In both the book and the film, we never learn the true identity of these mysterious creatures. We don’t know what they look like, we don’t know their motivations, we don’t get any sort of explanation for what is truly going on. This may frustrate some viewers, but ultimately, it’s sort of the whole point; in fact, one could argue they’re a metaphor for depression, and equally unquantifiable things.But that didn’t stop us from hatching some theories about what the creatures could be, given context clues in the story and what we know about this kind of storytelling. Here are five of our best guesses.
This is what John Malkovich‘s Douglas theorizes near the film’s opening. He blames it on North Korea, but there’s no indication that this is actually true. Still, it remains a possibility; perhaps a global enemy released some sort of chemical agent that drove people insane and suicidal so they could wipe out large portions of the population without destroying the planet. Although this doesn’t make a ton of sense. As we see on the news, the creatures’ arrival isn’t contained to one country, and in the books we also see that it drives animals mad, which would kill off food supplies. This one seems less likely the more you think about it.
Whenever weird, inexplicable things spontaneously come to Earth, it’s pretty easy to blame it on aliens. There’s nothing that explicitly points to this being the case in Bird Box, but we can’t rule it out entirely. Perhaps these creatures are so advanced or otherworldly that they don’t register properly to the human brain, inspiring instant madness. This concept has been toyed with in other sci-fi stories, so it’s not beyond the realm of possible options.
Mass hysteria is an actual thing that occurs in our world, from the Tanganyika laughter epidemic in 1962 or the Strasbourg dancing plague in 1518, and is described as “the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group.” While there are a number of theories as to why these events happen, there are thousands of documented cases, which means it’s technically possible something like this occurred on a larger scale in the Bird Box universe. Perhaps current events or the threat of climate change disrupted psyches so much that humanity started turning on itself, leading to an outbreak of sorts.
Similar to aliens, maybe a tear in the universe happened and these mysterious creatures slipped through. That’s what happened in The Mist, so it could happen here too!
Horror legend H.P. Lovecraft was known for toying with concepts of madness in his stories, and his most famous creation, Cthulhu, was a tentacled creature that both drives people mad and inspired cultish devotion — which is exactly what happens to the “enlightened” in Bird Box. Beings that are too hard to quantify with the human eye are prominent in many of Lovecraft’s works, as in the novella At the Mountains of Madness and short stories like “Dagon” and “The Lurking Fear.” We like to think his obsession with the unknown and what it can do to the mind was an inspiration for Bird Box, or at least a subtle wink at a larger horror mythos.
This one is definitely our favorite theory, and is probably the one that tracks the most. In the film, it’s heavily implied that the clinically insane aren’t driven to suicide after seeing the beings, but come away enlightened. After encountering the monsters, they’ll say things like “it shall cleanse the world” and “I’ve seen the truth.” One of the people who witnesses the creatures and lives to tell the tale is Gary, a survivor in Malorie’s refuge house, who draws pictures of black, tentacled creatures with white eyes who come from the sky. These could be aliens or inter-dimensional beings, sure, but they look and sounds way more Cthulhu–an ancient, cosmic being hibernating deep within the Earth–than your average alien invasion movie or Stephen King plot.