This post contains some spoilers of the new Netflix movie, Bird Box. There is also some discussion of suicide and criminal depictions of the mentally ill. If these topics are upsetting to you, please do what is best for you to keep your mind healthy.
Since opening last week, Bird Box has had the most successful opening week of any Netflix film to date. With an award-winning cast led by Sandra Bullock, this psychological thriller has piqued the interest of more than 50 million Netflix users.
I won’t pretend to be a movie critic here, but the motifs of mental health and suicide leveraged throughout the movie inspired me to share some thoughts.
On an ordinary day in northern California, unseen creatures mysteriously descend on Earth and drive people to suicide en masse upon mere seconds of eye-contact with them. Our tragic heroine, Mallorie (Bullock) navigates survival over the course of 5+ years with two small children in tow. They eventually flee to a safehaven located inside a school for the blind guided by birds who can inexplicably sense when the evil forces are near.
As an added twist, the mentally ill are affected differently than other people. Instead of suicide, escaped mentally ill prisoners are inspired by the demonic beings to hunt nearby men, women and children and force them to “look”.
I can’t help but sigh as yet another Hollywood movie wields yet another “criminally insane lunatic” as the antagonistic force. I’m disappointed that I have to discuss this point because the argument is as cliché as the trope it opposes. But I’ll say it again for those in the back — criminal intent is not inspired by mental illness in most cases and the depiction of mentally ill individuals solely as criminals and murderers is wrong.
In the end, Bullock and her children reach the school for the blind where hundreds of people live in harmony for the foreseeable future. There has been no progress on defeating the evil forces. Wild murderers still run amuck. Everyone is hiding from their problems and no one seems interested in addressing them.
In a movie that uses suicide and mental illness as a cornerstone for the plot, I was disappointed there were no solutions explored during the 124 minutes runtime. But then I thought about how our society (in the real world) often approaches the treatment of suicide and mental illness.
“It’s just a phase. You’ll get over it.”
“Just eat / think positively / focus on something else.”
“Everyone has problems.”
There’s so much we still don’t understand about various mental illnesses and conditions. As I think back on the ending of the movie, the safehaven feels like the wet bandaid we often offer to people with mental illness. Even in the movie — when literally everyone on Earth is at risk of suicide at any moment — the surviving characters would rather ignore the problem in an attempt at artificial normalcy than fight back and prevent anymore unexpected deaths.
Overall, Bird Box feels like a missed opportunity to steer Hollywood towards a more productive depiction of mental illness and to comment on the treatment mental conditions in society to nearly one-third of Netflix subscribers. Unfortunately, Bird Box has kept eyes closed to these pervasive issues of mental illness.