Spoiler Warning: There will be some. No, I’m not going to talk about the CGI birds.
This is the second part of my blog posts about Bird Box, the post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman and the Netflix adaptation of the same name. In Bird Box, characters are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves, and so must navigate the world blindfolded.
When thinking about the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box, I don’t want to whine that everything in the film didn’t match everything in the book. Altering small details in an adaptation doesn’t matter to me. However, there were some drastic changes made to Bird Box for its adaptation that altered the entire narrative and – I’d argue – made it worse.
Firstly, in the novel, Malorie’s sister dies after a period of time once the crisis has hit. At this point, Malorie and her sister have already been trapped in their house for a while, and so have adapted to survive in a world where sight is dangerous. Following her sister’s death, a pregnant Malorie is forced to seek new shelter, as suddenly she is left alone and vulnerable, and needs someone to help her with the birth. This all means that Malorie’s sister’s death is saddening and impactful, because the reader has had time to become familiar with her, and sympathise with Malorie’s loss of a family member and her loss of the family home. Malorie’s sister’s death is also a catalyst which pushes Malorie to be strong and brave, taking a risk to ensure the survival of her baby. In the film, Malorie’s sister dies almost instantly in a car collision. Malorie then sees a house nearby and seeks refuge. This does not create anywhere near as much impact. The audience barely spends any time with Malorie’s sister before she dies, and Malorie herself is little affected apart from being somewhat mopey when she arrives at the house. This change in the narrative hardly seems to benefit the film at all, and makes me wonder why they decided to change it.
Secondly, the entire premise of Bird Box was sadly undermined in the film adaptation because characters automatically removed their blindfolds when they were inside, assuming themselves to be safe. However, the characters themselves demonstrate awareness that the creatures can get inside buildings. This begs the question: How can characters guarantee somewhere is safe, without looking, simply because it is inside? This was particularly irksome when they came across new locations, such as a supermarket or empty house to raid. Malorie also does this – yanking her blindfold off the minute she steps inside a room when seeking shelter for the children, when there is no guarantee that there isn’t a creature inside waiting. This was a foolish thing to overlook – Malorie from the novel would never do this, especially when the lives of Girl and Boy would be put at risk.
Thirdly, in the film, Boy and Girl are frustratingly disobedient. In the book, Malorie trains the children from birth navigate the world with their eyes closed – they even wake up with their eyes closed. The children obey her every command perfectly, understanding how serious it is that they do what she says. Admittedly, Malorie’s regimented, strict, protectiveness over Boy and Girl was carried over into the film well, as I thought Sandra Bullock was a good representation of Malorie’s character. However, though Malorie regularly shouts and demands they follow her instructions, Boy and Girl are continuously disobeying, wandering off, getting lost, and almost take their blindfolds off as a consequence. Whilst this scene is meant to “increase the tension” of the film, it would never have happened in the book because the children were well-taught to obey Malorie’s every word, at all times, regardless. This directly undermines the emphasis the film places on Malorie’s regular instructions to Boy and Girl, and makes Malorie’s strict personality redundant.
Finally, there is another drastic change in the film adaptation. In the novel, once they are on the river, Malorie knows a time is coming when she must look – only for a second – because the river will fork and she must be able to see in order to steer. This is another example of Malorie making a decision which, though it could be potentially dangerous for her, would ensure the children have a chance to reach safety. This parallels Malorie’s decision to leave the house following the death of her sister, as easy and as comfortable as it would have been for her to stay. Ultimately, these two events test Malorie’s bravery and strength, and her determination as a mother. However, in the film, Malorie announces that they are approaching rapids, and one of the children must look, in order to navigate and shout directions. Then, in a “noble” act of love, Malorie decides no-one will look, deciding she will not risk the life of Boy or Girl. This decision is meant to be seen as honourable and brave, and yet it comes across as foolhardy and dangerous. As a result, all three of them nearly drown after being thrown about on the rapids. This does not foreground bravery or present Malorie as a strong mother figure, as the scene does in the novel.
To sum up, these are four key problems with the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box that have arisen simply from unnecessarily changing the source material.
An Aside: In a world where to look means to die, I would expect characters to be more proactive in blocking sources of daylight. In the book, every window is covered with blinds, towels, newspaper, tape – anything to stop a fraction of light getting inside. In the film, the blinds are barely pulled shut and all the curtains are made from lightweight, thin, pale fabric. Admittedly, this gives the film an arguably “aesthetic” pale colour palette. Yet, this is just another element of the film which has been overlooked, and seemingly undermines the entire premise of Bird Box before it has even properly begun.
Unfortunately, after enjoying the book so much, I was left disappointed by the film adaptation. If you’d still like to experience the story of Bird Box, I’d recommend you read the book instead.