"A Quiet Place" and the Liberal Exhaustion with Leftism
**This article contains spoilers.
If you haven't been paying attention, John Krasinski’s new film A Quiet Place might have struck you as just another actor-turned-screenwriter-turned-director trying to make a quick buck off the ballooning horror genre. I expected a mild blend of cliché horror shock tactics.
The premise is simple: Earth has been overtaken by creatures which attack all sources of sound. As a human, the takeaway is clear: Make a noise, and you will be quickly found and violently slaughtered. Married couple Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abott (Emily Blunt) try to survive and protect their children in this post-apocalyptic nightmare. However, as the movie opened on its silent world, I began to realize that A Quiet Place wasn’t aiming for grotesque disturbance. Instead, the film aims to produce a culturally apropos social commentary—one that narratively depicted the social dread produced in our cultural moment in which social media dominates the social and political landscape with hyperbole. In our moment, we are all at risk for every creak in our step—every tweet—and must learn to survive in a world that is hunting any incongruent sound we might make.
A Quiet Place unveils a subtle (but persistent) reversion to what many have pejoratively labeled a traditional vision of reality—a husband and wife, fighting to protect their children from an unseen threat that is hunting any sounds that break through the silence. Stunningly, not only have fans responded (the movie currently tallies an impressive $235 million take on a $20 million budget), but the critics themselves have applauded as well (see the whopping 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes).
If we’re to comprehend the profundity of its themes for us, we must understand how John Krasinski—an otherwise liberal leaning voice (see his other screenplay Promise Land , on the dangers of big oil with buddy Matt Damon)—would portray a world threatened into silence, which instivtively reverts to traditional conceptions of masculinity, femininity and family. More to the point—why did such a vision resonate so deeply—even unexpectedly—with the American public and film critic alike? I want to suggest that whether he realized it or not, John Krasinski offered a parable on liberal exhaustion with extreme leftism, and the rigid enforcement of silence for all who transgress their mode of discourse—most popularly known as “political correctness.” To explore this further, I want to unpack three interwoven themes that explore Krasinski’s vision further. *a warning, some spoilers ahead.*
Theme 1: The Imagery of Shadowy Stalkers in a Silent World
In A Quiet Place, we are ushered unexpectedly, with little introduction, into a completely silent world. As a single family enters an abandoned pharmacy, looking for medicine, you can’t help but get the growing sense of dread, that something terrible is lurking, hovering right outside the edge of perception. As if anticipating our fears, on the family’s journey home, the youngest of the three children—a boy barely 4 or 5—finds himself holding a toy that erupts with sound. Lee (Krasinski) begins racing silently, desperately to his son—with the family watching on in horror—only to have a monstrous creature (a truly terrifying praying mantis meets alien) descend with the speed of death, killing the child. The family is left speechless in grief, staring at the spot their son and brother once stood, horrified in silence, unable to make a sound. As my breath caught in my chest from shock during my first viewing, it was easy to miss the profound implications of Kransinki’s premise: a silent world filled with fear. Innocence so quickly lost. A world besieged by violence against those who make too great a sound.
Not long ago, an unexpecting 30 year old woman named Justine Sacco posted an insensitive, undeniably crude tweet from Heathrow Airport before boarding her 11 hour flight. She had 170 followers on twitter, so no one immediately replied. However, when she turned on her phone 11 hours later upon landing, she was greeted with a barrage of texts informing her she was trending worldwide, blasted by millions around the globe as a bigot and racist, and would find before the week was over that she had lost her job.
This took place in the span of just a few short days, over one thoughtless tweet. Ever since encountering the cautionary tale of Justine Sacco back in 2015, as my hand would hover over my phone or keyboard to post, I would find my mind dwelling on her careless act. As safe, secure, and insignificant a platform as I possess, I wonder: “Am I myself so different from Justine, that a thoughtless tweet could not invite the roving, stalking, monsters who descend in the blink of an eye to destroy my life?” It’s hard not to see a parallel between “twitter trolls” and Krasinski’s terrifying creatures.
My question, as I’ve been sitting with A Quiet Place, is: “Why?” Why do we resonate so deeply with the fearful steps of father and mother, shepherding children softly through the world, hurriedly protecting against any noise too great, that might attract the attention of the other? Our web of connection has become an open plane of terror, and we must watch our steps, for the monsters are hunting our sound.
Theme 2:The Imagery of Masculine and Feminine in a Vulnerable World
As the film progresses, A Quiet Place turns to husband and wife, each found occupying a unique role. Krasinski, as a man, is engineering, gun-wielding, and beard-wearing, seeking to provide and protect his immensely vulnerable family that is always at risk of breaking the silence. At one point, Emily Blunt (who both in real life and on screen plays Krasinski’s wife) says using sign-language, “Who are we if we can’t protect them? You have to protect them!” Krasinski, as a man, does this to the end, culminating in a heart wrenching scene where he offers up his own life to the creature with a bellowing roar. He sacrifices his life to free his otherwise caged children, trapped by the terrifying forces hunting them.
In similar fashion, Blunt portrays a woman who contributes to survival by embodying traditional femininity. Most explicitly, A Quiet Place dramatically captures Blunt giving birth to a child (for what more profoundly feminine act is there?), with danger closing in, and the audience onlooking with baited breath. Blunt embodies stirring nurture and concern for her newborn child, as she must literally bear him in silence in this silence-averse world. In perhaps the most terrifying scene of the whole film, as a monster descends into water toward her child who floats in a basket on the surface, Blunt resolutely enters the deep to rescue the infant.
In our “progressive” age, we might ask: “What does progress really look like in this world?” Both Krasinski’s and Blunt’s characters come across as strikingly traditional in their presentation of masculinity and femininity. Both heroic in strength. Both unflinching in sacrifice. Both committed to the protection of their family in such a stark and vulnerable world, at whatever costs and to whatever ends.
It’s ironic that the blowback for A Quiet Place has come precisely around these quintessentially strong portrayals. One piece in The New Yorker calls Krasinski’s film “unconscious and conspicuously regressive” in its politics, and suggests that Krasinski’s characters portray the white rural family, with its patriarchal male “bellowing in rage” at the insufferance of his vulnerability. An article in The Washington Post has highlighted the explicitly pro-life implications of Blunt’s character and her decision to keep her child at extraordinary cost. And yet, there remains a conscpicuous lack of engagement with this film from the #MeToo crowd, for all its feminine strength,—though this silence may speak lowder than words.
A Quiet Place has unexpectedly stepped into the political arena of silence enforcement—of leftist intolerance—and come out swinging with masculine and feminine portrayal of sacrifice for the family. Both Krasinski and Blunt deny the political implications, with Krasinski saying: “That's not what I was going for, but the best compliment you can get on any movie is that it starts a conversation.” Blunt commented: “I can see it now. The parenthood metaphor was the one that John was drawn to, but I love the conversations [regarding politics]. I see that it's a very moving experience watching the film."
Why is it that parenthood evokes such strong reactions from us as moviegoers? Why do we long to see men as men and women as women—strong, competent, and united in commitment to protect their family, yet distinct? To Blunt’s point, it is a moving experience to see displayed on the screen the best of masculine and feminine strengths, wielded in sacrificial love for an undeniably vulnerable world. However unintentional Krasinski truly was in capturing a screenshot of the virtues of traditional masculinity and femininity, the film itself gives a stirring portrayal of the elemental and instinctive attractiveness of such virtues. They are powerful, resonant and counter to a leftist vision of silenced men and unquestionable women.
Theme 3: The Fight to Speak in a Violent World
The conclusion of the film culminates in what every good thriller/monster film requires: conflict and confrontation. It’s here that Krasinski turns most adroitly to a final clash between Blunt, their oldest daughter, and a monstrous invader in the heart of their home, the very sanctum of security that previously offered protection. The oldest daughter discovers at this point a gift; that the hearing aid her father crafted could be used as an amplification device to weaken the creatures, allowing Blunt the opportunity to kill one creature with a shotgun blast to its face. In defiant fashion, the daughter and mother turn to see more oncoming invaders, only to have Blunt cock her rifle—a sign of their readiness to fight, and perhaps now even speak, in their still violent world.
The great paradox of our age is that our very technology for common public speech—social media—has become the favored medium of silence, invading our homes, our time, and our thoughts. The tool that held great potential to hold tyrrany in check has now become the weapon of tyrrany itself. For that reason, the liberalism Krasinski reflects is stranded, caught between the monsters it has created—liberal leftism is truly a snake swallowing its own tail. As has become common parlance: “The left eats itself.”
A Quiet Place invites us to consider what will be required to resist the enforcement of silence against all abusers. A loaded gun perhaps, though Blunt’s weapon was unable to kill the monsters on its own. Instead, it was their oldest daughter’s hearing aid, finely tuned, that weakened the invaders. If we may push this allegorical reflection a bit further—the tools necessary to defeat tyrannical silence are not a hearing aid alone, nor a lone gunman, but a hearing aid and a gun. That is—the most excellent form of free speech requires the ability to listen and to assert. The tyranny of “listening” (e.g., “Just shut up and listen”) and the tyranny of assertion (e.g., “facts don’t care about your feelings”) are both reductive, and only get at one side of the truth. To settle for sympathy vs. assertion is to marginalize someone. But A Quiet Place suggests a double competency. Surely the allegorical reading should stop here, yet in its own paradoxical way, there’s something here that makes sense. That in our own abuse, or perhaps even trauma, we, like the daughter, will only be ready to fight, if we first desire to listen so that we might hear the world as it truly is. The skills of listening and assertion at their best will produce both accurate factuality and autobiographical concern. To properly bear witness to evil and envision a prosperous future, we must become skillful in doing both.
A Quiet Place is Deeper than Its Intention
It is possible I’ve overreached on my interpretation. When I shared my interpretation of this film with a friend, he contested my points, with the simple rebuttal: “There’s no way John Krasinski, as a liberal, ever intended to combat ‘political correctness’ in his movie.” Perhaps he didn’t intend it. But doesn’t that make both the resonance with the film, and the backlash its received, all the more ironic? I think it's possible that Krasinski has sensed, even in the liberal backyard, an exhaustion from fencing out any who might speak against the status quo of the minority. Yet, in our rigorous demarcation, many have lost the ability to hear the world around them. Our world is longing for freedom, independence, and democracy. But A Quiet Place would seem to suggest a world that can’t help but cheer when a man and a woman, finding themselves hunted in a silence-enforced world, confront the silence to protect the vulnerable in order that they might speak.