Warning: This post contains spoilers for the ending of Earthquake Bird.
Death follows Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander) of Earthquake Bird, an enigmatic and polished film that lands on Netflix on November 15. Or at least that’s the story Lucy tells herself. The fact that her new friend, Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), has recently vanished only adds to Lucy’s conviction that she’s cursed.
Recently, a body part washed up in the bay that’s thought to be Lily’s. Since Lucy was the last person to see Lily, she’s now the police department’s main suspect. In the present timeline, Lucy sits in an interrogation room with Tokyo detectives. In the past, we find out how she got to this moment.
Earthquake Bird is a textbook erotic thriller, in which an initial attraction between people gives way to something dark and disturbing. These movies reveal the inherent risk of letting a person into your life, which is Lily understands intimately. Other people are unknowable, and thus dangerous. With movies like Body Heat and Fatal Attraction, erotic thrillers reached their peak in the ‘80s — when Earthquake Bird is set.
Earthquake Bird is also the kind of film Netflix cannot resist acquiring: An unsettling story told through multiple disorienting timelines, filtered through the perspective of an unreliable narrator, and ending with a crescendo of wild twists (see: Fractured, In the Tall Grass, The Perfection, and In the Shadow of the Moon, all of which came out this year). I’m happy to report that Earthquake Bird, a relatively cohesive and thought-provoking movie, is one of the better additions to this much-beloved genre.
Generally speaking, these are also the kind of movies with ambiguous endings, and Earthquake Bird is no exception. What happened to Lily? Did the perpetually gloomy Lucy have anything to do with it? And, for the love of the Bronx Zoo, what is an earthquake bird?
How did Lucy get herself into this situation?
Lucy is deliberately isolated person. She works as a translator at a Japanese law firm, far from her six brothers and parents in Sweden. She plays the cello in a string quartet with middle-aged Japanese women. She lives a safe, quiet life – because she’s alone.
Then come people, and then comes trouble. In a short period of time, Lucy meets two people who will drastically alter her life.
First, there’s Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi, whom I want to see in everything), a mysterious Japanese man who Lucy meets after he randomly photographs her on the street. He successfully woos her by matching her serious attitude with his own (they are an astonishingly passionless couple). Teiji says he’s been tortured since the disappearance of his last girlfriend, Satchi, and that Lucy relieves his pain.
There are valid reasons not to trust Teiji’s tale of woe. First of all, “my ex disappeared without a trace” is far more concerning than the textbook, “my ex is crazy.” Also, though Teiji attests he doesn’t take photos of people, he has a cache of photos of both Satchi and Lucy in a box of drawers, which Lucy discovers – and that’s how she found out about Satchi.
Then, Lucy’s British expat friend Bob (Jack Huston) introduces her to Lily Bridges, an American unmoored by Japanese customs. Though the ever-withdrawn is reluctant Lucy to take Lily on like a charity case, she caves — and soon becomes entranced by her.
So does Teiji.
During a trip to Sado island, Lucy watches as Lily becomes Teiji’s new muse. When Lucy falls suddenly (and suspiciously) ill, they leave her to sleep on the side of a cliff while they go off to traverse a coal mine. Obviously, Lucy is miffed. She doesn’t get to have the threesome on the futon she fantasized about. Instead, she loses her friend and her boyfriend.
Lily disappears soon after the trip.
Lily comes to Lucy’s doorstep to apologize for her behavior on the trip. At first, Lucy turns her away. When she runs after Lily to invite her in, Lucy has already vanished into the street.
Soon after, Teiji disappears too. Either they ran away together — or something more sinister happened.
What happened to Lily Bridges?
After being released from the interrogation, Lucy solves the case herself. She returns to Teiji’s apartment and opens his file cabinet of photos. There, she sees a disturbing sequence of photos. Teiji likes taking candid photos of women.
He also photographs women as he kills them. In her hands, Lucy holds photographic evidence of Lily’s dead body. She tries to drop them off at the police department, but the detective isn’t there.
Teiji! Say it ain’t so!
Yes, Teiji. Lily was correct in her initial decision to trust no man. When she gets back from the police department, Teiji is waiting for Lily in her apartment. We are no longer surprised by this creepy move because Teiji is a creep.
After trying to convince Lily to run away with him (self-awareness, much?), Teiji then tries to strangle her. Thanks to a well-placed glass vase, she kills him. Still, she came shockingly close to losing her life.
So, uh, is Lucy cursed?
It’s not a Netflix movie without a strand of the supernatural! That’s why Lucy has those unexplained hallucinations in the subway station. It adds spice to an otherwise bleak story of domestic violence and unnecessary murder, the kind of crime that peppers newspapers and has been a staple in Lucy’s life.
When Lily reads Lucy’s palm, she does the thing you always hope a psychic won’t. She pauses and says she didn’t see anything, which means she said something bad.
What Lily likely saw is a history of violence and loss. Terrible things have happened to Lucy.
It began long ago. When Lucy was 8, she was attacked by her seven brothers while she was sitting in a tree (the wolves!). Lucy retaliated by leaping on a brother, inadvertently causing him to fall on an upturned nail and die. In response, Lucy was silent for three years. She learned Japanese as an escape hatch from her toxic home environment.
The trauma continues. When she was 14, Lucy was raped by her friend’s father. When she told him she thought she was pregnant, he went kayaking in rough water and drowned (it’s implied he died by suicide). It turns out she wasn’t pregnant and now Lucky feels both responsible and relieved for his death.
Earlier in the movie, she witnessed her friend, Mrs. Yamamoto (Yoshiko Sakuma) slip on a staircase and fall to her death. That brings the death toll to five.
However, the movie’s final conversation is meant to show that Lucy’s guilt is misplaced. Mrs. Kato (Akiko Iwase) feels responsible for Mrs. Yamamoto’s death, as she had recently polished the stairs. Lucy and Mrs. Kato believing they’re responsible for deaths is a way of making sense of existing in dangerous world, where deaths are often accidental and meaningless, where people can hurt you.
At least the movie ends with Lucy in her happy place; hanging out with a kind-hearted member of her string troupe. So, yes, Earthquake Bird is The Perfection.
What is an Earthquake Bird?
Earthquake Bird sounds like a mystical harbinger of a new era in a middle grade fantasy novel.
But within the context of Earthquake Bird? The title might be a reference to the humming sound that comes after an earthquake. Or, we can close-read it even further.
Lucy experiences a few earthquakes while living in Japan. The threat of danger is constant, both in relationships and in the physical landscape. As long as Lily’s feet are off the ground — to continue the metaphor, as long as she remains unconnected to other people — she believes she’ll escape unscathed. Look, it’s an attempt!