‘The Starling’ on Netflix is an emotional drama that follows a couple’s journey as they try and recover from the devastating death of their young daughter. A year on from the tragedy, Jack lives in a psychiatric institution while his wife, Lilly, tries to maintain their home as she waits for her husband to return. During this time, she is repeatedly tormented by a bird that lives in her garden until Lilly finally learns to accept the rivalry and coexist with the tenacious little starling. The film is a nuanced examination of loss and hope and highlights its message with the central characters’ chaotic relationship with a bird. So is ‘The Starling’ based on a real story, or is the tale and its avian character metaphorical? We decided to find out.
Is The Starling a True Story?
No, ‘The Starling’ is not based on a true story. Matt Harris initially wrote the script and subsequently modified it in consultation with the director Theodore Melfi, who switched the gender roles of the film’s central characters. Therefore, the film initially had Lilly’s character in a psychiatric institution while Jack’s character held the fort down at home.
The characters were gender-switched because Melfi identified more with the strong female character and claimed it felt truer to him. Additionally, he said that there was already a lot of cinema depicting men braving through emotional crises, and he wanted the lead female character to be the strong one in his film’s dynamic. He also wanted the narrative to be told primarily from a woman’s point of view.
There are many themes embedded in the film as it explores the intersection of relationships and tragedy. There is a strong undertone of hope, characterized by the central couple fighting to salvage their relationship despite things seeming hopeless. This feeling of hope is one of the main aspects that Melfi wanted to get across to his audience through his film. The fact that the bird — arguably one of the film’s main characters — also perseveres and survives despite being almost killed by Lilly, further reinforces the sentiment of hope.
In fact, the bird, which is also the movie’s namesake, provides many of the film’s themes. The unyielding cycle of nature that the starling follows as it protects its offspring parallels the cycle of emotions that Lilly and Jack go through after their tragedy. In a broader sense, it also signifies the constant cycle of emotions that we all go through — whether we like it or not — and that holding onto a single feeling is impossible.
The theme of nature and its unyielding effects on humans is also an aspect that Harris explores deeply in the film. This is largely why he chose to center the story around a middle-aged couple rather than a young one. After losing their child, a young couple would have still had a better chance of getting through the tragedy and bringing their lives back on track. However, a middle-aged couple like Lilly and Jack, who can likely not have another child (as hinted by the writer), will find it much more challenging to get over the tragedy of losing their only child.
Therefore, the tragedies that nature puts in our path — and how we then reconcile ourselves with them — is what ‘The Starling’ basically explores. Through it, the writer and director put out a message of hope and togetherness by depicting the central characters (and their avian nemesis) beginning to get their lives back on track after a devastating tragedy. The closing scene, where Jack and Lilly brave the bird’s attacks to go and pick produce from their garden, perhaps most poetically puts the film’s theme across of learning to coexist with our issues and tragedies.
Read More: Where Was The Starling Filmed?