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What Netflix’s “Bird Box” Taught Me About Motherhood



A lot of conversations around Netflix’s “Bird Box,” the new dystopian story penned for the popular digital platform, have centered on the supernatural aspect of the film, the stellar acting performances, or Trevante Rhodes’ beautiful face (the latter of which I do think is extremely extremely important). However, I have seen less content covering one of the most pressing and central themes of the film, motherhood.

The story of Netflix’s “Bird Box” begins with Malorie, an artist and reluctantly expectant mother portrayed by Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock. Malorie is the kind of person who exists in the world but does not enjoy interacting with it. At the start of the film, Bullock’s character is visited by her enthusiastic, bubbly-eyed sister played by Sarah Paulson. The role is short-lived, but brilliant, as her talkative nature serves as the perfect foil to tight-lipped Malorie.

Instantly, you imagine this is the kind of woman who should be having a child instead. Their dialogue makes it clear that she is not a “people-person,” which leads audiences, and Malorie herself, to believe she will not make a great mother. It is not until she is forced to protect her child and the young child of a fallen friend from supernatural forces that she realizes what a maternal force of nature she can be.

After climbing ravines, rowing a kayak through rushing rapids, and fighting off a possessed man while blindfolded, Malorie figures out she has supernatural strength of her own, and those same seemingly standoff-ish qualities actually prolong her survival.

Because so much of Malorie’s mothering of the two children, unaffectionately named “Boy” and “Girl,” is expressed through her fierce pursuit of their survival (rather than traditional hugs, kisses, and packed lunch pails), Bullock’s character has been hailed as revolutionary. However, there should be nothing revolutionary about a mother going to the ends of the Earth, risking her own life again and again, for her children. In fact, this is what women have been doing since the beginning of time. But, it is rarely reflected on film without the mother also being portrayed as outwardly loving, soft, and overly affectionate.

Placing a mother such as Malorie at the center of the film was a bold step for the production and creative teams behind Netflix’s “Bird Box.” Although the nuances of this character were surely worked into the script penned by Eric Heisserer, director Susanne Bier did an amazing job bringing these intricacies to life on screen.

Bier is an acclaimed screenwriter, producer, and similar to Bullock’s character, a mother of two. Whenever approached about this topic in interviews, Bier was quick to point out the difference and benefit of not having the character of Malorie come from a conventional point of view.

For hundreds of years, we have seen mothers described by men and I think there’s a kind of passiveness to that image; it’s sort of gentle, it’s kind, it’s automatically loving, but it’s not really, when it comes down to it, it’s not really forceful and or really capable of protecting the kids. And that’s what [Malorie] does. She’s a survivor. Those kids are going to survive and she’s going to do it at any price. I think that story is really compelling and yes, that might be very feminine, but it’s certainly not traditional feminine.
— Susanne Bier

After reading more about the film and delving deeper into how the character of Malorie was intended to resonate with audiences, I realized the reason I took so kindly to her “harsh” persona is that it reminded me of my own mother’s.

Now, I love my mom dearly. She has taught me how to move throughout the world and for that, I will be forever grateful. I get some of my best stuff from her including my sense of humor, my love of literature, and the unique spelling of my name.

But recently, I’ve noticed some of the qualities I do not love about myself come from her as well. For example, neither one of us is particularly open when it comes to our lives, worries, concerns, and emotions, similarly to Sandra Bullock’s character in the film. We are the kind of women who other people like to confide to, but will rarely demand the same honesty of. We accept this, prefer it really, but this rejection of vulnerability can often come across cold, just as it does in the film.

According to my mom, she felt no special spark after giving birth to me. She did not instantly fall in love upon looking into my confused and wandering brown eyes for the first time. She was not overwhelmed with compassion, nor did she feel an instant connection.

I did not grow up playing dress-up in her closet or watching her bake cookies. Admittedly, every time she did try to make something for a school fundraiser or PTA event, it turned out pretty awful (#sorrymom). To others, this may have seemed unconventional and for a while, I felt as if I was missing out on the kind of lovey-dovey mother-daughter relationship that spanned across my favorite films and TV shows.

It was not until I got a little older that I realized there are a million and one ways to be a great mother to a child. I know that mine loves me more than any words I type could ever express, but the bond we formed was not an instant one. We had to build it as we went along.

I think there is that sort of aggressive forcefulness [in motherhood] that hasn’t been shown [in movies] a lot. What is the reason for this omission? Well, partly because men had the platform to show what [motherhood] was, and supposedly that was not how they wanted to see it. Maybe it is a slightly scary image. Being forceful might not be as cute.
— Susanne Bier

This disassociation with the traditional concept of motherhood can cause a lot of maternal guilt, but it is more common than we acknowledge. Earlier last year, fellow I AM & CO scribe Meddy Hurd had a conversation with her mother that revealed similar insecurities. When posed the question, “As a new mom what were you ill-prepared for?” Mama Hurd replied:

“How weird it would feel being a mother. I was 20-years-old when I had your brother. He was about a month old when we took him on our first-day trip. I was swimming in the pool and had him in a car seat in a chair. I looked over and saw the car seat had fallen out of the chair and I had a delayed reaction. I remember realizing that’s my child and I should probably do something about it. I felt so self-conscious about my lack of experience of being a mom.”

The shame and guilt around being a “bad mom” has got to stop. It is important to remember that before women become mothers, they are people in the world with their own fears, insecurities, and weaknesses.

If you are at the point in your life where you are considering motherhood, are a soon-to-be mom, a new mom, or an experienced one, I encourage you to remember that who you are before you have a child does not simply go away nor is it any less important. In fact, it can actually be your greatest asset. Malorie is just a simple reminder of this.