Warning! Spoilers ahead for the Netflix movie Bird Box.
Bird Box, out on Netflix December 21, doesn’t offer any easy answers to its many mysteries. Who are those demon creatures who storm the earth? Why do people take their own lives after seeing the creatures? What happened in Douglas’ (John Malkovich) childhood to make him such an unbearable curmudgeon?
In terms of world-building, Bird Box keeps its details vague. However, the plot itself goes in some tangible directions. It goes on rivers, past dangerous rapids, through the woods — all while blindfolded. After nearly two hours of harrowing end-of-world sequences, Bird Box reaches a bittersweet ending.
Structurally, the narrative of Bird Box switches between the past and present. In the present, a hardened Malorie shepherds two young children, called only Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards), on a dangerous trip toward a safe haven that may or may not exist, following vague instructions delivered via walkie talkie. Clearly, she’s desperate enough to get on a boat — blindfolded — and head downstream.
Where is she going? Why is she blindfolded? Why are they holding birds? We get our answers from the flashback portions of Bird Box.
The Past of Bird Box, Explained
The “past” segment begins on the day the world changes, the day creatures invade the earth (or maybe rise up from the pits of hell, who knows). At the start of the day, a pregnant Malorie and her sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), head to the hospital for an OBGYN visit. Hours later, they’re caught in the middle of a crumbling world. Jessica catches glimpse of a creature and dies. Malorie, toppled by a mob, is conveniently rescued by people hiding out in a large house overlooking the road.
From there proceeds a kind of post-apocalypse Real World: a group of strangers isolated within a beautiful house, forced to work together. What will happen? The usual: Some complaints (always from Douglas), some sexual tension (between Malorie and the group’s de facto leader, Tom, played by Trevante Rhodes), some factions (some are sympathetic to people from the outside entering the house; others are suspicious.)
The group’s first and most crucial step is creature-proofing the house. As long as a person doesn’t actually see the creatures, he or she is safe. After straggler Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), also pregnant, joins the group, their need for a replenished food supply becomes urgent. So, five blindfold-wearing people take the car on a trip to the grocery store. While the group was successful in bringing back food, it’ll be their last such mission — that evening, the house’s two young lovers — Lucy (Rosa Salazar) and Felix (Machine Gun Kelly) — steal the car.
Every day, the remainder's chances at sustainable survival become slimmer. To sum up their situation: They have no car, a dwindling food supply, and two pregnant women nearing their due dates. Tensions rise after Gary (Tom Hollander) knocks on the door and begs for shelter. Despite Douglas’ doubts, Tom allows him to stay. Bad idea. Gary ends up being one of the people who survive seeing a monster, and then become committed to forcing others to see monsters.
These strands reach a climax on a wildly dramatic day. As Mallory and Olympia go into labor, Gary undoes all the house’s protective measures. He tears off the window coverings and forces everyone to look outside. As a result of Gary’s diabolical intervention, Douglas, Cheryl (Jacki Weaver), and Olympia all take their own lives. Malorie manages to save her newly born son and Olympia’s daughter. Tom, because he’s a hero, kills Gary.
Then come the five years of Tom and Malorie’s domestic bliss, which frankly would’ve made for a good movie in itself. They become a couple and raise the two children as their own. Amid all their survival activities, Tom and Malorie even fit in time for cuddling.
Unfortunately, the zombie-people, like Gary, are still driving around looking for survivors. Eventually, a group of rifle-carrying people find Tom and Malorie while they’re ransacking a nearby home for supplies. This is where the movie’s past and present timelines converge. Tom distracts the group, giving Malorie and the kids time to run back to their home. If he’s not back within 15 minutes, Tom says, Malorie should follow the walkie talkie instructions toward safe haven herself.
Tom doesn’t come back. Like most of the other characters in Bird Box, he sees a creature and takes his own life, but not before vanquishing their pursuers.
The Present of Bird Box, Explained
Phew! We’ve finally arrived to to the start of the movie: Malorie telling Girl and Boy to buckle up, because this is going to be a wild ride. She’s not kidding. In total, Malorie and her children spend nearly two days on the river. At one point, Malorie must fend off another zombie-person wading in the water, likely waiting for other people headed for refuge.
The travellers meet their biggest challenges at the end of the journey. First come the rapids. Malorie refuses to make either child take off their blindfold to help her navigate, so the boat topples. Luckily, at that point, they can leave the river and walk toward the refuge. Malorie was told to follow the sound of the birds through the woods — but it’s not an easy trip,
While in the forest, Malorie and her children are distracted by insidious whispers. Girl, for example, hears the voice of Malorie telling her to remove the blindfold. The girl is about to open her eyes. Then, Malorie does what she hadn’t done before: Shows her daughter kindness, not constant harshness meant to prepare her for the reality of the new world order. The girl follows Malorie’s real voice to safety.
Really, though, what is up with those voices? Seemingly, the creatures possess the ability to disorient people and trick them into opening their eyes. Scenes from the first day of the apocalypse back this theory up. Right after she's rescued, Malorie sees a woman greet her "mother," then get into a burning car. The creatures incite hallucinations of loved ones. They deliver death by way of psychological manipulation. Ah, our feeble human minds.
Once reunited, Malorie and the children make it to the wall the man described over the walkie talkie. After knocking on the door, they enter the former Janet Tucker School for the Blind, now converted into a shelter run by a blind man named Rick (Pruitt Taylor Vince). There, the blind and the sighed live together in a Garden of Eden-esque harmony. Birds fly in the courtyard to warn the sighted of incoming danger. People can see trees again! Somehow, Malorie’s gynecologist (Parminder Nagra) is also there, though how she escaped the mess outside of the hospital that day is beyond us.
In a final symbolic gesture, Malorie gives the kids names. Until that point, Malorie had been reluctant to indulge the children or even form emotional attachments. It’s understandable: Everyone she loved (except Tom) had been taken from her. Now that she and the children have reached safe harbour, Malorie gives her children a chance to be people, to dream. She gives them names: Tom for the boy, and Olympia for the girl.
We don’t know what comes next for Malorie, Tom, and Olympia. We don't know how this shelter gets food, or if anyone will ever read again, or if Rick has a despotic streak, as all leaders of safe havens do in teen dystopias. We don't know if the creatures will ever stop bullying humanity. We don't know how that small school will handle population control. But in the interest of positive thinking, we're going to believe that everything turns out alright for Malorie.