By William Sullivan
May 13, 2018
John Krasinski’s newest film, A Quiet Place, is performing well at the box office. As a horror movie fan, this is reason for optimism, because it signifies that more films like it might be produced. The movie is fairly original, tightly-paced at a sleek 90 minutes, well-acted, and uncomfortably scary.
But the film doesn’t rely upon cheap tricks alone to scare audiences. The emotional response elicited by the film derives from the most primal and common of human feelings shared by the audience.
It makes for an interesting observation to note that while the depiction of realistic human characters on screen may have endeared so many to the film, it has also caused some on the left to become bothered by the way the realism on screen conflicts with the unrealistic world which they imagine exists.
(Some spoilers follow.)
The film follows a family living in Iowa after an invasion of deadly creatures which will attack anything creating loud sounds. The family, therefore, exists in this post-apocalyptic world in silence, scouring a grocery store for provisions in the opening scene.
It is one of the more interesting and engaging openings I’ve seen in a horror film. There is little verbal exposition. You know they are a loving family, and you know nearly everything about the world around them following this scene. As we learn more about the family’s home life, however, we find the first of the left’s problems with the film.
The film depicts the family in the “quaint traditionalism” of the “White American family,” as Damien Straker lays out in his review. It’s all too Norman Rockwell for him -- the holding of hands to “pray before eating” at the farmhouse, and the “slow dance” of a mother and father in love as they exist within desperate circumstances.
Straker also laments the “conventional gender roles” employed in the film. The father as the hunter, provider, and protector. The mother is cast in the role of the nurturer and the foundation of home life.
The left has a problem with this arrangement, because in challenges the gender-neutral world that they imagine exists. Reversing the roles to advance that silly gender-neutral worldview might have been a less “conventional” choice which would have satisfied some leftist critics, but not a realistic one within the world created by the film.
This dichotomy of the mother and father has been the reality of the natural human condition, and the arrangement which has sustained the nuclear family for millennia – and particularly, in times without all the industrial and technological advances that we enjoy today. Progressive feelings do not change that fact. And thankfully, the movie observes that reality rather than conflating it by injecting more modern, “progressive” sensibilities.
Then we have the film’s second infraction -- that the mother is pregnant and chooses to bring her screaming, helpless baby into the world, rather than aborting the child or having practiced extreme birth control efforts. Esther Zuckerman gripes at Cosmopolitan that she “kept wondering why these two were having another kid in the first place… did they truly think through what that means for their two surviving kids?”
This one is even more confounding than the first. Even if we were to accept the premise that human beings are nothing more than creatures existing alongside all the others in the animal kingdom, the most primal impulse among humankind would still be the proliferation of human life. The adults of the film are clearly more than animals, however, as they seek to instill higher values in their children and educate them about the inherited wisdom humanity has achieved (i.e., reading, writing, mathematics, moral principles, etc.).
Director John Krasinski, in a way, addresses this “gripe.” When he received the script for the film, he says, he had just had a daughter weeks before. He was in the “terrifying new phase of parenthood” that many parents know well. “I was scared to keep her safe, scared to keep her alive, scared about whether or not I was a good enough person to be her father. And all these things are in the movie.”
He goes on to say that, while he’s happy the film is received as a “scary movie,” he says the film is really “a love letter to my kids. This is truly a story about ‘What would you really do for your children in order to protect them?’ The family stuff is so emotional for me.”
What, indeed, would you have done for your children? Wouldn’t the very first thing you would have done been to prepare for their arrival in the world in the best way you knew how, rather than ending their lives in the womb or never conceiving them, as the characters in his film do?
I have a hard time believing that Krasinski meant for the movie to exhibit a pro-life message. But it’s unmistakably there, accidental or not.
Then there’s the final straw for the left – the family’s reliance upon a gun. As Richard Brody writes in the New Yorker, the movie “disgorges its entire stifled and impacted ideological content” when Emily Blunt sobbingly asks of her husband, “Who are we if we can’t protect [our children]?”
Brody writes of his displeasure in “the rustic farmhouse” turning into a “visual fortress” where the “stash of firearms” is “the ultimate game changer, the ultimate and decisive defense against home intruders.”
Indeed, the last line of defense, and ultimately the salvation of the family, lies not only in human ambition, intelligence, and a bit of luck (all things that our forebears might have referred to as Providence), but also the very prominent use of a gun to defend their lives against their attackers. And in this, nothing could be closer to our reality.
So yes, it’s a pro-Second Amendment movie. It’s a pro-life movie. And it’s a pro-traditional-family-values movie. It’s highly unlikely that the filmmakers sought to make a movie that broadly expressed the absolute value in those virtues such that it would broadly appeal to conservatives. But it does.
And, perhaps because of this broad appeal, the movie is now expected to surpass $250 million in global box office sales this week.
And this leads to my other reason for optimism, in terms of the culture.
Jimmy Kimmel quipped at the Academy Awards that “We don’t make movies like Call Me by Your Name to make money, we make them to annoy Mike Pence.” The movie he cites, a film about a homosexual love affair between a 24-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy, earned only $40 million in the global box office, despite all the self-congratulatory fanfare among the Hollywood elite.
But A Quiet Place shows that movies about the reality we all share and observe, not just movies about the left’s preferred conception of a reality which has never existed, can still be made, and made well, in Hollywood. And despite Kimmel’s silly quip, I believe that Hollywood still likes money enough to keep making them for us from time to time, however accidental the more conservative messaging within them might be.
William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.