I’ve been reading so many comments about The Bird Box (2019, Netflix, starring Sandra Bullock). There is one thing that is for sure about this new film. Most viewers are openly admitting that it scared the bejeebies out of them. I am reading comments in threads on Facebook, under reviews of the film, and listening to my associates discuss it at work. I, too, watched the movie over the Christmas holiday, and so I find all of the conversation very interesting. The one burning question that is constant throughout is, “what is it?” Many are angered the film ends without letting us see “it” before the credits roll. From what I’m reading and hearing, THAT is precisely why many have found the film so disturbing. Here is my answer to those who are questioning this film.
This movie, and movies from other tumultuous periods in our national or world history, represent the fears of society as a whole. So, for example, in the 1950s Americans rushed to movie theaters to see films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Tarantula (1955), The Thing From Another World (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954), The Mummy (1959), Them (1954), The War of the Worlds (1953), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), etc. What was happening in the 50s historically? We were in the midst of the early days of the Cold War. Americans were terrified of the Communist/Russian invasion into our country. Families were storing up food, building bomb shelters, turning in friends and neighbors they thought were Communist sympathizers. Senator McCarthy went on a Hollywood witch hunt for communist sympathizers and after the House Un-American Activities Committee demanded those accused to testify, and name names, many innocent people lost their careers. The film Trumbo (2015), tells the story of one of ten Hollywood film writers who were accused, sent before McCarthy and his goons, and because they would not provide names of others believed to be sympathetic to the Communist, they were blacklisted from writing for Hollywood ever again. Many were jailed.
The films of the 1950s represented all of those fears and more. Movies became a reflection of societal fears. In Body Snatchers we saw the fear of the communists coming here, creating a society of people who were all the same. We saw this again in Dr. Seuss books written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991). Geisel’s characters were often marked by sameness. Very few background characters, and, similarly, some of the main characters, were rarely portrayed as unique in his stories. But the real story within the pages of his books informed us we should not be afraid of this sameness. But now I know Geisel was a card carrying member of the communist party. That, to me, is scary. We were being indoctrinated from within our childhood books.
This new film, Bird Box, is in that same vein. The director doesn’t tell you “what it is” because we are all terrified of something different right now. Some of us are terrified of this president and being ruled by a dictator. Some are terrified of the people we are being told by this president that we are to fear. Some are terrified of the fact that the lying this president does makes us uncertain of what the truth is so we are terrified of the unknown. Every one of us are fearing how someone we’ve known our entire lives is believing and following blindly one political side or the other and the messages of fear. Many are terrified of the coming economic depression. Many more are terrified of our current and ever-changing position within the world politically and militarily, etc. So, just as in the 50s, this is a movie about our times. And in 40 years, we will either look back at this film as the warning we ignored of what we ultimately became or we will view it as a reflection of a horrible political crisis that we overcame…..and, hopefully, we will have made it to safety, just like the ending in The Bird Box.