In conversation about classic films, it seems like someone always says, “They just don’t make movies like they used to.” Except they do. Increasingly.
We have superhero films today that rival any blockbuster from the past. We’re singing along with musicals like La La Land and The Greatest Showman—films that don’t hide their appreciation and appropriation of famous musicals from the past.
If you enjoy Alfred Hitchcock movies (and I do—the critics are right to hail Vertigo as the greatest film of all time), you will like A Quiet Place, a thriller directed by and starring John Krasinski (Jim from The Office) and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. The setting is a rural farmhouse, after a worldwide invasion of blind aliens who pounce on anything that makes a noise. A young family tries to survive under the tyranny of fearful silence.
A Quiet Place isn’t a horror movie that assaults you with gory images. It’s in line with the Hitchcockian formula of leaving the worst to your imagination, quietly stepping up the suspense until you’re overwhelmed by dread for what the characters might encounter. Silence matters for the movie, but also for the viewer. One can hardly munch on popcorn or slurp down soda when the stakes are so high!
But the real resonance of A Quiet Place is not in its suspenseful storytelling, but in the fundamental realities that undergird the film. When society collapses, what is left? A family forced to defend their home.
This isn’t a movie for young kids, but at its core, it’s a family film. It’s about a family whose members are fiercely devoted to each other, a dad and mom, brother and sister—all with a role to play in the family’s survival.
Unfortunately, some critics are blasting the film for the very reasons it has received an enthusiastic reception. Writing for The New Yorker, Richard Brody laments the movie’s “silently regressive politics” and says the film’s success is “a sign of viewers craving emptiness, of a yearning for some cinematic white noise to drown out troubling thoughts and observations with a potently simple and high-impact countermyth.”
In other words, moviegoers have chosen to be entertained rather than to engage better with the troubles of our times. To which I say: Since when has this not been the case? From Depression-era films until today, people have always looked to Hollywood for relief from real life and escape into a fantasy world of well-told stories. What’s the alternative? Must all films be engineered around “troubling thoughts and observations” or to further political causes?
The criticisms keep coming. A Quiet Place is a “fantasy of survivalism” starring a bearded white man with a rifle, next to his wife and children. Brody sneers at the traditional division of labor evident in the film’s depiction of the woman taking responsibility for most of the domestic work, while the husband and son are shown hunting, gathering, and protecting.
But haven’t most societies throughout history (and even today) divided up labor based on the particular skills and strengths inherent in men and women? Only in an imaginary paradise of progressive pronouns are fundamental differences between men and women erased. In the real world, the complementary gifts of men and women cannot be ignored or overlooked. When society collapses, the differences come to the surface because men and women need each other’s particular gifts in order to survive.
Another problem for the critic is that it the film is full of “stifled and impacted ideological content,” because the desire of parents to protect their children appears to justify the transformation of a farmhouse into a fortress with a stash of firearms. Here we have the “idealistic elements of gun culture,” Brody says, that give voice to the roots of white working-class rage. He concludes:
“Whether the Abbotts’ insular, armed way of life might put them into conflict with other American families of other identities is the unacknowledged question hanging over ‘A Quiet Place,’ the silent horror to which the movie doesn’t give voice.”
“Stifled ideological content”? The only stifling here is me trying to hold back laughter. How is it that a husband and wife’s decision to focus their attention and protection on their immediate family is “insular” and a “silent horror”? This aversion to self-defense in this context only makes sense if you believe in a world in which love for those in your closest circle translates into apathy or disdain for everyone else.
Contrary to progressive pieties, it is not “regressive” to see a family banding together to preserve peace for themselves in a hostile world. It is not regressive to see men and women leaning on each other in different ways and taking up different tasks. It is not regressive to prioritize your family over the rest of the world, or to take up a rifle and fire at the enemy in front of you out of love for the child behind you.
These features are not regressive; they are irrepressible. A Quiet Place strips away the layers of civil society to showcase fundamental realities at the heart of humanity. When society is imperiled and culture crumbles, we’re left with that unbreakable triangle of mother, father, and children. And we’re inspired by the self-sacrifice that is the true hallmark of heroism.
The realities shown in A Quiet Place aren’t a throwback to old times, but a description of all times. Don’t believe the critics. This is one of the best suspense films in the past 20 years.