Ever since primordial man made his appearance on this planet, we have been constantly evolving. From being hunter-gatherers who moved from place to place in search of sustenance, we became agriculturists and dwellers. As civilization grew, we became powerful enough to exact change on our environment. Our machines spewed toxic gases, our cars belched carcinogenic fumes and when nothing else worked, we fought nuclear wars scarring the face of the earth forever. Pollution was not our only legacy. We also became the ‘noisiest’ species on the planet. One of the many things that separated us from the other species was our ability to create artificial sound – sound that was not naturally produced by our body. Our cities became a cacophony of discordant notes, driving away fauna everywhere. Over the years, we have become desensitized to this constant assault on our senses, so much so that complete silence makes us uncomfortable. But what if your life depended on silence ?
John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place begins by taking away all sound from within the theatre. What is usually a noisy audience fidgeting and whispering in their seats, suddenly becomes aware that there is no soundtrack being played with the moving pictures on screen. In fact, there is no sound whatsoever that they can discern. In a few minutes, there is pin-drop silence as you feel your heightened senses taking in the gentle whirr of the air conditioner somewhere at the back, which you had never noticed before. The opening scene shows a family of five – a mother, a father and their three children – scrounging through a departmental store looking for supplies in a dead town. The mother looks through bottles of pills with trembling fingers. However, its not fear that plagues her. She is just being erratically careful lest she dropped any of the bottles or the pills. This is when things start feeling off. These people are not mutes. They are just being extremely quiet in a dead town.
Film has always been more of a visual medium than an auditory one, which is why most film-makers focus all of their resources on telling a story through what we can see. However, stories can also be told through sound. Directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan understand this fundamental aspect of the human anatomy through carefully crafted sound-design that adds new meaning to the narrative and elevates its sensory perception by the audience. Krasinski precisely chooses moments where he can allow sound. However, every single one of those moments is where making a sound is inevitable, and safe. As an audience, you start appreciating how difficult this whole endeavor can be. The simplest of tasks become time-consuming and tedious. You cannot drop things. You cannot stomp away with your shoes. You cannot speak, let alone loudly. Everything that you take for granted today, is taken away from you. Just so that the delicate silence is not disturbed. You live your life on tip-toes.
Krasinski precisely chooses moments where he can allow sound. However, every single one of those moments is where making a sound is inevitable, and safe.
Being an ardent fan of M. Night Shyamalan, A Quiet Place reminded me of his 2002 film Signs. Besides the obvious premise (I won’t tell you which), both films share a common element in their screenplay. There is hardly any exposition about who the characters are, where they come from or what their motivations are. Instead of a mundane narrative, things are revealed to you through the actions of the characters or through various on-screen elements. For instance, while leaving the departmental store Krasinski takes a toy rocket from his son, takes out the batteries and hand-signs to him – “Too noisy.” As they go out, the little boy lingers back for a moment and quickly grabs the toy and the batteries, hiding them in his jacket. In the next scene, they are standing outside and we see a piece of newspaper flapping in the wind where the headline says – “Its SOUND !”. We watch them walking on bare feet in a single file, knowing that the little boy is carrying a toy with batteries and it can turn on any moment. Krasinski uses such foreboding elements throughout the story, making you wait in anticipation to what might happen.
John Krasinski has come a long way from his chocolate boy image, starring in Steve Carell’s The Office where he plays Jim Halpert, a coy but smart paper salesman who keeps pulling incredible pranks on his co-salesman Dwight Schrute played by Rainn Wilson. Krasinski plays a father who lives in a world where making a sound is unacceptable. He has to protect his wife and his children. Any man would go mad, living every moment of his life on the edge and Krasinski keeps that nervous tension alive through his eyes which go from – “Thank god you’re alive !” to “Don’t move a muscle.” in a split second. Emily Blunt, as the mother, is a strong woman who trusts that her husband would protect their kids no matter what. She lives in the shadow of a tragedy where she has lost someone. Despite their circumstances, she strives to give them a good life – teaching them and making jokes so that they can forget the constant peril that they have to live with. However, the most special part of the cast is Millicent Simmonds who plays the daughter with a hearing disability. She lives in a world where you have to be quiet. You can imagine how difficult it can be when you don’t know how noisy you are being. Interestingly, Simmonds has an actual hearing disability. While casting for this character, Krasinski made it a point that he wanted someone whose actions would be authentic and Simmonds does it with aplomb.
A Quiet Place is a departure from your conventional invasion films where there is not much else that you can do but hide. Co-written by Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, the premise puts the characters in a unique position where they are essentially invisible when they are not making a sound. So, they still have a chance at living a life but with an overwhelming caveat. Sound Director Marco Beltrami adds another dimension of depth by bringing in his experience from his rich body of work which includes del Toro’s Mimic (1997), James Mangold’s Logan (2017) and Katheryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008), among others. With this film, Krasinski has undeniably become the next young director to watch out for. We can’t wait for his next project and a sequel maybe ? Keep your ears peeled.
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