****Spoilers and whatnot ahead****
Netflix’s new Sandra Bullock-starring horror movie Bird Box features offscreen monsters that apparently appear in different forms to everyone who sees them, immediately driving anyone who looks at them insane. It’s appropriate then that everyone reviewing the movie seems to see their own central metaphor portrayed in the film: it’s about the actuality (rather than idealized version) of motherhood; it’s an allegory for racism and our refusal to acknowledge it; it’s a metaphor for the antisocial effects of social media. Like any good blogger, I’ll throw my hat in the ring: Bird Box is a metaphor for America and the world as seen by Donald Trump and his supporters.
I’ve talked before about Donald Trump’s particular brand of nationalism and what it means for race relations, immigration and involvement with the rest of the world. Lest it seem like I’m stretching things with this movie, remember that there is a Trump-Republican character, Douglas, played by John Malkovich of all people. Douglas blames the cataclysm on “North Korea, or Iran.” At one point, he heavy-handedly declares that he and his fellow survivors are “making the end of the world great again.”
The demonic(?) alien(?) menace stalking the earth in Bird Box divides the world into two places: Inside and Outside. Inside is America: safe, warm, The outside is the rest of the world. It’s an unbelievably dangerous and chaotic place, full of strange people inexplicably killing themselves and each other. To venture outside means facing death and destruction, and letting outsiders in only invites murder and chaos, as Douglas continually warns his fellow survivors.
Douglas, the thrice-married implied Trump stand-in, is, by his own admission, an unequivocal a**hole who thinks he’s never wrong. In many of his scenes, he’s walking around carrying a shotgun, creating a menace concerning what he might do. You expect him to end up being a villain, or at least a foil for Malorie (Bullock) and the rest of our heroes.
Yet, a few things push back against this expectation. First of all, the various survivors complain and clash with Douglas, but they live under the protection of his shotgun. Second, the movie demonstrates at various points that Douglas is right. At the beginning, he warns his wife not to venture out of the house to help those running from death, and when she does so anyway, she suffers a gruesome end while attempting to save Malorie (who Douglas continues to blame for his wife’s death).
One night, Gary shows up, banging on the door. Gary is a refugee, with a sob story of fleeing the violence outside that has claimed all of his friends, and all he wants is kindness, to be allowed in. The overly-kind and soft Olympia, a bleeding heart if ever there was one, lets him in and convinces the other survivors to allow Gary to stay. Douglas vehemently objects (“every contact we have had with the outside has brought us death…we’re not bringing any more strangers in here”), pulling out his shotgun in an attempt to force Gary to leave, but the other survivors turn on Douglas, assaulting him and locking him up for trying to kick Gary out of the house.
And of course, Douglas was right, again. Gary brings no obvious benefit to the house, merely enjoying the resources that the others have risked their lives to accumulate. What’s worse, Gary is actually one of the murderous psychopaths that he was pretending to flee, and once he’s inside and no one is paying attention, the refugee Gary forces open all the windows (read: borders), killing most of the residents of the house in the process.
There are two black characters in Bird Box, supermarket clerk Charlie, played by Lil Rel Howrey, and Iraq War veteran Thom, portrayed by Trevante Rhodes (no relation, which is good, as I’d inevitably be referred to as “the skinny one” if we were related). I’ve said before that, for all his jacked up views concerning race and nationality, Donald Trump actually has a rather complicated relationship with black America, and the stories of Charlie and Tom highlight this.
Charlie, despite being relatively uneducated (for which he’s mocked by a white fellow survivor) has the best theories of what’s going on, and he’s extremely wary of venturing outside. His labor provides for the other survivors; it’s Charlie’s supermarket that they raid (pressuring him to come along) for supplies (Douglas is mad that Charlie didn’t tell them about the supermarket earlier). Yet, he’s eventually swayed by the appeal of a white friend to open up the door to his store during a supply run, and he soon dies as a result – in other words, he’s lured by the appeal of the Democrats against his own self interest, when he should have just listened to Douglas and been safe.
Tom, meanwhile, is a military man; he’s the one who kills Gary (the insidious refugee). Tom is a good guy, but his ultimate purpose is to sacrifice himself on behalf of the remaining (white) survivors, venturing out and fighting the crazy outsiders (foreigners) in order to protect America. In the end, the last survivors, Malorie and her two kids, find safety up the river (into the heartland) in a de facto compound – I’m sure there are more than a few Trump supporters who literally think this is the solution.
While Bird Box may very well be a strong metaphor for the MAGA view of America and the perils of refugees and immigration, it is not an uncritical one. I actually got this detail wrong the first time I watched, but the place where the refugees are holed up is not Douglas’ house. Greg, the actual owner of the house, gives refuge to the others, places himself in danger and becomes the first survivor in the house to die. Douglas (a bankruptcy lawyer, i.e. someone who specializes in seizing others’ homes), meanwhile, was a neighbor who had been suing Greg because he didn’t like the renovations that Greg and his architect husband had been planning for their own property. After Greg’s death, Douglas, as much an immigrant as the rest of them, uses his gun and sense of rightness to take control and regulate who can enter and exit (and the fact that I initially assumed Douglas rightfully owned the house is itself a statement of the power of white privilege and supremacy).
Although Douglas is super-protective of the house (which, again, isn’t his), he’s more than willing to abandon it and half the survivors when he finds a more convenient and well-stocked location at the supermarket. And while Douglas was right about Gary, he also tried to keep out other survivors such as Malorie and Tom, heroic and virtuous immigrants and refugees, as well. And the disaster with Gary could have been avoided if he had simply been properly vetted (surely they would have discovered all those creepy drawings he made of the monsters if they had searched him more closely). And, of course, the solution discovered by Malorie or the survivor community at the end of the movie is to literally remain blind to the outside world, hardly a ringing endorsement for America First.