Bird Box has become so phenomenal a viral trend – “The Blindfold Challenge” – had people doing all sorts of tasks whilst being blindfolded. While the movie enjoys a great success, there is a dismal lack of similar interest in the book. I have read the book before watching the movie and thought the movie has massacred the essence of the plot. Unlike other adaptations which may choose to translate certain elements from the books into theatrical aesthetics to preserve cinematic experience, I felt that the movie seems to have misunderstood the motives which drive the characters and their actions, the most misunderstood character being the heroine of the novel, Malorie.
“Malorie stands in the kitchen, thinking.” – Starting line from “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman
In this one starting line, Bird Box has set the tone for the entire book – a woman, originally in a domestic domain and her frame of mind. Right at the start of the narrative, Malorie is established as both a static and dynamic heroine: static because she is physically still as she “stands”; dynamic because she is mentally active as she is “thinking”. Ending with this simple word “thinking” is a powerful storytelling as this uncertainty cleverly achieves its desired effect. We are used to narrators telling or showing us the thoughts and motivations of their characters – ending with this word allows Malorie to tell us what she is thinking throughout the entire narrative – through different techniques – and the range of roller-coaster emotions she is experiencing as the novel unfolds.
Not only that, the narrative is told in a nonlinear temporality from Malorie’s perspective; the constant flashbacks of retrospection and the gnawing self-doubts of current circumstances festering in her mind are an overarching theme throughout the entire narrative, achieved by this single word, “thinking”. Beginning with her fears of becoming an unwed mother, Malorie is only concerned about whether she is pregnant, who the father is, how her family would react to the news and whether she is capable of raising her child alone.
Those thoughts, however, are re-shuffled upon the quick realisation that the threat to her motherhood comes from an unseen enemy in a literal sense – alien creatures which drive people crazy through sense of sight. This never-seen-before creatures become a parallel motif to the unseen dangers threatening her motherhood and the survival of her unborn child. While the unforeseen circumstances of single parenthood may drive Malorie crazy figuratively speaking, the unseen creatures would drive Malorie crazy literally.
Interestingly, the physical space, “kitchen”, represents a very domestic and everyday life. While the threat starts spatially distant in Russia, Malorie’s impending single parenthood looms temporally near. However, once the alien threat becomes a global problem and invades the domestic space, Malorie’s pregnancy is dwarfed – it seems survival and safety for both the mother and unborn child alike have become a battle. Malorie needs to navigate in a crazed world with her eyes closed, in both physical and temporal sense. The alien creatures present a physical danger which invades the domestic space Malorie can safely raise her child and the blind faith in her ability as a single caregiver represents the temporal challenge she has to overcome.
This is where the cinematic version deviates from its book counterpart. In the book, Malorie’s motivations are largely driven by the need to survive and subconsciously, the maternal instinct to protect her unborn child. She is active in her decisions as she consciously chooses to seek out the safe house advertised in the newspaper and four years later, rowing down the river with two children to seek out a sanctuary communicated to her via a radio transmission four years prior.
Her decision to make the journey is not due to circumstances, but after careful deliberation. This is where I feel that the cinematic version butchered Malorie’s character and more importantly, her strength and willpower. Malorie is moving out of the comfort of her previous domestic space into the unknown and she is constantly wary of whether she has trained the two children well to survive the alien threat. Her two children also demonstrate, embody even, Malorie’s will. That is what I felt is the essence of the book, captured in the starting line.