Was A Quiet Place meant to be political? John Krasinski said it wasn’t. So why did so many people read it that way? Just in time for A Quiet Place Part II, we dig into the unexpected political life of the first movie and the messages viewers heard in its silence.
In A Quiet Place, survival depends on not saying anything. The 2018 film and its 2020 sequel are built on a simple premise: Aliens have invaded Earth, killing anything that makes a sound.
It’s a story that’s told with next to no dialogue, but viewers seemed to hear a message anyway: According to some critics, the film is actually a political allegory for a culture where people feel they’ll be pounced on for saying what they really think. A Quiet Place saw a backlash from liberals who saw a right-wing commentary in this parallel to complaints of PC Culture, as well as in the film’s romanticized portrayal of the mythic American family; meanwhile, the film was championed by some conservative voices for the same reasons. But this loaded debate around A Quiet Place came as a surprise to its star and director John Krasinski, who said he never intended to tell a political story.
Since their inception, horror films have been seen as inherently political. They prey on the fears that lurk just beneath the surface of society. They turn our anxieties into literal monsters. And in the end, the real terror almost always turns out to be us.
A Quiet Place Part II, the story’s central family ventures out into a damaged community-at-large. And the second installment comes across as a parable for today’s contentious and divided climate, in which both sides paint the other as the enemy.
Emmett: “The people that are left. They’re not the kind of people worth saving.” – A Quiet Place Part II
But how did A Quiet Place end up becoming an ideological litmus test in the first place? Here’s our take on A Quiet Place’s unexpected political controversy, and why some viewers seem to have heard a message loud and clear, even in the silence.
Don’t Make A Sound
In one respect, A Quiet Place presents the Abbott family’s quiet life as an almost idyllic state — a meditative, monastic retreat from the horror that surrounds them. It’s one that anyone who is exhausted by the din of 24-hour news and social media chatter might find appealing.
But because this silence is being forced upon them, some interpret this as suppression. The Abbotts live in constant fear of being attacked just for speaking out—or for making any noise at all. It’s a complaint that’s become a familiar refrain from those who believe the world has become too politically correct—too full of “social justice warriors” who are ready to pounce at the first disagreeable sound.
Lee Abbott (signing): “Small sounds safe, big sounds not safe.” – A Quiet Place
Brian Raven Ehrenpreis wrote at Medium, “A Quiet Place is interested above all else in exploring the ways in which (white) conservatives today are being silenced.” And Clark Whelton, at the conservative City Journal, agreed, calling it “an allegorical retelling of the conquest of Western society by enforcers of political correctness.”
With the Abbotts’ simple, virtuous, and distinctly all-American way of life under constant threat from these outsiders, who even rob them of their freedom of speech, the film has been read by both liberal and conservative critics as a story about white victimhood.
The New Yorker’s Richard Brody pointed out that, when two characters—who are both white men—commit suicide by making enough noise to draw the monsters to them, “they do so by howling as if with rage…” the wordless equivalent of—
Howard Beale: ‘‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” – Network
At the same time, the feeling of not being able to speak freely doesn’t exist only for people on the right. Liberals may also feel stifled by the right’s equivalent to political correctness —“patriotic correctness” – which likewise dictates what’s not allowed to be said.
Who Are We?
When A Quiet Place first found its way to John Krasinski, he connected to the parenting themes at the heart of the story.
John Krasinski: “When I got the original script, we had just had our daughter three weeks before I was scared to keep her safe, scared to keep her alive, and all these things are in this movie.” – Hello Giggles Interview
As he would later elaborate to The Hollywood Reporter, “This is a movie about family. It’s a metaphor about what family is and the extremes you go to as a parent to protect your kids.”
Evelyn Abbott: “Who are we if we can’t protect them? Who are we?” – A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place’s focus on a single-family doesn’t sound political on the surface, but in fact, the idea of the American family is at the center of all our nation’s ideological debates. Sharing familiar concepts and imagery with other movies about alien invasions, or worlds transformed into ghost towns by contagions or zombies, at its root A Quiet Place taps into the universal fear of invasion – of having the sanctity of home violated by intruders. Holed up in their farmhouse, a merciless threat lurking just outside their door, the Abbotts’ situation harkens back to the days of pioneers living in the untamed west, fearing attack from Native American tribes. It’s a story that is steeped in foundational American myth.
In his article, “The Silently Regressive Politics of A Quiet Place,” New Yorker critic Richard Brody derided what he called this “survivalist horror-fantasy”– a depiction of the home as a fortress, to be secured at all costs. The Economist’s Nicholas Barber took it even further, saying that the film’s depiction of one, well-armed farmer fending off an entire alien threat fulfills “one of the fondest fantasies of Second Amendment obsessives.”
Both argued that the film plays directly into the paranoia that fuels so much of gun culture, as well as the old-fashioned idealization of the “good guy with a gun.”
A Quiet Place is immersed in a nostalgic vision of early American life that’s so often romanticized by conservatives. The Abbott family has even fallen back into conventional, patriarchal roles. The men do the hunting and fishing, while the women tend to the cooking, the chores, and child-rearing. The men are the protectors, and the women rely on them to be protected.
Evelyn Abbott: “He just wants you to learn to take care of yourself. So you can take care of me when I’m old and grey.” – A Quiet Place
In this old-fashioned tableau of Americana, we see familiar patriotic icons that have been symbolically shelved or stalled. The Abbotts’ old-fashioned, rural life is a reminder of an American dream that’s been deferred—destroyed by a threat that could stand-in for any number of existential fears that the country faces.
Those threats have also been read as moral ones. Some see a not-so-subtle endorsement of pro-life values in the Abbotts’ decision to have another baby, knowing full well that its existence would imperil their own (and endanger their existing kids). In The Washington Post, columnist Sonny Bunch hailed the film as “pro-life in the sense that it is pro-living life” – arguing that the Abbotts’ choice underscores the idea that life without family is no life at all.
Evelyn Abbott: “I could have carried him… I should have carried him.” – A Quiet Place
Catholic Bishop Robert Barron even deemed A Quiet Place “the most unexpectedly religious film of the year” for its pro-life messages, its depiction of faith, and ultimately, for the father’s Christ-like act of self-sacrifice to save his children.
Still, there are elements of A Quiet Place that could actually be read as progressive. In the end, it’s the mother and the daughter who emerge as the film’s true heroes. While Evelyn says she needs men to take care of her, time and again we see how strong and resourceful she is, how capable and tough. So, A Quiet Place really shows us that some of these surface old-fashioned family values are just a delusion. In the end, it is Evelyn who becomes her family’s protector.
Meanwhile, the monsters’ weakness is figured out by Regan, the Abbotts’ hearing-impaired daughter, who’s played by real-life deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. This young person, who represents a traditionally marginalized group, uses feedback from her hearing aid to fight the monsters. So she embodies the importance of embracing what’s different about you and unlocking potential in places that people tend to overlook. One of the big reasons the Abbotts have been able to survive at all is presumably because – unlike most families – they can communicate with each other via sign language. And the tide finally turns when Regan steps up to the mic, symbolically amplifying her signal.
Because the film can be read, either way, some—like Vox critic Aja Romano – have suggested that film is largely apolitical – that it resonates most with “a beleaguered and battered public, tired of fighting with each other, evading harassment from members of the opposite side of the political spectrum.” The Abbotts, Romano says, are “a nuclear family growing and becoming closer as a result of crisis, instead of being driven further apart.”
This theme finds its greatest expression in the relationship between Lee and Regan, whose inability to communicate creates misunderstanding and tension. Their situation reflects a world that feels more and more ideologically divided, Romano notes, but it also offers a reminder that we find our greatest strength in loving one another.
Lee Abbott (signing): “I have always loved you.” – A Quiet Place
This kind of unity seems achievable within a family, but in A Quiet Place Part II, the Abbotts, now led by a single mom, are confronted with the vicious outside world of hardened survivors. As Emily Blunt told Entertainment Weekly, the sequel is about “how far would you go to extend your hand to your neighbor?” She added that the film is dealing with “that fractured sense of community that we’re probably feeling on quite a global scale now.”
Naturally, that community that the Abbott family discovers is as divided as our own – and there is plenty to fear from “The Other.” Of course, exactly who those scary people are, and what sort of threats they represent, once again comes down to your own political interpretation.
So how did so many come away convinced of a subtextual political agenda Krasinski swears wasn’t there?
John Krasinksi: “I never saw it that way or ever thought of it until it was presented to me in that way… Again, my whole metaphor was solely about parenthood.” – Interview with Hollywood Reporter
Much of this reading has to do with context – our perception not only of the filmmaker’s intent but of the real world just outside the frame. Long before A Quiet Place, John Krasinski became famous as The Office’s Jim Halpert. Jim is a quintessential everyman, the smirking voice of reason amid so much cartoonish chaos. He’s a nice guy who longs for something better, unfailingly loyal to those he loves. And because we know so little about Krasinki’s character in A Quiet Place, the film relies greatly on this built-in affection viewers already have for him.
But in more recent years, Krasinski has sought to toughen his image. His movie roles have increasingly molded his trademark boy-next-door charm and all-American wholesomeness into something decidedly more rugged and aggressive.
The first hint of this transformation came in the 2016 film 13 Hours. For Michael Bay’s dramatization of the attacks on American ambassadors in Benghazi, Krasinski grew a manly beard and packed on 25 pounds of muscle to convincingly play a former Navy SEAL.
A few years earlier in 2011, he had actually screen-tested for Captain America. While he didn’t get the part, the fact he was even considered spoke to Krasinski’s action hero aspirations. Like Jim Halpert crossed with 24’s Jack Bauer, this Jack Ryan is an everyman taken to an action hero extreme. Many have found it’s a series that turns intelligence work into thrilling TV, but the Amazon series (like 13 Hours) has also been criticized for a simplistic, jingoistic portrayal of American interventionism. Some have even called it outright propaganda.
Krasinski didn’t see these projects as political either. Talking to The Daily Beast about 13 Hours, he said: “The truth is, we should all be proud of these guys, and the moment you politicize it, the more you’re moving us toward a world that I don’t want to be living in; a world where people want to score political points at all costs.” He took a similar tack toward the CIA.
John Krasinksi: “The CIA is something that we should all not only cherish but be saying thank you for every single day.” – Interview at Jack Ryan premiere
But while he tried to remain apolitical, a perception that Krasinski was becoming the face of red-blooded conservative ideals began to take hold.
In 2018, Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore dubbed Krasinski a “red state hero,” writing that his new, action-movie persona was just an evolution of the “nice guy” image Krasinski had honed on The Office. Jim’s sensitivity is still there, she writes – “it’s just been transmuted into anxiety – specifically, a white male anxiety about protecting what one has.”
That anxiety has been a dominant cultural theme ever since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, who has repeatedly stoked fears among white, middle-class Americans that their lives are being threatened by “The Other” – whatever form that takes.
As Vox’s Aja Romano noted, A Quiet Place is “the first major post-apocalypse film drawn entirely in the Trump era. It’s an age of unease that’s been a boon to the horror genre, inspiring movies that play on many of the latent problems that Trump’s presidency has brought to the surface: problems like toxic masculinity, wealth inequality, class warfare, and racism.
Dean Armitage: “By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could.” – Get Out
This has created a wave of films that have been popularly termed “social thrillers” by one of their most prominent voices, director Jordan Peele, who has popularized the form with his films Get Out and Us.
Jordan Peele: “I call it a social thriller… inspired by Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, these movies that are creepy, but humanity is the creepiest part, at the center of it.” – Interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
So in light of all this, it’s easy to see why so many would interpret A Quiet Place – released amid this wave of social thrillers, and starring America’s favorite everyman turned “red state hero” – as another political statement…even if that’s decidedly not what its creators had in mind.
Ultimately, the rather noisy debate around the nature of A Quiet Place’s silence demonstrates the limits of how much a creator’s intention matters. In the end, it’s what the audience takes from a piece of art that dominates its public narrative and what it means to people.
Todd Chavez: “But isn’t the point of art less what people put into it and more what people get out of it?” – Bojack Horseman 6x16
As A Quiet Place shows us, sometimes a film’s perceived message depends more on who’s listening, than what it’s actually saying.
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