I love this movie! It isn’t for everyone. It’s a Danish film with subtitles. But for those of us who grew up with a Christian ascetic/holiness environment, this film is a beautiful and moving corrective. We tend to deny ourselves the fruits of God’s grace thinking that this will somehow please God more. And yet even in our stubborn refusal to receive all that he has given, He still keeps giving more and More.
One of my favorite experiences in Rome was exploring the Basilica of Saint Clement. Tami and I stumbled upon it in the few blocks between our room and the Colosseum. But as it seemed a fairly ordinary church for Rome, built around 1100, we passed by it a number of times before noticing a sign on the door inviting tourists to see what lay below. After descending a staircase some twenty feet down, we emerged amid the mosaics and fading frescoes of a fourth century church. More than the fact that it lay under the above church told us it was ancient. Rather than the renaissance realism found in the art above, the iconography here had a cartoonish quality typical of Ancient Rome. The church had clearly been in use a long time. At sometime in its history, several walls had been added by stacking ruble in the empty spaces between once decorative pillars. But centuries of debris outside eventually raised the ground level, entombing this space in subterranean silence. And yet it wasn’t the only building resting beneath the 12th century church.
We descended another set of stairs and entered the oldest building constructed on this spot, a series of twisted passageways and dimly lit rooms quite unlike the two churches above it. Here some thirty feet down, we could hear the sound of an underground stream echoing in its halls. To our left, we found the walled up archway that once opened to the street. And around the corner, the reason for the building, a room containing a large block of marble carved with a man grabbing a bull by the horns. It was an altar dedicated to the god Mithra. And on both sides was a typical Roman dining bench where the members of this cult would recline to share a meal in dedication to their god. All of this was destroyed in Rome’s Great Fire of 64AD and filled in.
Most martyrs don’t die because they want to. They’re propelled by their faith to a place from which they can find no escape. Most trusted God for a better life and would have lived on if they could. But instead, the beautiful promise which encouraged them on ends broken not just in their body but also their soul. There’s no immediate glory in that, just an emptiness, a hope left unfulfilled.
I can hear their hurt in Revelation 6. “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘Oh Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell in the earth? Then they were given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
They address God ”Sovereign Lord, holy and true” but its partly a challenge and a lament. “This is who you said you’d be and yet you haven’t been!” In the same way, there’s pain and fear in their asking, “How long?” “We believed in you once can we believe in you now!?! We had hopes for a future, a better world than the box of bones we’re living in now. We trusted your promises! Are you going to come through? Are you going to pay out the promises which cost us our lives?”
“A little longer” is all that is said.
I’m no martyr but I identify with the hurt. I’ve been propelled on by God’s promises to a place from which it seems I can find no escape. The dreams I had are daily being broken, left unfulfilled in the passage of time. And I feel at times like Thomas A’Kempis, the author the Imitation of Christ, who awoke one day to find himself buried in his own coffin. Wait, this isn’t how it was suppose to go! And like him, I’ve clawed so fiercely at my chamber walls that my nails have broken off bloody in the boards. Am I suppose to be at peace with it? Do saints die clinging to life like this, calling God out on his unfulfilled promises? It seems so. Remember the words of Jesus, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”
“A little longer.”
I hope so.
This is A Quiet Place, the film that tells the story of the Abbott family who find themselves living among monsters that hunt and kill everything they hear. To stay alive, the Abbotts must keep quiet and that silence makes for a unique film experience. With so little sound and spoken dialogue, we also, like this family, become aware of everything WE hear.
But the true heart of A Quiet Place goes beyond unique premise and experience with sound, to the way it deals with the concept of listening.
At the very beginning of the film, Father Lee Abbott tells his youngest son to listen – without ever making a sound, setting up a clear contrast between this word and its literal sense. Listening here isn’t about opening the ear to sound but rather about openings the heart to a message.
And heeding the message is what Lee’s children fail to do. His son fails to listen and is quickly killed by the monsters. While Lee’s oldest daughter, Regan, plays a role in her brothers death, giving him the toy that her father warned him against. She is literally and figuratively deaf, a threat to herself and her families survival which her father works to overcome for the rest of the film.
Like the best horror films, A Quiet Place has plenty of frights even as uses them to express deeper and more universal anxieties. And it’s the focus on what’s truly at stake which makes this film so special. Rather than lingering on the macrabe, A Quiet Place often feels more like a Norman Rockwell painting, with long stretches of peace and quiet, in which we’re invited to meditate on this otherwise idyllic family life. And it’s the ideal nature of this life which points to its representative quality. The Abbott’s aren’t just one family; they represent all families, what it means to be a family. It’s thus the things which threaten the peace and survival of family, diversion and death, which we find personified in the monsters. A symbolic role which is made evident in the climax of the film when for the first time we’re shown news articles referring to them as “angels of death”. The monsters represent and define the boundaries of life, killing anything that transgresses them. And it’s Lee’s role, as a father, to teach his kids to live by remaining within these boundaries. His name, Lee, means “the sheltered or protected side.” This is why the film shows him leading his family in a single file line and setting up safe – quiet pathways in which they can walk. And most significantly, it’s why he makes his daughter a new hearing aid.
The hearing aid symbolizes Lee’s correction and vicarious protection, his instruction which must be heeded in order to work. But Regan thinks it won’t work. And even though Three times we’re shown it working as the monsters’ singular weakness. She remains unaware of its power. All she knows is that it hurts. In trying to open his daughter’s ears, Lee only serves to remind her of the role she played in her brother’s death. She perceives her father’s efforts as him not liking who she is. And the third time she experiences the pain, she shuts it off completely
This is the true problem posed by the film. How do parents open their children’s ears to what pains them to hear?
The answer is found in Lee’s sacrificial love for his children.
Lee cries out to draw the monsters away but also to open his daughters ears, echoing the old man’s suicidal cry for loss of his wife and Evelyn’s life giving cry in birth. By these comparisons, the film suggests that a father in sacrificing his life for his kids undergoes a similar labor and delivery. And it’s Regan’s recognition and embracing of her father’s ear which symbolizes her new birth.
Regan not only listens she turns what she’s heard into something others can hear. And it’s this act which defeat the monsters. That… and her dad’s good old fashioned shotgun.
A Quiet Place is far more than a horror film; it’s a family film, intended to draw parents and kids together. Kids are meant to realize the reason for their parents instructions while parents are reminded that to open their children’s ears requires a love without condition.