Someone recently told me – “We cannot just tell people ‘don’t die’, we have to tell them living is worth it.” And in a world where you cannot talk, cannot listen to music out loud, cannot scream or cry out when confronted with the worst kind of pain or horror, because it would mean certain and painful death, it is not difficult to wonder if life in such a world would be worth living.
And yet, the human will to survive, live, and even thrive in the direst of situations is a force to reckon with. In John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, released in 2018, this force is on full display as we see a family of five living their lives in a world where making a sound is an invitation for danger. Things many of us take for granted – laughing, chatting, crying out loud – the very things that are part of a fulfilling life, are forbidden if one wants to live. The film follows the Abott family as a couple Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski), attempt to protect and provide for their three children (daughter Regan, who is congenitally deaf; and sons Beau and Marcus). It is incidentally, set in the year 2020. The family communicates mostly by sign language, and the film has very little spoken dialogue. The terrifying creatures cannot see, but hunt by sound, and have managed to annihilate populations.
The family traverses through the wilderness barefoot so as not to make a sound, sets up a home underground in the basement of their house. There is an eerie normalcy to their routine, even in this dystopia. At the beginning of the film, they are scouting a store to get supplies such as medicines and food. And later, we see them having dinner, a pregnant Evelyn making meals, doing the laundry and tracking her due date, the kids Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) playing a board game too.
But we also see just how prepared they are for the danger that surrounds them, and will come to their doorstep at the slightest lapse. We see Lee trying to repair an aid that will allow Regan to hear, but surrounding his workstation are also TV screens that show camera feeds from outside the house. He also has a radio transmitter which he uses to send SOS signals regularly, possibly to find other survivors. In the house, they have marked with paint even the places where they should place their feet so as to make the least sound and avoid floorboards creaking. Lee takes Marcus with him to learn how to hunt, lay traps – essentially ensuring that he has the skills to survive, even in this messed up world.
So strong is the need for survival that in one of the most powerful scenes, that unfolds towards the beginning of the film, Evelyn covers her mouth so that she doesn’t scream even as their youngest son, four-year-old Beau, is taken by one of the monsters after he turns on a toy rocket that starts beeping. The creature gets to Beau before Lee, who runs soundlessly but frantically towards Beau, but is too late. The fact that they cannot even scream or cry as a loved one is killed before their eyes is a testament not just to their helplessness, but also to an iron will that overpowers instinct even in the most fight or flight moments.
Emily Blunt does a stunning job as Evelyn who goes into labour, but cannot make a sound. Even here, the family has a contingency plan ready. She switches on a button that turns the lights surrounding the house red – an indication that she is in labour to Lee who is returning with Marcus from their foraging and hunting trip. The scenes where Evelyn has contractions, silently swallowing her pain to hide from the creatures that have entered the house after hearing the sound of a photo frame breaking, are truly intense.
The one time where she finally lets out a blood curdling yell is when Marcus sets off fireworks that the family in the corn fields around the house to distract the creatures with a louder sound – and it is truly cathartic, heart wrenching and terrifying to watch Evelyn find that one release as the fireworks mask her scream. It is just as tender to watch the only verbal dialogue between Lee and Evelyn after the baby is born and they are in the safety of the soundproofed basement. Evelyn touches her lips, as though not believing her own voice, something she has learnt to not use.
To raise a baby – who will cry and coo at his own fancy – may seem unfathomable. But the ingeniousness rooted in the will to carry on, in the hope for a better world, is perhaps signified best by how the family plans it: a wooden box to keep the infant in to mask his sound, equipped with oxygen supply. Above the crib, Evelyn hangs a toy, but instead of the traditional chimes, this one just has stuffed animals in the shape of fish.
The only time we see this desire to live perish is when Lee decides to sacrifice himself to attract the attention of the monsters that are trying to attack his children. The scene is emotionally charged, and ultimately drives home the message that while the world around them is dangerous, and compels them to control their basic instincts – such as screaming out of pain or fear – it is worth finding a way to live in because they have each other and care for each other.
A Quiet Place is not just a testament to how life finds a way in the most unprecedented of circumstances, but also of what drives us to do so. This perhaps comes across best in a scene where Marcus and Lee encounter an old man on their foraging trip. The frazzled and distraught looking man stands over the corpse of an old woman – possibly his partner – and he looks ready to scream, to attract the monsters’ attention, to call for his own death. He goes on to do exactly that, as a horrified Lee watches, one hand clamped on Marcus’s mouth, to drown his terrified screams. While the old man possibly lost his reason to live, the Abbott family's actions show that as long as we have connection to other people, or the hope of it, humans can find a way to live even in the bleakest of worlds.