You mess up. You learn. You do better. You grow.
That’s how life is supposed to work; we’re all a bundle of our past actions and mistakes. Failure may be the best teacher, but that only works if you’re able to learn from it. A Quiet Place — a horror film directed by John Krasinski that dominated the box office this weekend — presents a world where that’s next to impossible.
Which is why it’s such a nightmare for parents.
[Warning: The following contains light spoilers about A Quiet Place.]
Sound is deadly
A Quiet Place is set in a world that is controlled by what appear to be giant, alien insects that instantly destroy anything that makes a sound. If you’re silent, you’re safe. If you speak above the tiniest whisper or knock something over, they’ll be on top of you before you can react. The movie follows a family that is trying to survive in an old farmhouse, which is a complicated task now that the mother is pregnant.
They’ve already lost one small child because he played with the wrong toy, at the wrong time. How and why that happens are circumstances that lead to intense feelings of guilt carried by multiple characters, and the situation is set up in one of the most intense scenes of the year. This PG-13 movie is not for the easily scared, even with the relative lack of blood and violence.
The stakes are always high, and you don’t have to worry about what happens next 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?
Of course, we feel that horror not because we’re scared of aliens, but because we’re scared of failing our children.
Unhealthy parenting comes from a place of control, of wanting to take away choice from your children in order to help them avoid the same mistakes you made. You have to go to college, we think to ourselves out of worry and fear. You can’t smoke a single joint or you’ll soon be injecting heroin directly into your eyeballs. Don’t have sex ever or you’ll be pregnant by the time you’re 19 and will be riddled with sexually-transmitted diseases to boot. All drugs are bad forever, don’t touch them.
Like I said, this isn’t healthy. On the less extreme side of things, though, I’ve often tried to raise my kids to avoid some decisions I’ve made in the past in these areas that haven’t, thank the maker, resulted in anything catastrophic happening in my own life. Do what I say, kids. Not as I did.
All parents have a natural inclination to try to protect their children from making mistakes in their life, rather than presenting those mistakes as an opportunity to get better.
A bad performance in your first year of college may be the wake-up call someone needs to find their passion. Having a child young may not lead to ruin, and may, in fact, lead someone to a grown-up existence they wouldn’t have found on any other path. Some people can and do recreationally use drugs without ruining their lives.
I know these things as a person, but it’s hard to remember as a parent. A part of me would rather my children never take the risk to begin with, even if I know that we’re defined and created by our mistakes just as much as our triumphs.
A Quiet Place takes those fears and insecurities and enhances them into a terrible reality. Any mistake in that world is lethal, if not to yourself than to those around you. The luxury of learning from your mistakes is removed completely with even the slightest lapse in judgment leads either to your own death or witnessing the death of your family members. We’ve all failed at something, only to find that the results aren’t quite as bad as we expected. The failure may even be the first step to something amazing.
But that’s never the case in A Quiet Place. The outcome of every mistake really is that bad, forever and always. You’re not being paranoid, because your loved ones die if you haven’t thought of everything and successfully planned to avoid every possible contingency. There is no learning or growing: Survival is a binary value. Either you do, or you don’t.
That sort of situation doesn’t often exist outside of pop culture contrivances in horror movies, but the idea of it will be familiar to anyone who is raising a kid. How do you keep your children safe? The real answer is you don’t, and you’re going to hurt your entire family if you try too hard. The terror of A Quiet Place comes from the idea that trying too hard may still not be good enough.