“Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say.”
I’ll never hear Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” again without recalling the scene in John Krasinski’s thriller A Quiet Place when Evelyn Abbot, heavily pregnant and beautifully draped in a blue summer dress, descends basement stairs in bare feet and draws her husband away from the work table where he tinkers on a hearing aid for their oldest child.
With a tender smile her husband Lee (played by John Krasinski) mouths “Beautiful,” signing its syllables. This is a tense film in which a family struggles to survive after an invasion of viscious creatures that can detect humans by sound.
Evelyn (Emily Blunt) draws her husband into in a silent slow dance, taking an earbud from one of her ears and placing it into his, an iPod in her hand. While “Harvest Moon” plays, we’re aborbed into the private love of the swaying barefoot couple who are striving to protect their children in a brutally dangerous and unpredictable world. (Spoilers ahead.)
Because everyone must maintain silence at all costs, the artistry of gesture and facial expression takes on tremendous importance in A Quiet Place, and Blunt is brillant at wordlessly revealing a mother’s heart.
In the film’s opening scene, the family scours a vacated drug store for supplies. The mother scans the pharmacy sheves for medication for her son, who has sunk to the aisle floor. Finding the desired drug, she shakes a pill into her hand, rushing to her boy’s side to offer it with a caress of compassion.
But in this film, there’s more to fear than a fever.
We learn that moments later when the family crosses a railroad bridge on their way home and a seemingly small act of disobedience by the other two children results in tragedy in the blink of an eye. The family’s grief will haunt but not stop them from welcoming another child into the world.
Gritty, realistic optimism is a profound theme in this film, and Krasinksi and Blunt reveal strong portraits of fatherhood and motherhood in a struggle for survival.
Perhaps because I watched A Quiet Place near Mother’s Day, I was particularly struck by Blunt’s portrayal of Evelyn Abbot.
Silence forces a subtlety through which the strength and dignity of womanhood shines in images rather than words.
Pantry shelves lined with canned fruits and vegetables speak of the will to survive; a meal of smoked fish served on leaf plates reveal the teamwork needed for the couple to feed their family. As the four hold hands and offer prayer before eating, Blunt’s thumb strokes her son’s hand in love. The mother’s loving looks and little smiles are hallmarks of hope in the midst of fear. She is sheer beauty.
And she’s a teacher, a sign that she understands food isn’t the only thing worth preserving in desperate times.
In one sweet scene, Blunt’s character teaches math to her son. The lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, accents marking its iambic pentameter, can be seen on the white board behind them.
Evelyn Abbey nudges her children toward maturity, encouraging her son to work through his fear of going out with his father. With eyes of understanding she shows her daughter the path through misunderstanding, guilt and grief.
Discussing her role in a recent interview, Blunt discloses the way A Quiet Place touched her own mother’s heart when she first read the story:
What I fell in love with in the screenplay is that I felt it touched on some of my deepest fears as a mother of not being able to protect your children.
Concerning the contrast between Lee and Emily, Blunt adds:
Lee is the one who feels responsible for their survival, no matter what it takes. But Evelyn wants to do more than survive: she wants to teach her kids to thrive…I see her as just spectacularly loving and nurturing.
And tough. In imagery evocative of Revelation and Exodus, Blunt shows us the lengths we can go to bring new life to birth and defend it against the dark forces that would destroy it.
Don’t let the designation of thriller/horror keep you from seeing A Quiet Place. If you appreciated the tension in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, you can handle this film. It’ll keep you riveted to your seat, but it won’t disturb your sleep.
What A Quiet Place will do is inspire you with its beauty, its humanity, its darkly optimisitic view of life. It will raise your appreciation for the sacrifice of both fathers and mothers, each in their own unique way.
And Blunt’s beautiful portrayal of Emily Abbot will remind you of how special it is to be a woman. She totally surpasses the clichés and cookie cutters of feminism and feminity. She gives us womanhood at its finest: powerful, dignified, tender.
And able to aim a shotgun when push comes to shove.
Reads & Other Seeds
Dana Abercrombie’s interview quoted in this post: Motherhood in the Face of a Monster: An Interview with Emily Blunt. View a photo gallery of Emily Blunt’s beauty through the years here.
Sparrowfare’s defense of keeping hope alive in dark times: Pollyanna vs. Curmudgeon: The Case for Realistic Optimism.
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