It seemed every time I got online I would see images of a blindfolded woman in the woods and the name of Bird Box popping up over and over. So I had to check it out…after all, that’s how I learned about Stranger Things and that was an awesome show, so I decided to watch it. What started off as watching a simple movie, turned into a much deeper lesson in how our culture views what being a hero is, and I think that on its own is pretty disturbing.
I guess this is a good time to say ***There may be spoilers in this post so proceed at your own risk***
So a brief summary about the film is that there is a monster or monsters that if one sees it they are either driven with a strong desire to kill themselves OR they are compelled to find others and “show them how beautiful IT is” by forcing the person to see the monster thus causing them to want to either kill themselves or expose others. The monster is never seen, it’s shown a little in the forest as a wind that blows leaves oddly, but all in all you never actually see the monster. I think this was a smart move because fear is relative. What I was terrified of as a child is not really what I’m afraid of as an adult, and things I’m afraid of may not be as scary to others so I liked that it’s left up to the viewers imagination to think of what would be so scary as to drive a person mad in these ways.
The film reaches postapocalyptic like proportions with most of humanity dead. There is a small group of individuals (including Sandra Bullock’s very pregnant character Malorie) in a home. Things are as stable as they can be except that they’re running out of food.
One of the individuals named Charlie works at a grocery store. They decide to black out all the windows of their SUV and allow the GPS to guide them. They are able to make it to the grocery store and are stocking up, but then there’s a man they almost allow in. Charlie refers to this guy as “fish fingers” who worked in the seafood department, but he’s trapped in the docking bay of the store which means there’s a pretty good chance he’s seen this “thing”. They’ve already cracked the door, however, and “Fish Fingers” is forcing his way in. Charlie decided to sacrifice himself to push Fish Fingers back so they can close and lock the door again. We don’t exactly know what happens to Charlie, only that blood seeps through the bottom of the door and you hear Fish Fingers continuing to play the sympathy card begging to be let in, as though nothing terrible has happened. They eventually make it home and things seem as okay as they can be until someone allows a man named Gary inside. The small group doesn’t realize he’s seen the Thing. He is able to hide that he’s been “influenced” by seeing the Thing until the right time and then he is compelled to show everyone else “how beautiful the creature is” and mostly succeeds except that Malorie hides with the two newborns (one of which belongs to a woman who jumps out a window because of this jerk) under a blanket. Gary is killed eventually by another man named Tom, who saves Malorie and these two babies of hers. They live fairly well for what seems like five years judging by the ages of the children until one of these roving gangs (the people who have seen the Thing and now want to show others) stumbles upon their little family and Tom sacrifices himself to save Malorie and her two kids again. This starts her epic journey to a “community” that is downriver from her. The movie is mostly about her journey to this community, only to find that when she gets there it’s a school for the blind repurposed where most of the people there are in fact blind (however in the book version it’s a community of people who have actually blinded themselves which is a lot darker).
I should also note here that I am not a fan of horror films unless it’s from the ’60s and ’70s- think Rosemary’s Baby and Gremlins as my Horror movie range. So I wasn’t a huge fan of Bird Box based solely on this, but it did stick with me. There was something missing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…until now.
When something bothers me, I tend to research it so that I can better understand why I’m afraid of it and if there’s a silver lining. I first learned about the monster. There’s a lot of discussions online about what the monster is, which I think ties into our psychology a lot. Some think it’s a demon (religious based), others think it’s a terrorist act, others believe it’s symbolic of the badness of the world and the only way we are capable of functioning is to live blinded to it. There was a lot to consider but that wasn’t what bothered me.
What bothered me was the role of “Hero” in the book…The only heroes were the ones who sacrificed themselves for the group like Charlie or Tom and I think that says a lot about the role of the Hero in society currently.
I’m a fan of Joseph Campbell. If you haven’t seen Myth’s and Monsters on Netflix stop reading and go watch it…it’s okay, I’ll wait…
Joseph Campbell wrote a lot about the Hero’s journey, he also wrote the Hero of a Thousand Faces and was a big influence on George Lucas (when he was thinking correctly) during the beginnings of the Star Wars saga. This guy has dissected what makes a hero. He said something to the extent that people aren’t familiar with the hero’s journey anymore. Young people join gangs because we lack initiation rites. We’re not educated through stories where the Hero goes through a process of refinement or death only to come back to life as a stronger person…A true epic, legendary, story isn’t really seen anymore (with the exception of Star Wars minus Jar Jar Binks).
So that got me thinking of Bird Box…and I realized that was what was missing. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie saved the group by pushing Fish Fingers out of the way so they could close the door…but he died. Tom also saved Malorie from the gang of crazy people…but he died, and I think that says a lot about how we as a society view our heroes. Heroes are no longer those who struggle, and maybe even travel down to the Underworld only to come back stronger for it…They die…and they stay dead.
I think I would have loved, to have someone who looks at the monster, feels the pull to commit suicide, but doesn’t.
I feel like Bird Box, said very clearly, over and over, heroes are those who die for others. Now outside of dangerous jobs like military, and security, what does that mean for the average man? Well, my husband works in the tech industry and I’ve worked in that industry as well and “Hero Culture” is a real thing. These are the people who pull all-nighters even though they had the flu. There was a ‘production incident’ and so these people pulled an all-nighter and still came to work the next day. They worked all weekend, their families don’t see much of them, they’re first in the office and the last out. Sometimes they’re called heroes, and maybe yeah, they saved the business, but it’s when we think that behavior is okay or normal or should be expected, that it’s not. This sacrificing yourself to be the hero is becoming more prevalent in our society and we’re not alone! In Japan, a woman died from Karoshi (death from overwork) after she logged 159 hours of overtime in a MONTH! Americans are fast approaching this! In an article by The Guardian “One recent study found that the global recession that began in 2007 could be linked with more than 10,000 suicides across North America and Europe.” and that’s just in 2007!!! We glorify those who sacrifice themselves for the good of the many because that’s the last mark of “Hero” that we understand.
The Hero’s journey is a much longer and dare I say a subtle process…the good news is anyone can do it, so long as they set their minds to it. I think Odysseus is a great foil to the Bird Box story. Odysseus is traveling home and in order to do so, he must pass the Sirens whose song is known to drive men mad. Odysseus tells his crew to pour wax in their ears to protect them (much like how pulling a blindfold over the eyes protects in Bird Box), but he does not. He tells them to tie him to the ship’s mast so that he can listen. Once hearing the Sirens song he begs the men to set him free, but his faithful men don’t. You also see this with Hercules and even Jesus, this commonality of going down into the underworld or Hell, and coming back better for it, not succumbed to it, but becoming a master of it.
Artists are a good example of this. I’m an artist and I can tell you, I can see the ugliness of our world. There’s a lot of ugly out there especially now, BUT there is a choice. I can succumb to it and I think many artists do. We see the ugly and we turn to drugs, or alcohol to manage it…some of us don’t make it. Some of us succumbed to that pull that this life isn’t worth it. According to an article from The Telegraph entitled “Tortured Geniuses” it says that in regards to suicide “Among men working in culture, media and sport-related jobs, the risk is 20 percent higher, and among women, it is 69 percent higher.” Not great odds for someone like me, a woman, who comes from a rough background, and struggles with depression and is an artist and writer…if it wasn’t for one thing…one thing that I wish that movie had shown: The determination to live despite what you’ve seen.
The character of Gary in Bird Box is able to pull off “normal” for a while. He gains the trust of those in the house for the most part, which makes me wonder if his compulsion to expose everyone to the monster was some sort of possession, or more of a personal choice…and if it’s a personal choice, then there must be the opposite, right? Like a group of people able to see the monster, and yet not be influenced by it, but instead are able to become educated and become the eyes of those who can’t see? That’s also considered heroic- to be able to see the monster in all of its good or evil, to hear the seductive song of the siren, to journey down into the underworld where mere mortal men would never dare, only to come back wiser for it and able to guide those not ready, or not as strong through Hell to the other side?
I would also like to say “what about the children” here too. Malorie raises her children to wear blindfolds outside. The children are taught not to fight…not to think of a way out, but to comply and to not look at it… what does that say about our culture? Don’t look at the problems. Comply. Fall in Line. Don’t question and if need be, to sacrifice yourself to save the many? It’s an interesting dilemma.
That’s what’s missing in Bird Box. There is no hero who sees the monster and is somehow is able to master it. I wonder what that means for our society when we are so eager to glorify self-sacrifice over the hero’s journey into the underworld to come back a master over the evil. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that we even have that ability. Perhaps we feel that our traumas are too great, the world too far gone, the monster too scary and that the best hope is to distract yourself, blind yourself, or close your ears lest you be pulled into the darkness and go mad…Perhaps it’s been too long since the stories of Hercules to remind us that we can endure the seduction, we can endure the pain and not be victims, but come out wiser and dare I say better for it. Do we have to always blind ourselves to our monsters? Do we have to die to save others? Or can we somehow look the monster in the eyes and say “I’ve seen worse, buddy” and then help others who may not be ready to see survive? Therapists do that. Artists do that. Anyone who is able to see the ugly of the world and somehow translate it into baby bites for people to slowly learn off of do that. How does it help us to always be on the run from the monsters that live in this world of ours and worse, to teach our children that they are no match, that it’s best to be willfully blind, or deaf or ignorant of all the negatives? Why can’t we be a hero for them? Someone who says “yeah, it’s nasty, but it’s got a weakness, and here’s what you can do to help yourself and others”.
Bird Box has a lot about the human condition in it that I could go on and on about: how we avoid fears, the responsibility of parenting, what our own monsters look like, but what I would like to leave you with is this. I have monsters in my life…I’ve tried running from them, but they always catch up. I’ve tried to ignore them and even blinding myself to it, but that makes me anxious and they get louder and more demanding. I have the stories of heroes that tell me that at some point you need to stop running, take the blindfold off and look at that monster…look at it good, learn about it, learn what it likes to eat, when it sleeps, what makes it tick, and then when it tells you that you need to die or make others miserable, you smile and tell it to go to Hell, because you’ve been there already, and you’re better for it. The world needs more heroes that live, people!…our kids need to see more heroes that live. We all have demons, the world has monsters, but are you going to blind yourself, or will you go to Hell, hear the sirens song, and take the blindfold off and be the hero the world needs?
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