Thursday, January 17, 2019

Bird Box: The Struggle to See Evil

This film has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA. Click here for the parental advisory from IMDb.com.

(This review contains spoilers)

Bird Box is an exclusive-to-Netflix, post-apocalyptic story centered on Malorie—a unique character struggling to make her way through life. The struggle is compounded when the world is forever changed. Played by the famed Sandra Bullock, Malorie’s careful navigation through difficult trials—though often done so with a skeptical demeanor—proves to be the thing that helps her survive the pandemonium. 

The movie’s description gives you some insight: “Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a mother and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.”

Analysis

In a lot of ways, Bird Box is like many post-apocalyptic movies. We have main characters struggling to understand the mayhem while grasping for survival. In a lot of ways, it’s different: we never see the evil “creatures,” and thus we really don’t fully know what exactly they are and where they came from.

Despite the unknown, the story is a gripping tale of Malorie’s embrace of life in the midst of ubiquitous death. In fact, one exchange between her and Tom takes central stage in the script, and thus illustrates the tension perfectly. Talking about Malorie’s frustration with Tom telling the two kids a nice story (who has time for something nice right now!?), she says that he shouldn’t have done that…

Malorie: …because they are never gonna climb trees, they are never gonna make new friends. Why would you make them believe something like that?

Tom: Because they have to believe in something—what is this for if they don’t have anything to believe in!

Malorie: So that they survive!

Tom: Surviving is not living, Mal!

Malorie: Well they’re gonna die if they listen to you!

Tom: Life is more than just what is, it’s what could be, what you can make it. You need to promise them dreams that may never come true. You need to love them knowing that you may lose them at any second, okay. They deserve dreams, they deserve love, they deserve hope, they deserve a mother. They deserve a mother. You haven’t given them names, Mal. Their names are “boy” and “girl.” Think about that!

Malorie: Every single decision I’ve made has been for them. Every single one. 

Tom’s love for Malorie develops over time, but sadly, Tom is forced to sacrifice himself to save her and the kids. (The theme of sacrifice is repeated throughout). 

For five years, Malorie has lived in a world occupied by an evil force. She has managed to keep herself and the kids from “seeing.” Whenever someone would look at the evil things, he or she would be sucked into a paranormal trance and then kill themselves. This evil force somehow had the ability to look into the person’s soul through the eyes and exploit their psyche. (Which reminds me of Matthew 6:22-23, which reads, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”)

But one thing is interesting about the film: there are some who think that seeing the evil is “beautiful” and good. We learn throughout that those who are “criminally insane” do not take their own lives, but instead, when they see the evil creatures, they find it to be quite amazing. Several characters demonstrate this all throughout the movie. They can see.

Isaiah 5:20-21 reads, “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes and shrewd in your own sight!” 

It is the theme of evil and what we should think about it that forms the main philosophical tension for the story. Who is correct? Is this evil presence something to “see” and celebrate? Or is it something so apocalyptically horrible that it must be ignored, escaped from, and somehow defeated? 

Mankind loves to fantasize about “end of the world” scenarios. This is because men are accountable to God and will face him in Judgment. This type of obsession is clearly present in Bird Box and that’s because the writers are made in the image of God. They have to reconcile it in some fashion.

Men, women, and children as image bearers live in God’s world and are faced with the question of evil. For Christians, evil exists in God’s world, but it's underneath His Sovereign authority. Evil is not without a leash. Evil can only be called evil because it is antithetical to God who is good (Mark 10:18). Evil can only be called evil because God is the unchanging Standard of righteousness and unrighteousness. The other thing to consider is the fact that evil’s existence presupposes God. We live in a world of two, not one; the world is a binary system (Creator/creature distinction), not monism (all is one).  If we are to say that the world is one, that everything is unified and rolled up into one existence, then we cannot delineate between that which is good and that which is evil, and that means everyone in the movie is simply wrong. The creature things aren’t evil or good, they just are. 

In the movie, this evil presence isn’t really all that powerful, after all, it can’t do anything until you look at it. It’s incompetent, ultimately, and irrational. While eyesight is important to human activity, it’s not the only thing we have. Malorie teaches the kids how to listen, how to use their other senses, too. She learns how to navigate the river for over two days, blindfolded, while trying to reach the safe place she learned about through the walkie-talkie. Malorie figured out a way to survive, which speaks of man’s God-given, innate desire for self-preservation. The world is not one. 

Speaking of the river, Malorie has a box with her and inside are birds that she had taken from the supermarket years ago. Throughout the movie we learn that birds are able to discern the presence of evil. Birds, and no other animal that we know of, are the only ones capable to warning man about the evil. Man’s salvation is aided by nature. 

While much more could be said, I want to end with this thought. Apart from God, man will always, in his autonomy, try to redefine ethics, to try and redefine the world. Movies like this aren’t simply artistic explorations into the world we live, sometimes they are subtle subversions of the created order. The mere concept of evil—being the fascination that it is—can only be resolved in the Christian worldview. Only when we start with the equal ultimacy of the one and the many—the One True, Tri-Personal God—can we really “see.” 

The pluralistic culture we find ourselves in here in the West has tried to deal with the problem of the one and the many by either rejecting God altogether or finding God somewhere else. This subjectivity has led to massive confusion on how we understand things like evil. For example, you have people in the movie who think that the evil presence is something wondrous to behold. Others see the evil as being ghastly. Who is right? To cut straight to chase here, are the sodomites, for example, correct in saying that homosexuality is something we should embrace? Something we should celebrate and parade in our streets? Are they the ones who can truly “see”? To ask the question is to answer it.

Bird Box shows the tension of subjectivism and the reality of how damaging it can be to recast evil in a positive light. It’s a film that demonstrates the reality of evil, the truth of humanity, and the desperate need for redemption. In short, Bird Box drives us back to God in order to truly “see.”

Author

Jason Garwood

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as the teaching pastor at Cross & Crown Church in Northern Virginia, and is the author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children.. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.

My Website: http://www.jasongarwood.com