CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST
I was skeptical. I am notoriously picky about movies, and one of my many rules is no horror films. I find no pleasure in being scared and am only disturbed by stories in which the emphasis is so heavily on the evil, often without a correspondingly strong good.
So, when originally asked to watch “A Quiet Place,” my impulse was first “please, no, but heck no” then “maybe, I’ll think about it, if…”
A few weeks later, I agreed but only if we watched it alone so that no one else would witness me making a complete fool of myself. After repeated warnings and assurances, I was hyped for the most terrifying 90 minutes of my life. Armed with candy, blankets and soda, I was ready.
As it turns out, it really wasn’t that scary. Instead of being scared out of my mind, I was blown away, not by the terrifying monsters or heart-pounding jump scares on the screen but by the beautiful heroism and heart-wrenching sacrifice there portrayed.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, “A Quiet Place” chronicles the struggles of a family to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Earth is now overrun by beasts whose unparalleled hearing enables them to track the smallest sound from miles away and whose lightning speed, ferocious claws and killing instincts make them nearly inescapable. Unable to make the smallest sound, the few survivors live and work in complete silence; the smallest daily tasks, the most mundane chores are now dangerous, heroic feats.
And with every sound in effect a death knell, this family is about to welcome a new baby.
Babies are not quiet.
Catholic film critics far better than I have noted the biblical parallels and monastic symbolism of the film as well as its fundamentally pro-life plot. What strikes me most strongly, however, is the beauty of the family roles undertaken by the on-screen parents.
In a world forced back to the basics, their daily tasks, sacrifices, fears and heroics are unabashedly gendered.
While all is, um, quiet, the father is the provider and protector. It is his duty to leave their sanctuary, to hunt, scavenge and see to the defenses, and he passes these skills — and his courage — on to his son.
Meanwhile, the mother works in the home, but I would love to hear anyone argue that her work is degrading or that she is not an equal contributor. She painstakingly cleans, cooks and teaches in complete, agonizing silence, and she encourages her daughter in the patience and forbearance she herself has learned.
Neither husband nor wife is more important to the family’s survival. Neither claims precedence. Rather, both work for each other’s good with unceasing love.
As the action picks up, these gendered roles are further emphasized. The man must become an active protector when his worst fear is realized and disaster strikes while he is gone and unprepared. He must test his courage and use the hunting and survival skills he has honed to rescue those he loves. His virtues and skills are uniquely fitted to his challenge.
The mother must also call upon the strengths she has carefully cultivated: to suffer silently, to bear and forbear with courage, to protect her child. As a woman, I can think of absolutely nothing more terrifying than giving birth alone, in the dark, while monsters sensitive to every sound stalk my home waiting to find and kill me and my child.
Only because these characters have cultivated the virtues most proper to their masculine or feminine genius are they prepared for this battle.
But holiness is without gender, and all are called to the same sainthood. Having proven their heroism in ways natural to them, they are supernaturally tested. In their moments of crisis, the father must bear pain for his children, and the mother must hunt to kill.
All of this played out on screen during those 90 minutes my roommate and I sat huddled on her bed. I did in fact cry — but not from fear.
Yes, “A Quiet Place” is frightening, but it is also inspiring, poignant and beautiful, especially when viewed with the Church’s teachings on marriage, family and gender in mind.
No, it is not for everyone, but if you’re up for a viewing, call me up — ‘tis the season for scary movies! We’ll have popcorn during and nerdy conversation afterward …
And I promise to warn you before the jump scares.