem from Mallory’s Main Character Throughline perspective isn’t Protection, it’s Avoidance.
Faced with the reality of her pregnancy, she puts off wanting to know the gender, works through her water breaking and delays giving the children names—referring to them as “Boy” and “Girl.”
Eventually, she accepts her role as mother and pursues it with strength and confidence—
—it just doesn’t sync up with the issues in the Objective Story Throughline.
As a result, you’re left with a “well that was scary” appraisal of the last two hours.
You’re left with a tale, not a complete argument.
A Muddled Message
The Protection Problem of the Objective Story Throughline dilutes the stronger argument being made about Avoidance. In the attempt to be socially relevant, the film ends up being relevant to some, and irrelevant to others.
Unfortunately, the film sometimes struggles to balance its thriller elements with thought-provoking drama and conversations. As a result, Bird Box's subtext can be messy or unclear, and its larger commentary about the difference between survival and living (not to mention, its religious allusions) can come across as clunky and preachy, rather than organic to the story. Still, its messages are worthy of appreciation, and the movie generally works as a parable about the experience of becoming a mother in a world that seems to grow increasingly dangerous by the day.
Parables don't convince.
Complete arguments do.
The pieces were there to make that familiar argument about not avoiding—the same case made in The Lion King, Black Panther, and Mad Max: Fury Road. You had the Self-interest issues in the Objective Story, the drive for empathy from the Influence Character (Influence Character Problem of Feeling), and semblances of Temptation in the Relationship...
...but by weaving in elements of another narrative, in a work already strapped for time (a series could handle both), Bird Box ends up reinforcing our already entrenched biases.
A complete narrative argument changes the world—
—and makes it possible for us to survive and prosper without relying on the birds to warn us.