Spoilers ahead, obviously
Netflix’s Bird Box, with its intriguing concept and memorable imagery, of the blind-leading-the-blind, has many wondering what all that symbolism stands for.
But it’s pretty clear from the outset that this film is about the psychological struggle of parenthood. When we first flashback to the early days of Malorie’s pregnancy, she expresses her fear of becoming a mother, worried that she might not bond with her child.
It’s easy to see why, as Malorie is obviously an artist, a painter, one who seems to have a pretty high output – she might end up viewing her child as an unwelcome distraction from her life’s passion.
The biggest consistency in the flashback scenes is Malorie’s unwillingness to acknowledge her pregnancy; she volunteers for a dangerous mission, sits in the front seat of a blindly driven car, and tries to outright ignore her water breaking.
She doesn’t feel ready to be a mother, especially with the world becoming so damn dangerous. And that heightened danger invokes a different fear in Malorie; she’s no longer afraid of not bonding with them, she’s afraid to love them. This new, understandable fear is why she names the two children “Boy” and “Girl.”
If you were raising an animal to be slaughtered, it isn’t a good idea to name it, otherwise, said animal becomes part of the family. A similar logic applies to Malorie’s children, as twisted as that sounds; it just doesn’t seem possible to keep kids alive in this insanely dangerous world, what with the collapse of civilization and all, so Malorie views her children’s deaths as an inevitability.
Giving in to her love would guarantee her emotional devastation when the creatures eventually catch them. And apocalypse aside, this is something that every parent goes through, to a certain extent. Parents tend to love their kids a great deal more than they love themselves, and the world is an incredibly dangerous place, even without mysterious entities that kill you on sight.
Holding a newborn feels like clutching a straw doll in a house fire; the vulnerability of the child is beyond belief. It would be easier not to love it – but that’s not an option. Unless you’re a narcissistic sociopath or whatever. They have it pretty easy.
It’s only when Malorie manages to reach her safe haven, against all odds, that she is comfortable naming her two children, and naming herself as their mother. She’s loved them all along, but now she’s allowing herself to truly feel it.
In that case, what do the mysterious monsters represent? Well, that one is definitely open for debate. I think the creatures are deliberately ambiguous, but my personal interpretation is that they represent the danger of nihilism.
Because in a sense, nihilism is what Malorie is struggling against. Bringing her children to the safe space required a massive amount of hope and positivity, to the point of naivety. She faced almost certain death on the river rapids, and while her first instinct was to be brutally pragmatic, she couldn’t allow herself to do it.
She took the chance and embraced hope – hope is what fueled her journey to safety. And along the way, she hears the seductive whispers of the dead, and forces herself not to stare directly at the creatures, who represent the abyss.
Gazing into the abyss of nihilism prompts the desire to commit suicide; life is short, brutal, and pointless, doomed to end in tragedy regardless. Why not just end things now, and join the peaceful ranks of the deceased? Why not open other people’s eyes to the same terrible truth?
It’s hinted that those unseen creatures take the form of dead relatives, or something terrifying, or even beautiful. They seem to change depending on who is looking; they are formless, their agenda meaningless.
Despite the odds, Malorie successfully resists the urge to gaze into the abyss, and pulls off a miraculous success story, bringing her new family to a place where they can thrive.
And now, she should probably gouge her eyes out. Really, she should.