HEAT VISION

How 'Bird Box' Tweaked the Book's Ending

It's a small shift, but one that is more important than you might think.
Sandra Bullock in 'Bird Box'   |   Courtesy of Netflix
It's a small shift, but one that is more important than you might think.

[This story contains spoilers for both Bird Box and A Quiet Place]

When the world's on fire and the only way to allay suicidal impulses stirred up by induced psychosis is to shut your eyes, a blindfold is your best chance of survival. We don't live in that world, thankfully, but that's not stopping people from blindfolding themselves anyway to see if they can hack it in a post-apocalypse scenario where eyesight's a bane rather than a boon; they're caught up in the Bird Box challenge, the first quantifiable (and totally absurd) byproduct of the Netflix original film's unexpected popularity.

It's a near guarantee that Bird Box's inexplicable mass appeal will yield better returns than social media trends as time moves on; the streaming service has declared it their most popular film to date, a claim as dubious as it is palatable. On one hand, Netflix hasn't yet verified the roughly 45,000,000 account figure they posted to Twitter the week after Bird Box's premiere on Dec. 21. On the other, social media has gone full goose bozo over the movie since it went to air. Putting too much stock in Twitter reactions as a gauge of a pop culture totem's true popularity is a rookie mistake, that's for certain, but when a movie like Bird Box forms enough of a fan base to inspire its own self-titled challenge, well, that movie's obviously doing something right.

Here, "something right" specifically refers to casting, perhaps, or speaks to the temperature of the day and pop culture's increased fixation on apocalypse, or maybe that audiences liked A Quiet Place so much that what's essentially "what if A Quiet Place but for eyeballs" has unintended built-in allure. For all their doom and gloom, these films are, in their fashion, optimistic: Mankind prevails over evil, whether extraterrestrial or otherworldly, triumphant but steeled for whatever comes next, be it more monsters, as in the case of A Quiet Place, or a life confined within the walls and beneath the forest canopy of a school for the blind smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, Northwestern USA, as in the case of Bird Box.

There's a respectable internal logic to A Quiet Place's conclusion: After a noisy battle with one aurally enhanced alien beast, it stands to reason that other aurally enhanced alien beasts might hustle on over to see what's shakin'. Emily Blunt cocks her shotgun. Millicent Simmonds readies her sound-amplifying doohickey. Cut to credits. But the ending of Bird Box defies such logic in favor of contrivance, which isn't the fault of the film per se; director Susanne Bier and writer Eric Heisserer merely adapted the story from the 2014 Josh Malerman novel of the same name, condensing its plot and swapping its setting for the sake of economy and a stronger visual palette. (The American northwest is ever so much more striking than Detroit.) It's not their original work. So when Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her two kids, Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards), arrive at the formerly disused, newly inhabited Janet Tucker School for the Blind, that's in keeping with Malerman's intention.

But Malerman at least made blindness a choice. In his book, the survivors Malorie encounters in the greenhouse safe haven she's been searching for have blinded themselves on purpose, having realized that blindness makes them immune to the insane wiles of the eldritch, invisible creatures haunting Earth. In Bier's movie, well, the people she meets are presumably blind by natural causes, whether they were born blind or became blind in life. On its own, that's not a particularly big ask, but coupled with that whole "school for the blind" thing and Bird Box's climax, it reads as aggressively convenient. Who builds a place of learning for blind people in the middle of the woods? Near a raging river? Totally separated from all civilization?

Maybe Bier simply didn't have the time or the budget to pull back and show us that Janet Tucker did in fact have the good sense to build her school adjacent to highways, emergency services and other essential amenities of modern day living. But Bird Box shows us no such accommodations, and gives no such consideration to her residents' impairment; put bluntly, the creative decision making here is straight up bizarre, and that's not even getting into the function of the building itself, wrapped around an atrium that's covered by tree branches. Apparently, fauna's enough of a barrier to keep the whispering, malevolent entities tormenting the planet out of an enclosed space. If only someone had run that by the cast earlier and saved them the time and effort of slapping newspapers over every window in sight.

Bird Box wraps up too neatly, too cleanly, with too much security; if the magical leaf blockade that wards off evil (but also somehow lets in ample light for all the survivors who aren't blind!) isn't enough, then let the appearance of Dr. Lapham (Parminder Nagra), Malorie's OB-GYN, last seen admonishing our hero against drinking while pregnant, serve as the punctuation mark to the film's artifice. Everyone's happy and snug beneath the treetops; the story forms a complete circuit. Not that that'd stop Netflix from funding a sequel, mind you. If a sequel can be spun out of A Quiet Place, a sequel can be spun out of Bird Box, no matter the narrative gymnastics required to make it happen.

  • Andy Crump
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