It was the Holidays, and the internet sites had to write about something. I have seen several “think pieces” on the Netflix sensation, Bird Box. Jezebel said it was about motherhood, the Root about racism, and Gizmodo about social media. I’m waiting for Deadspin’s article stating that Bird Box is really about corruption in college football.
Now, I’ve read the racism angle, the postpartum depression angle, now the social media angle – you’re all right, and you’re all wrong. The creature is amorphous. It represents whatever ‘evil’ you wish to assign to it. It’s that simple. One could make the argument that the monsters are a stand in for eating Gluten Free muffins. It would probably be a strong argument.
Is Bird Box a ‘Mystery- Box’? Perhaps. The term ‘Mystery-Box’ is less about genre and more about structure and ambiguity. Does it invite viewers to actively piece together aspects of its plot, or speculate about the nature of the story it is telling? Does it play with perception and perspective, asking you to pay close attention to the margins?
Or is it the craft of finding new ways to say that you can’t say something? An aesthetic territory that only a few have reached. The collapse of language in the face of an emotionally unhinging reality. The art of expressing inexpressibility because you are trying to create a universe filled with mind-halting horror. Things so grotesque and foreign that the mind fairly shuts down. So, be coy about precisely what is so unsettling about monsters and terrors. A thing that at its core something that is so alien to the human experience it can not be understood by humans. It may be from a different world, a different dimension, created by different gods or have no understandable origin.
It worked for H.P. Lovecraft. You got some description of the old ones or Cthulhu, but the whole point was they were unshaped by human descriptions. Lovecraft realized that horror is about the unknowable. The nature of the creature; the visual representation of the incomprehensible, not just big spiky and toothy. By not showing the monster it allows people to fill that void with their own monster. To imbue it with their own existential dread. For me it would be not having something to over analyze.
Media is a zero sum game you literally can’t get more out of it than what is there, but when something comes along with ambiguity people try to read meaning into it. A create your own argument. Leave a blank space. People will defend their beliefs as intended because a blank void fits their opinions perfectly. Sometimes a rose is just a rose. There’s nothing else. No mystical mumbo-jumbo. The monsters are the monsters within each of us. And when they’re forced to face the truth about themselves, they’d rather die than change. “If thine eye offends thee, then pluck it out!” as the bard wrote long ago.
Bird Box is based on a book from five years ago. They’ve been working on a film adaptation since 2015. The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.