The Weight of Silence

How do you survive in a world where you’re being hunted by blind monsters that […]

Sam Guthrie / 5.23.18

How do you survive in a world where you’re being hunted by blind monsters that possess a keen sense of hearing? According to the box office hit, A Quiet Place, you plan really well. You prepare, train, and pray that your children don’t make a sound, that life remains muffled, and you know where and when it’s safe to whisper.

In a post-apocalyptic world where a blind alien species has all but wiped out the human race, the Abbott family (parents played by real-life power-couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt) has created a muted world for their family on their rural farm. The parents have built a sound (monster)-proof lifestyle: walking paths are covered with sand, food is placed on soft lettuce instead of clunky plates, doors don’t slam, and children don’t laugh. Because of this altered lifestyle, life seems almost manageable: the home is decorated, pictures adorn the wall, and a garden is kept. Things that may not be considered in another post-apocalyptic universe are present, subtle reminders that this family still does exist; their livelihood a reluctance to the danger at large.

The problem however is that the danger is still out there, hunting, listening for any slip-ups in the family’s quiet place. And despite the sanctuary-like nature of the farm, the Abbott’s quiet place is established by fear, not by choice. Much to the chagrin of the family and to the delight of the thrill-seeking viewers, it doesn’t stay quiet for long. Even with a well-devised plan, rules to keep the family safe, and boundaries they dare not venture beyond, they fail at keeping their code of quiet.

Whether it’s a clumsy slip-up, an inconspicuous, protruding nail on the steps, or, I don’t know, the birth of a child, a quiet place cannot be kept. With each sound, the fuse of chaos is lit and order is tossed out the window. To be sure, the monster is terrifying. Like if the monster in Stranger Things evolved, you’d get the monster in A Quiet Place. And while the alien creatures are apt to provide the biggest scares and jumps for viewers, the silence itself is an anxiety-inducing time bomb just waiting to be triggered. Like a hunting dog, sound gives the hunter coordinates for its prey and viewers are left considering, “Which danger is worse?”

A Quiet Place keeps in line with some of the age-old motifs that play well to the genre: cornfields at night, a lurking alien monster, a spooky score, and a family in peril. But what propels A Quiet Place from good to great is what the directors succeed in doing with sound. Aside from the quasi-bombastic score, the film remains relatively quiet, going against the grain of your stereotypical alien movie. In a film where voices hardly rise above a whisper and communication happens predominantly through sign language, the very notion of a thriller/horror movie is flipped on its head. Director John Krasinski shares:

We knew that sound would not only be a main character, but it would be the character. It’s actually the thing that brings the entire movie together, but more than that, it became about adhering to rules—what sounds, literally, that the audience hears are too dangerous, which ones aren’t. It’s impossible to live silently, and we knew that, so we wanted to bring the audience through this idea of living as quietly of possible.

With sound, you never know exactly when it will occur. Whether it was a creak, scream, or crash, sound was determined to make itself known no matter what rules the Abbott family placed on it’s deathly potential. And while sound, or lack thereof, carried a foreboding weight, the rules of the family usually kept it under control. But with two young children and one on the way, restricting sound wasn’t a question of how, but for how long.

It didn’t happen often, but as a viewer, it was liberating to hear when silence was intentionally broken. And it was stirringly fitting that the cries of joy, despair, sacrifice, or new birth could not be suppressed by the law of silence. When Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) takes his son fishing, the boy is at first afraid they are being too loud. He sees the splashing and commotion as a death-wish and is visibly shocked when his dad begins to speak with him at a normal volume. But Lee kindly tells him that the rush and babbling of the water is louder than any noise they can make. This enables them to freely talk at conversational levels, splash in the water, make their way to a waterfall, and scream for joy under the protection of the crashing waves. The water is a place of safety and peace, if only momentarily.

In a world confined by silence, the family has to adapt to the situation at hand. Their code, not dissimilar to the codes and rules we keep for each other, is determined by if/then. If I do this, then the monsters won’t get me. If I maintain this lifestyle, routine, or practice, then I’ll be fine. But even with our routines, no matter how worthy or beneficial they may be, the monsters are still afoot. The laws we build around ourselves and others will eventually crack, tolling the bell for the enemy to seek and destroy. And when our frameworks are fractured, screams of despair and death are bound to follow; unable to be held in any longer. In A Quiet Place, the good news for the family (and for the world), is that the cry of sacrifice can’t be contained either. Where resolution comes out of sacrificial chaos, the Abbott’s quiet place is transformed from a place constructed by fear to a place rooted in confidence and hope.

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2 responses to “The Weight of Silence”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Beautifully written review of a fresh if stressful film. The cry of sacrifice, indeed! Thank you, Sam.

    (Also, bearing in mind that the pointing out plotholes is films like this is part of the fun, why didn’t they build their house next to the river?!)

  2. Alison Mary White says:

    The emotions I felt in their dance together with earbuds…sadness and joy and something else, all wrapped up together!

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