"Who are we if we can't protect them?"
2018 gave us not one but two surprise smash horror hits
about an apocalyptic scenario revolving around one of our five senses
Bird Box, in which people have to forego sight,
and A Quiet Place, in which they have to live without making a sound.
Both movies are compelling as visceral, almost interactive experiences.
We subtly participate in the attempt to live blind or quietly.
"People really feel that this is an experience,
that it's not just a movie, you're actually going through something with this family.
It feels almost like a virtual reality or something."
But the similarities go far deeper than the sensory element.
“That’s really what this movie is kind of about.
It’s a giant metaphor for parenthood.”
“It’s a metaphor for motherhood,"
Ultimately both are allegories of parenting.
These movies are looking at how parenting is an experience of fear.
Whether the terrors are age-old, specific to today’s society,
or part of an apocalyptic future,
the fundamental challenge of parenting is learning to manage the fear.
To be a competent parent is to ensure your child’s survival.
But to be a great parent,
is to do this while offering your child more than just a life of panic and avoiding
"I have so much I want you to see."
So, here's our take on what Bird Box and A Quiet Place have to say
about the anxieties of modern parenting, and how to raise kids well
when you may be facing end times.
“Oddly, this came about when my kids said 'why don’t you make something for us.'
So, I now realize they were talking about something animated or marvel."
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On the most basic level, Bird Box and A Quiet Place
are about the universal, time-old fear that is becoming responsible
for a vulnerable mini-human being.
The heightened dangers in these stories dramatize the underlying terror
any parent feels anyway.
"I love you so much, I love you so much I love you so much.
I love you so much."
Krasinski started making A Quiet Place
soon after having his second daughter with Emily Blunt,
so he channeled his own fears into the movie.
“I was in that new parenthood phase of being actually terrified
that I could keep my daughter safe and keep her alive,
and making sure we were doing everything we could as parents,
and that’s exactly what this movie is all about.”
Both stories center on a woman who is pregnant in the worst possible circumstances.
From the first moment we observe that Evelyn is expecting,
we're filled with a visceral anxiety-
how on earth is she supposed to give birth without making a sound?
And oh yeah, after that there's the small hitch
of persuading a newborn baby not to cry?
Sandra Bullock’s Malorie is a reluctant parent to begin with-
in denial about what’s growing inside her
"I never slept well before this... condition."
"It's called pregnancy, it's okay to say it out loud."
"Oh don't you know doctor, that if you don't acknowledge a thing,
it simply goes away."
After disaster strikes, we start to participate
in the terror she was already feeling about raising a tiny life
"You're having a baby Mallory."
Malorie’s journey of coming to acknowledge that she can do this-
that’s she’s up to the impossible task that being a mom is -
feels like a stand-in for any woman’s struggle to overcome her self-doubt
as she transitions into motherhood.
Watching these women go into labor without trained medical professionals,
let alone the drugs, and while somehow evading supernatural monsters-
gives us renewed respect for how incredible it is to
bring life into this world in any circumstances.
"It's a boy."
From that point on, as with parenting in general,
it pretty much just gets harder for these women.
"Give me the children, or I'll take them."
Yet, they rise to the occasion, and then some.
Both movies also feature a father figure who sacrifices himself to save his kids,
in a moving expression of total love.
"Go, go, go, go."
For Krasinski, this sacrifice is the core of what motivated him
in directing A Quiet Place
“This is weirdly a love letter to my daughters.”
We might also read into the fact that Krasinski made A Quiet Place
after fathering his second child-
he portrays the anxiety of caring for more than one kid-
the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions,
the fear that you’ll let one down while attending to another.
"I was carrying the bag...
But my hands were free."
"You have to stop."
"I'm sorry, I couldn't carry him."
In Bird Box, this conflict of choosing between your children
is even made literal: “One of you is gonna have to look.”
So these characters are processing exaggerated versions of anxieties
all parents feel.
“How do I keep this girl safe?
How do I keep her alive?
Am I a good enough person to be her dad?
All of these bigger conversations are happening in this movie.”
But by the end, these mothers and fathers accomplish superhuman feats.
These movies are telling us that- despite our doubts-
parenthood brings out a strength we didn’t know we had.
"You have to protect them.
Promise me, you will protect them."
It has the potential to make heroes of us all.
"and I am their mother."
Another interpretation of these films is that they depict the hyper-perfectionist,
paranoid parenting environment of upper-middle-class Western society.
So rather than illustrating what parenting could become in an apocalyptic tomorrow,
in this reading, these films are symbolic representations
of what parenting already is, today.
"We don't want the boys to be getting mixed up with the wrong crowd."
Some have viewed Malorie as an example of the Tiger Mom.
"Listen to me, I'm only going to say this once.
We are going on the trip now, it's going to be rough
The ultra-strict mother as popularized in Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
"School is too easy.
You need to make school more challenging or else my son will fall
She embodies the mindset that you have to be hard on your kids
even mean, if that’s what it takes, because the world will be even harder.
The first time we see Malorie, the power of this scene
is that we hear her speaking before we see who she’s talking to.
“Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold.
If I find that you have, I will hurt you.
Do you understand?"
When the camera cuts to her audience, we have an immediate reaction-
because, in polite society, this not how a mother
is supposed to speak to her children,
“If you look, you will die?
Do you understand?"
But in Malorie’s world, and in the tiger-mom mindset,
it’s necessary to put the fear of God into your kids-
to make them listen by any means necessary,
"You have to do everything I say or we will not make it.”
because the alternative is that they’ll get eaten alive
by a hyper-competitive, ruthless society.
"I've mapped out all of the classes and experiences you boys need to be successful, and lead good
For her performance, Bullock channeled that total fear a parent feels
when their child’s safety is threatened.
"Because you never let yourself get to that place
unless you’re really scared...
If your child runs out into the street you don't go, ya know, get back here,
you go 'what the [bleep] are you doing?!
Get over here.
And in both stories, we see a reflection of today’s parents’ pervasive anxiety
that making even one mistake will destroy their children’s lives.
"I should have carried him."
Many parents probably wish they could be more relaxed and fun,
but they’re truly afraid that if they don’t push
and prepare their children, they won’t be okay.
“Every single decision I have made has been for them.
Every single one.”
Natalie Reilly wrote in the Guardian that Bird Box and A Quiet Place
send the despairing message that parents today feel the world is beyond saving,
and all they can do is protect their own kids.
"All of us, mothers in particular, are not simply powerless
against the horrors of the world, but deliberately blind to them.
But if parents can look out for their kids,
make sure they have an edge, then they can transcend the housing crisis,
the rising cost of living, the barriers against social mobility,
the evils of racism, poverty, disease, and the internet-
to become rich and therefore “safe."
This all might also remind us of the Black Mirror episode Arkangel,
the creepy cautionary tale of an ultimate helicopter parent
who uses technology to stop her daughter from seeing
anything that causes her unease.
“If she witnesses something that causes her cortisol levels to rise, like stress,
it can kind of paint out whatever's triggering it.”
Yet while it’s easy to criticize today’s overzealous helicopter parents
for seeing imaginary perils everywhere,
the threats in Bird Box and A Quiet Place are very real.
The worst thing a parent could do is not impress upon their child
just how serious these dangers really are- as Malorie and Tom
and Evelyn and Lee
learn the hard way…
To simply dismiss these protective parents as wrong is a bit like joining
the crazy sect of people in Bird Box who try to make everyone
take off their blindfolds and kill themselves
“I've seen the truth.
Take your blindfold off."
It's like being Gary...
“Isn't it beautiful?
Why are you doing this?
"Gary, please don't do this.”
Don’t be like Gary.
"I knew you were a f-[beep]-ing lunatic.
You f-[beep]-ing piece of shit.
We saved you.”
So the moral here isn’t that we should just stop worrying about our kids.
Yet, at the same time,
Malorie eventually realizes that fear alone isn't an effective motivator.
"She's scared of you.”
"She's scared of you."
To be a good parent you have to give your child
more than fear of the world.
“They deserve dreams.
They deserve love.
They deserve hope."
Moreover, if we're too hell-bent on
ensuring our children's safety and narrowly-defined success,
we just might blind ourselves to their greater out-of-the-box potential.
In A Quiet Place, we see Lee fretting over his daughter Regan’s deafness.
This is a world where not being able to hear the sounds which attract the deadly monsters
puts your life even more at risk.
So, Lee represents how parents might worry even more intensely for a child
with a disability or disadvantage in a cutthroat world.
Because Lee is so afraid for his daughter,
he channels all his love for her into working on a solution
to “fix” her problem,
and the result is he spends most of the movie
overlooking the person who’s in front of him.
“You still love her, right?
"Of course I do."
"You should tell her.”
Regan’s deafness indirectly leads to the key breakthrough
in fighting the monsters,
when she discovers that she can use her hearing device
to torture them with loud sounds.
So in the end, what makes her different saves the day.
And the lesson in Lee’s story is to have faith in your children-
if they don’t fit society’s commonly prescribed notions of perfection,
don’t rush to see this as simply a weakness or a problem.
The ways that they're atypical could help them approach the world
in a creative, powerful way all their own.
Likewise, at the end of Bird Box, Malorie and the two kids
arrive at a school for the blind where people have created a safe community,
helped by the fact that blind people are invulnerable to these monsters.
So the revelation is that something normally seen as a disability in our society-
has become the ultimate ability in this world.
As we face new threats,
human beings survive and excel by adapting and evolving.
And if we’re restricted
by narrow-minded, fear-driven expectations about our children’s future,
we might stand in the way of our children doing just that.
“You want go play?
You want to go play?”
“The end game.
Humanity has been judged, and we've been found wanting.”
Finally, we have the literal level of these stories about apocalyptic near futures,
expressing our collective anxieties about the planet
the next generations will inherit.
These films ask,
what kind of world are we bringing our children into?
How we can be good parents in an increasingly unstable,
threatening world that may, in our lifetimes,
become far more dangerous than we can even imagine?
We see this fear expressed in other current movies, too.
"Climate change, refugees, epidemics, extreme weather.
And this isn't in some like, distant future.
You will live to see this.
You know, my children will experience this unlivability."
And unfortunately, for many people today, fearing for one’s children survival
is already very much a reality.
Both movies intentionally tell us very little about their monsters,
so the audience is free to project all kinds of contemporary threats
onto these vague creatures.
“that takes on a form of your worst fears, or your deepest sadness or your greatest loss”
Bird Box’s monsters have been read as representing everything from climate change,
war in Syria, and racism to social media.
“I think I see a whole bunch of people sitting together,
but they all feel incredibly lonely.
"The loneliness is just incidental.
It's really about
people's inability to connect.”
One reason Malorie doesn't want to bring a child into this world
is that she feels the previous generation has messed it up.
“You sound like my father."
"Like your father?
Was he a towering intellect given to dispensing wisdom
to undeserving fools?
Yes, he was fluent asshole as well.”
We could read this as an analogy for the idea that older generations
messed up our planet and economy, and then failed to take responsibility.
“And just like you,
he blamed everything he did on some deeper meaning,
convoluted conspiracy theories, and how it was everybody else's fault
when he was clearly in the wrong.”
Malorie’s reluctance to be a mother reflects the fear that it’s too late
to undo the damage already done to our world.
The young children in Bird Box and A Quiet Place
begin a life that’s completely foreign to how we approach the early years
of child-raising in middle-class Western society.
Going straight into a breathable baby coffin is not how we tend to picture
the ideal environment for a newborn.
But we’ve returned to a state in which a parent’s main job
is to keep the child alive,
and in comparison to survival, our typical concerns
for young children’s development appear insignificant.
Coddling your child, or putting their immediate happiness first,
will get them killed.
So while we saw that these stories symbolically represent contemporary parenting,
in their actual details they’re a harsh departure
from how today’s children are protected and cultivated.
In this ultra-dangerous world, children are treated like little adults-
they have to become self-sufficient a lot faster.
And parents have to accept a much higher level of risk and pain
for their children
I know you're cold.
No, no, no, no, no, no.
All the food and blankets.
God damn it!”
This might make us recall previous eras in our not-too-remote history
when children had to work, and bear more of the household burden.
As Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun chronicles,
it was only really after World War II
that children started to be sentimentalized and protected-
to become, in the words of a sociologist Senior quotes,
“economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”
So Bird Box’s and A Quiet Place’s futures seem to show us going backward
to more bare-bones parenting styles of the past.
Still, both leave us with a timeless piece of parenting advice:
that no matter how tough it gets out there, our job is to help our children
not just survive, but also thrive.
“So that they survive!
Surviving is not living Mal.
Bird Box emphasizes that survival is not enough.
“How about this?
It's purely survival.”
And even that survival is impossible without an inner life.
“They have to believe in something.
What is this for if
they don't have anything to believe in?”
This is expressed in Malorie’s argument with Tom
over whether they should feed the kids stories
of a better possible world:
“It's not a story.
It's a lie.
Because they'll never climb trees,
they are never gonna make new friends.”
The survive versus thrive debate
is also embodied in the two expecting mothers in Bird Box-
Whereas Malorie won’t think about naming her child,
Olympia wants to name her daughter after a Disney princess
“Well, if it's a girl, we wanted to name her Ariel or Jasmine.
I mean, I would love to name her Cinderella and just call her Ella.”
In this new world, Olympia’s sweet, loving nature
feels like a liability
“You're not soft like me.
I'm so spoiled.
And indeed, as Olympia seems to foresee, she dies while Malorie survives.
So Malorie leans into her hard outlook,
“You haven't given them names, Mal.
Their names are Boy and Girl!”
Malorie seems to sense some of Olympia’s nature in Girl,
"I told you to stay on the boat."
This explains part of Malorie’s discomfort with Girl.
She fears that the girl’s sweetness will get her killed.
If something happens to me, what do you do?
"You save yourself!
"I save myself."
"You save yourself.
I can't trust you.”
The conflict between surviving and thriving
comes to a head in the Sophie's Choice-like climax of the film,
when Malorie must choose which
of her two children will look to help them navigate the rapids,
and very likely die.
"Somebody has to look."
I will decide!
I will decide.
Just give me a- just give me a second."
Malorie at first seems to lean toward choosing Girl,
given that she turns down Boy’s offer to look twice.
“I'll do it.”
“No, no, no, no, no.
I- I'm the one who will say who looks, okay?
I say it."
We might infer that this is partly because Boy is her biological child,
or because as we’ve seen she fears for Girl anyway.
"I'll do it."
But finally, Malorie decides not to make this impossible choice….
Okay, nobody's looking.”
In not making the choice, it would seem that Mallory
has actually chosen for them all to die.
It's a fool's errand to go down river rapids
without looking where you're going.
But we get a deus ex machina of sorts when all three survive
and are able to swim to the nearby shore.
We can read into this a deeper symbolism.
While logic would make us think she has to sacrifice one child
to save the other,
her embracing blind faith instead- refusing to sacrifice the good
to the necessary-is rewarded with the miracle of both children surviving
and making it to their destination.
In the end, Malorie realizes that Tom was right.
“I was wrong.
I shouldn't have been so harsh.
I shouldn't have stopped you from playing.
I shouldn't have ended Tom's story because it wasn't finished.”
And her decision to finally name the children after Olympia and Tom-
the two people who inspired her to see life as more than survival-
"You're name is Olympia, yeah, Named after the sweetest girl I ever met."
Signals her embrace their lesson.
"Your name is Tom."
A Quiet Place also addresses this question of surviving versus thriving,
but it reverses the parental roles on this issue-
the father is more focused on his children’s survival,
while their mother encourages them to develop.
Emily Blunt said she connected to her character’s, quote,
“desire she has to just, amidst this brutal world,
want to inject into her children’s lives some kind of warmth and ability to thrive.”
So, while the world is indeed changing and our children may be entering
a more hostile environment in many ways, the deepest truths of parenting don't change.
“This is strawberry.
This is what strawberry tastes like.”
Even if it becomes increasingly necessary
to encourage a healthy dose of fear in our children,
it remains just as crucial to inspire them to prosper,
to embrace all parts of themselves, and to dream.
“You need to promise them dreams that may never come true.
You need to love them knowing that you may lose them at any second.”
We need to trust our kids and allow them the space to discover
how strong they really are.
"They know what to do."
And we need to give them hope as human beings will
always need the vision of a tomorrow we can believe in.
"Life is more than just what is.
It's what could be.
What you could make it."
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