Saturday, December 29, 2018

BIRD BOX AS SEEN BY A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL

*First off, Trigger Warning, particularly related to issues surrounding suicide*

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain.”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

In Bird Box, the apocalypse is caused by mass suicide. The only way to prevent being a victim is to avoid, at all costs, looking into the outside world, for if you do, there's something you will see that compels you to take your own life. Suicide comes both immediate and by an any means necessary.

Bird Box has taken the world by storm, and has broken Netflix records for number of times viewed within first week of its release. 


Build a better monster, and the world comes knocking at your door.



Bird Box is its own type of choose your own adventure. Each of us imagines what 'monsters' the characters see that compels them to suicide. In my view of the BB universe, each character sees something unique and personal to their deepest fears, their own life experiences. Something so primal it overrides every bit of life instinct for survival. It's as much a hallucination in the mind's eye of the viewer rather than something that tangibly exists. In this way, we are all like a character in the book, no two of us imagine the same thing. Had the book or film shown us the monster and denied us this ability to imagine what each character sees, it would have robbed us the opportunity to create our own private monster. 




“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”

― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

"What do you think they see?" isn't the question. The question is; "What might we see that would compel us to need an immediate end to our existence?"

"There's nothing that would make me do such a thing," is not an acceptable answer in the land of BB, for there is something that is so terrifying and deeply despairing that it shatters all firmly cemented notions that suicide is not an option to even comprehend. Suicide suddenly makes perfect sense, and must be sought out as immediate as possible. 
Imagine, if for a second we could all really relate to those who feel a desire to take their own life? The world in which you are reading this sentence, not the BB world, but the street you live on, has someone living on it who wants to kill themselves. Right now. Maybe three doors down, maybe half a mile, but the radius does not have to be too large to encompass someone who see suicide as their only option. They are fighting what they feel, what they see, right now.  

So often we tell such people to try 'taking a walk', that 'there are those who have it worse', that 'it will pass'. Can you imagine walking up to someone with that Bird Box suicidal look in their eye and suggesting such things? Of course not, for see the conviction in the eyes of those who are seeking to jump from a window or stab themselves with scissors. 

But such are the words and lack of understanding we treat those suffering from such mental illness. We need to do better. 

In Bird Box, we are all in their world with them, and the only way to survive is to set up barriers to keep the horrors out through voluntary blindness. Only an artificial construct such as a blindfold can keep the horrors away. 

“We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this—through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs, or medication—we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime." ― Kay Redfield Jamison


  There are some in Bird Box who escape this fate. Those who are already severely mentally ill can keep their eyes wide open. In the BB universe, if you have this sort of power, then your charge is to force others to take off their blindfold, sometimes prying their eyes open with your fingers and making them see what you already do, knowing that they can't handle the result and will succumb to suicide.  (I don't believe the BB universe suggests that those with such affliction have this inclination, but rather that this is part of the malevolent phenomena of whatever is in the air.)  

In the movie, those who can view the world with impunity take a sort of satisfaction in their abilities where the power structure is flipped.  Those who are deemed insane are the ones who can easily navigate the world, drive with full sight, celebrating in their power by doing donuts in the driveway, while the mentally healthy are now crippled by fear.

Once again, an empathy to those who must bear the burden of abject depression and despair.


Towards the end of the film, Mallory experiences intense audio hallucinations from the voices most dear to her, begging her to take off her blindfold. The voices are seductive, and I think the audio is just a hint into what the visual might be, something seductive, personal. Severe depression becomes something more sinister, and that is severe psychosis. 


Being psychotic is so often misunderstood and used with cliche, but the psychotic walk among us and suffer with hallucinations nearly identical. This is not fantasy.  Those with psychosis often experience hallucinations as Mallory did, and hear the voices of deceased loved ones. Command hallucinations, they are called, asking us to do something harmful, to hurt ourselves, often times in voices personal to us.  Somewhere nearby you someone is fighting these off, right now. 

Mallory's fight in the forest isn't only the screen, it's also down the road.

I can't help but extrapolate this to other diagnoses, especially addiction. Imagine if you were forced to feel the urge to get high and do everything in your power to use some form of drug; vicodin, heroin, cocaine. The urge to use the substance was felt with the same urgency as a drowning man seeks to breathe. Something a non addict doesn't comprehend, but right now soon as someone opens their eyes, there is a similar intensity of compulsion and obsessions. 

Compulsions to destroy ourselves. Perhaps we don't realize how fragile our sanity is. That there is something in the air that can tap into the part of us that goes so incredibly mad it must end all consciousness.  The monsters inside us can be awoken by our senses, and it is our senses that sometimes must be denied for a higher good.  We can only make our way through this world through forced blindness of certain horrors. But when we do, we can live within glory upon the tree tops, among the most noble of birds. 

The hope at the end of BB does not feel contrived, but a celebration of the human spirit. We can ignore the constant voices and whispers, shut off the horrors of the world, as long as we are guided by love. We can't live in fear, we can't give up hope. We must work together and be persistent.  We can climb that oak tree, and it's no coincidence that Tom's story is one of sight and his vision at the top. It's a story that ends with glory, not gloom.

Lastly, how cool is it the Horror Writer's Association is converging on Michigan for its next convention, home of the BB creator and guest of honor, Josh Malerman.  One only need to share space with him for a moment to feel his incredible zest for art. He fully understands the potential for horror to makes us feel the full range of human emotions. 

Malerman has built a better monster, one that is uniquely ours. And he's just getting started. 




No comments:

BODY OF CHRIST is on the Preliminary Ballot of the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards.

Happy to announce that my novella BODY OF CHRIST is on the Preliminary Ballot of the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards. ...