The following contains minor spoilers.
John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place has become the critical and commercial darling of the cinematic world.
Currently holding a 96% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, this tight and tense thriller exceeded its box office predictions to an opening weekend of $50 million, making it the #1 film of the weekend and 2nd biggest opening of the year behind Black Panther.
A Quiet Place succeeds in large part because its story touches on topics and themes that transcend the film’s storyline. It’s not just a self-contained horror film. A closer examination of the film opens up a poignant and emotional commentary on the fear, anxiety, and pressure that plagues the modern, 21st-century family.
IF THEY HEAR YOU, THEY HUNT YOU
The film depicts a family of four trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where sonically-sensitive creatures have arrived on Earth and attack humans at even the slightest sound. In order to survive, the family is forced to live in silence and communicate nonverbally through American Sign Language.
Regan Abbott, the daughter, is deaf which provides the family with the ability to communicate nonverbally through sign language.
Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck), the actress who plays Regan, is deaf in real-life. Director Krasinski reportedly pushed to cast a deaf actress.
PARENTING IN THE AGE OF ANXIETY
Director John Krasinski, who co-wrote and stars in the film, has admitted he wasn’t much of a horror enthusiast going into the production. “Scaredy cat, I think is the technical term,” he recently said when asked if he was big into horror.
So what drew Krasinski to the original script?
He viewed the premise as a metaphor for a parent’s worst fears. “The scares were secondary to how powerful this could be as an allegory or metaphor for parenthood. For me, this is all about parenthood,” he told CBS News.
It is a stressful time to be a parent. In the past twenty years, parents have been raising children in the era of mass school shootings, 9/11 and the war on terrorism, a financial crisis that led to the global recession, and other domestic and world events that note how much the world has changed since they were children. The message bombarding adults is “the world is not a safe place.”
This has greatly contributed to anxious adults and anxious parenting.
“I was experiencing a lot of the things the father was experiencing in the movie: ‘Can I keep this girl safe? Am I a good enough person to be her father?’ This felt like the most personal movie I’ve ever made,” he told USA Today. Seeing that Krasinski is married to his co-star Emily Blunt in real life with two daughters, Krasinski claims he rewrote the script to better reflect this.
Endless stories about terrorism, bullying, suicide, and other upsetting topics reinforce parents’ beliefs that the world is scary, uncertain, and super competitive. And parents have been downloading their anxieties into their kids.
But are all these fears rational? How much of today’s worries are exaggerated and how many points to legitimate concerns? Dr. Dave Verhaagen is a licensed psychologist and author of Parenting the Millennial Generation: Guiding Our Children Born between 1982 and 2000.
Dr. Verhaagen has written about how much of parental fear and worries are exaggerated when compared to facts and statistics. He points to data that shows that violent crime, youth crime, and murder rates have all been steadily declining.
But try telling today’s parents that things aren’t as bad as they seem.
THE WORLD OF PARENTING IS STRESSFUL
What is a parent to do when they believe the world is a scary and unsafe place? They tend to over-protect and over-parent. They prevent their children from experiencing scary situations and minimize the growth that occurs when dealing with adversity, challenges, and disappointment.
America has become a child-centric culture. The parenting paradigm has been turned upside down. David Lancy is a professor emeritus at Utah State University. He is the author of The Anthropology of Childhood, a book The New York Times praised as the best parenting book one could read.
In an interview for Psychology Today, Lancy noted that in most societies around the world, kids are on the bottom of the social ladder of importance. This is heavily contrasted with American culture, where kids’ needs and desires are put first, above parents and adults.
KIDS TODAY ARE STRESSED AND ANXIOUS
Teenagers are the most stressed-out age group in the U.S. Roughly 30% of girls and about 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Teens are also struggling with record levels of depression.
This generation of young folks has grown up in an era of “instant gratification.” This has led to a decrease in what therapists call frustration tolerance and how we handle upsetting situations.
“Parents have been downloading their anxieties into their kids.”
And yet, only 30% of depressed teens are being treated for it, and only 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment.
THE PRESSURE TO BE PERFECT AND THE FEAR OF FAILURE
Our culture is in great need of resiliency and grit. Today’s generation is struggling to bounce back from setbacks, disappointments, and adversity. Parents, school administrators, and mental health professionals have observed today’s kids are not equipped to problem-solve or self-advocate.
But one vital ingredient to developing resiliency is failure.
In the world of A Quiet Place, one mistake usually means death. So how do you grow without the risk of failure? By nature, taking a risk means you might fail. If you couldn’t fail, then there is no risk. Because of this, the very act of taking a risk begins to cultivate mental and emotional toughness. The willingness to put yourself out there is a mindset that leads to great resilience.
“The very act of taking a risk begins to cultivate mental and emotional toughness.”
A GENERATION OF AVOIDERS AND ISOLATORS
How are people responding to the pressures of perfection and the fear of failure?
Young adults are becoming adept at “avoiding” any thoughts or actions related to the future. An “avoider” uses a defense mechanism to put off tomorrow what needs to be done today.
Noah Jupe’s character, Marcus, epitomizes how fear immobilizes young people.
Having been traumatized by the events early on in the film, Marcus anxiously pleads with his parents to not go out into the world with his father. Unlike his sister Regan, Marcus doesn’t trust that simply being ‘quiet’ will protect them from the creatures.
Avoidant behavior is a strategy for failure. Over time, avoiders doubt if they really can make it on their own, take risks or individuate in the increasingly competitive society.
“One vital ingredient to developing resiliency is failure.”
And what is a parent to do? By this point, the fear of failure has resulted in over-involved parenting and created furious accommodators. They are furious both in the magnitude of accommodating their children and the growing resentment toward their child.
According to Dr. Stephanie O’Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and author of “Parenting in the Real World: The Rules Have Changed.” Failure is good for kids on several levels. O’Leary says a parent’s “willingness to see your child struggle communicates that you believe they are capable and that they can handle any outcome, even a negative one.”
THE WORLD OUTSIDE IS TOO SCARY
The pressure to avoid mistakes has contributed to a surge in shame related to failure.
Somewhere along the way, teens adopted all-or-nothing and catastrophic thinking about the outcome of everyday failures. One mistake, meaning anything other than perfection, can feel crushing to teens, bringing a basic sense of shame.
“How do you keep your children safe? The real answer is you can’t.”
The mere thought of making a mistake can trigger shame and keeps them feeling like they aren’t doing enough to secure success. The compulsion to do “one more thing” is unrelenting, as teens hope for the relief of “making it” to arrive after the next hurdle is crossed.
Lancy remarked in his Psychology Today interview how in generations past:
“Parents had the attitude that as long as the kids are healthy and decently put together and seem to be OK, leave them alone, they’re fine, they’ll turn out just fine. Turning out just fine is not a satisfactory objective for middle and upper-middle-class parents today. The kids have to be optimized. They must achieve everything they’re capable of achieving.”
This parenting shift has resulted in what he coined “enforced emotional retardation.”
In A Quiet Place, the stakes are always high, but it’s no longer about academic achievement. You won’t have to worry about your unknown future if you’re too loud. You’ll be ripped apart before you even know what’s happening.
How do you raise children, and keep them safe, when any noise will mean their destruction?
PARENTING IN THE WORLD OF ‘A QUIET PLACE’
Like the parents that Blunt and Krasinski portray, today’s parents are scared of failing their children. All parents have the inclination to protect their kids from threat, hurt, and mistakes.
How do you keep your children safe? The real answer is you can’t. But, the world isn’t as scary as our culture would lead us to believe. And chances are, the harder parents try to shield their children from the challenges of everyday life, the likelier well-intentioned parents will end up hurting their kid’s growth.
The terror of A Quiet Place comes from the idea that trying too hard may still not be good enough.
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