Bird Box Criticised For “Negative Depiction of Mental Health”

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Jan 3, 2019

Bird Box Criticised For “Negative Depiction of Mental Health”

Bird Box broke the Netflix record for ‘most watched film’ in its first week of release, but some people have criticised the film for its depiction of mental health

Warning: This article includes spoilers

Even if you haven’t watched it or read the novel, you have probably heard about it. Due to the excitement surrounding the release, the latest Netflix film Bird Box broke the service’s record for ‘most-watched film in its first week of release’ with 45 million views.

But despite the early praise, many viewers have taken issue with the story, suggesting that it presents a “negative depiction of mental health”. While the novel is loved for its intriguing and suspense-filled plot and author Josh Malerman is yet to comment on his intent, the premise of the film is where many viewers have an issue.

In the film, monsters exist that, when looked at, will drive a person to suicide. Not looking at the monsters is the only way to stay safe, hence why Malorie (played by Sandra Bullock) wears a blindfold throughout the film. However, there appears to be one exception to the rule. People with a mental illness are able to look at the monsters and instead, as Jess Joho writes “become agents of evil, obsessed with carrying out the monsters’ mission to destroy humanity.”

Joho continues, pointing to the former patients of a psychiatric hospital being described as “always a bit crazy”. She writes, “so Bird Box is evidently trying to say something about mental illness through its ill-defined monsters, brought forth as biblical judges for our moral punishment. Exactly what they mean as a metaphor, however, remains frustratingly unclear.”

“It’s obvious that the creators of Bird Box did not set out to create a film villainizing mental illness or sensationalising suicide. If you squint at its woefully confused metaphors, there might be an allegory in the monsters as a darkness that perhaps only people who’ve lived with depression, psychological disorders etc., would be familiar with.

“Yet a lack of awareness does not excuse the harm caused by Bird Box’s flagrant carelessness in handling extremely sensitive subject matter.”

Agreeing with Joho’s argument, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw wrote, “Tying into the suicidal violence of the main conceit, we learn that ‘criminally insane’ people are immune to the monster’s powers, and want to expose other survivors and force them to kill themselves. What a sensitive depiction of mental illness!”

Others argue the film would have benefitted from more detailed trigger warnings.

Counsellor Shainna Ali wrote that a better use of trigger warnings could have benefitted the film, noting that while the film carries an ‘R-rating’ in the US the classification is too broad. She wrote, “The current classification could benefit from specifiers pertaining to mental health trigger warnings for themes such as anxiety, trauma, self-harm, and suicidality.”

However, Ali concluded by saying that each person will see the film’s depiction of mental health in their own way and it’s important to remember “the difference in opinions are projections of our own perspectives.”

And there are some people praising the way mental health is depicted in the film.

Madi Hardrove (@madisonh121) wrote, “bird box leaving so many things unanswered was a metaphor for mental health in society.

We often don’t get the answers to why our loved ones harm themselves. The ‘creatures’ going unseen represents the demons in us that cause mental health issues, as we cannot see them either.”

While Kael Bascon (@KaelBascon) wrote, “What makes a film great are the symbolisms and the reflection of one's society today. Birdbox absolutely crushed it with the issues of mental health awareness...”

If you are unsure whether to watch the film, we suggest reading some of the reviews or talking to any friends and family who have watched it already. If you are uncomfortable with the idea, it may be better for you to skip it on this occasion. Take care of yourself - know that it’s OK to not watch something or switch something off for the sake of your mental health.

If you are worried about your mental health, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Enter your location in the box below to find a counsellor near you.

Image: Editorial credit /

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