Sandra Bullock plays a mother fighting for survival in the thriller Bird Box. She explains why we need to change the way mothers are shown in cinema.
There have been good mothers, bad mothers, and evil, tragic, and heroic mothers in film.
These have included Sarah Connor, in Terminator, Wendy Torrance, in The Shining, Margaret White, in Carrie, and Joan Crawford, in Mommie Dearest.
But Sandra Bullock, a mother-of-two, says that we rarely see the complications of raising children.
In her new film, Bird Box, she plays Malorie, who is desperate to save her two children when a mysterious force starts wiping out the world’s population.
“Before I made this film, I knew the way motherhood has been represented on film needed to not just change,” she says,
but it needed to expand, because the complexities of being a mum have not been fully represented cinematically
“And Malorie is someone who is not a natural parent, or at least you think so. This is not someone who has a natural inclination to be a mum, not the desire, the drive, or the want.
“And you might think, ‘This is not a good representation of a mother’. But then you go, ‘Is it really not?’ Because she fights. She is using everything she knows and understands to save these little creatures’ lives. Her fear is driving her.”
Bullock, 54, adopted son, Louis, now eight, from New Orleans, in Louisiana, in 2010. In 2015, daughter, Laila, now six, joined her family.
“I have learned that we need to start showing women in a more complex fashion, when it comes to motherhood,” she says.
“The same as we need to show men in a more complex fashion when it comes to those who are incredibly paternal and who are very demonstrative and loving and hopeful with their kids.”
Malorie is heavily pregnant when the mysterious force, which prompts anyone who sees it to kill themselves, takes hold.
Hiding in a stranger’s house, along with John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes and BD Wong, she is almost in denial about her impending motherhood. “It was more uncomfortable for me to play Malorie in her flashbacks, when she is pregnant, when she is sort of disconnected from the idea of being a mum.
I felt hopeless. I felt weak in a way and I kept on saying to Trevante, ‘I don’t like playing this. It makes me feel really uncomfortable
“But we have got to stop thinking about this fairytale idea of what a family looks like, what a partnership looks like, what a mother looks like, what a father looks like.
“That’s what I loved so much about this. It was just people being there for each other, loving each other at the worst of times. Where they came from, what they look like, or what their past was had no bearing on their current situation.”
When the film reverts to the present day, Malorie is forced to take her two children down a treacherous river in a small boat, while wearing blindfolds to avoid seeing the dangerous entity. They are headed for the one place left that may offer sanctuary. “I feel like there are two films in one here,” Bullock says, “and both have these different aspects that need each other.
“People hear a thriller or a horror genre and they want to go see it, they want to go on that ride. Then, there are those people who love those smaller, complex, more intimate storytelling moments. This story, this film, needs both those things to exist. So an audience that would normally not go to horror films will have a journey that they didn’t expect, and vice versa.”
The role was particularly dark for Bullock, who won an Oscar for the uplifting The Blind Side, in 2010, and has starred in comedies such as Miss Congeniality, The Proposal, and The Heat.
It follows her star turn in this year’s Ocean’s 8, in which she plays the criminal sister of George Clooney’s character from the Ocean’s Eleven films.
Was such a hard pivot a challenge?
“Oh God, yes,” she says. “But you want those. Most actors will tell you they want to do exactly the opposite of what they are doing just then”.
Does that mean there might even be another Miss Congeniality?
“I have already done the Miss Congeniality thing, but you do want to go to a world where you can make people laugh and enjoy another kind of ride. I’m definitely looking for that.”
Bird Box is in cinemas and streaming on Netflix now.
Sandra Bullock plays a mother fighting for survival in the thriller Bird Box. She explains why we need to change the way mothers are shown in cinema