This week I’ll look at how women are portrayed in the horror movie A Quiet Place.
(Find out more about 3 tests I’ll use to guide the conversation in Women, Men, and Movies or just read on.)
A family struggles to live in a silence in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters hunt and kill based on noise.
Spoilers: I’ve done my best not to spoil anything major that wasn’t shown in the previews, but if you want to remain completely spoiler-free you may want to watch the movie first and come back.
(Does a (named) female character talk to another named female character about anything other than a man?)
We never hear any of the characters’ names, so technically A Quiet Place could never pass the Bechdel Test. Because there's minimal spoken dialogue, though, and all five family members are named in the credits, I’ll treat each as a named character.
The family communicates mainly via sign language with subtitles. To keep it simple, unless it’s important, I haven’t split out sign language from spoken conversations. I did not count as conversations mere expressions, such as a nod or frown.
Who’s Talking To Whom
Women To Women:
The mother, Evelyn, talks to her daughter, Emily, once. They talk about:
- Marcus (Emily’s brother) being okay after Evelyn gives him medicine (1 line)
Men To Men:
The father, Lee, talks with son Marcus about:
- Lee’s relationship with daughter Emily
- Whether Lee can really protect the children
- When it’s safe to make noise or talk out loud
- Whether Marcus is safe
Lee talks to son Beau about:
- A toy rocket being too loud to keep
Women And Men:
Husband and wife Evelyn and Lee talk about:
- How Evelyn looks
- The upcoming birth of their fourth child
- The baby
- Where the children are
- Grief and guilt
- Whether they can protect their children
- The kids knowing how to survive
Children Emily and Beau talk about:
- Using a rocket to get away
Children Emily and Marcus talk about:
- Whether their dad will come and get them
- Being quiet
Evelyn (mom) and Marcus (son) talk about:
- Learning math
- That Lee (dad) will protect Marcus
- Marcus not wanting to go out fishing or outside with Lee
- Evelyn wanting Marcus to be able to take care of himself and of her when she’s old
Lee (dad) and Emily (daughter) talk about:
- Radio parts and signals
- Emily’s hearing
- Staying out of his workshop
- Emily wanting to go with to learn survival skills
- Emily staying with and helping her mother
- Whether Emily’s safe
- That Lee loves Emily
A Quiet Place fails the Bechdel Test. Also, while there are few conversations at all in the movie, the least talking (verbal or non-verbal) occurs between the two female characters.
Women v. Sexy Lamps
(can a female character be replaced by a sexy lamp without affecting the plot?)
Both Evelyn (mom) and Emily (daughter) play active roles in the plot. Emily gives her littlest brother a forbidden toy in the beginning, setting the stage for much of the movie. She also takes off at a key moment, leaving her mother more vulnerable that she otherwise would be. And she later finds ways to fight the monsters.
Because Evelyn is very pregnant during most of the film, she’s sidelined for a lot of it. All the same, she teaches her children, she manages many challenging tasks in silence, and she takes actions that are pivotal to the plot.
A Quiet Place passes the Sexy Lamp Test.
(does a female character have her own narrative arc that does not support a man’s story line?)
A little after the midpoint of A Quiet Place, Evelyn tells her husband he has to protect the kids. Before that, she talks about her son Marcus needing to learn survival skills to protect and take care of her.
While she also does things to protect her children and works hard to care for her family, her dialogue seems to default to the male family members being more responsible for protection despite that the daughter, Emily, looks to be five or six years older than her brother Marcus.
At the end, Evelyn becomes more active in fighting the monsters.
Emily starts out being engaged and active in protecting the family and surviving. She withdraws after a tragedy she partly contributes to. She reacts mostly with anger, and she fears her dad doesn’t love her.
By the end, however, she’s realized her dad does love her and rather than running away she fights.
I’m on the fence on whether the progression for Evelyn qualifies as a narrative arc. An arc requires growth and change.
While Evelyn is more active at the end, I’m not sure that comes from her growing and changing as a person rather than from a change in circumstance. For most of the movie she’s heavily pregnant, which limits what she can do. Also, I don’t quite believe that she sees the burden of protection as falling more on her husband and son overall, despite the screenwriters giving her lines that suggest it. We see her being very smart and capable throughout A Quiet Place, so it doesn’t feel like a significant change when she takes charge of the fight at the end.
Emily, though, changes both internally and externally. While that change relates to her dad, it is not supporting his story line but is her own arc.
A Quiet Place passes the Mako Mori Test.
Sexy Lamp: P
Mako Mori: P
Did I Like It
At first A Quiet Place drew me in. It’s an intriguing premise: How do you survive in a world where you can’t make any noise?
The ways the characters manage their daily lives, such as using leaves to hold food rather than plates, fascinated me. Also, I pretty much think Emily Blunt is amazing in any film she’s in. And I loved the ending.
Throughout A Quiet Place, though, logic and common sense kept getting in the way of my enjoying the story.
Based on the timeline we’re given, five or six months after the apocalypse and the discovery of the monsters who hunt based on noise Evelyn gets pregnant.
All I could think was wouldn’t preventing a pregnancy in this world be absolutely top priority? You can’t stop a baby from crying. All you’d be doing is having a baby to see it get attacked and killed and probably the rest of the family with it.
While some of the suspense comes from how the family will manage this challenge, it seems their plan is only for the day of the birth and a short time after. Hard to say what they imagined they’d do for the first couple years. (Try to make a two year old be quiet by asking nicely. And silently. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)
Along the same lines, it’s established early on that living underground is safer.
It's over a year after the apocalypse and empty buildings are everywhere, Yet the family lives mainly above ground. In an old house with creaky floors and stairs.
I understand no one wants to live below ground all the time. But it defies logic that they don’t do it most of the time, particularly with a baby on the way.
There are similar smaller issues that, for me, place the whole family solidly in the classic horror too-stupid-to-live trope, which made it hard to care what happened to them.
A Quiet Place also suffered from another common monster movie problem. Once the monsters are shown up close, they’re far less scary. After that happened, which was fairly early, my terror disappeared despite that I was watching alone in the dark.
I’m apparently in the minority, though.
After I finished watching the first time, I checked the reviews. To my surprise, most were great. On Rotten Tomatoes, A Quiet Place has a 95% score.
So, if you haven’t seen A Quiet Place and are thinking of it, you may very well enjoy it.
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