A Quiet Place as an Allegory for Living the Undocumented Life in America
This story was originally published by The Mary Sue on April 24th, 2018, and is republished here with their permission.
Imagine that you have to do what it takes to survive and avoid being killed by creatures who hunt based on sound, only being able to trust your immediate family to work together and be as prepared as you can be for the worst at all times.
Not only is this the premise of John Krasinski’s directorial debut, A Quiet Place, but it also represents the very real circumstances lived by undocumented immigrants every day.
Just as Lee, Evelyn (Krasinski and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt), and their children take every precaution not to be found by aliens of unknown origin, undocumented immigrants do what they have to for their families to succeed, while at the same time working hard to try to remain inconspicuous and invisible, kept in the shadows by a paralyzing fear. As they find themselves hunted anywhere from hospital rooms and 7-11 stores to their own homes, the unbearable pressure experienced by millions of people in this country is uncomfortably recognizable in this horror movie.
As the story unfolds, we see the extreme measures the family takes in order to survive: walking barefoot on paths of sand around the home, stepping on specific sections of the house’s floor to avoid creaking, and playing Monopoly with pieces of felt and balls of yarn instead of game pieces. When I worked at an immigration law office several years ago, I remember what our attorney would tell clients looking to apply for residency: In addition to the usual paying of attorney and government fees and gathering the paperwork, she always suggested to avoid driving if possible, or drive carefully, to avoid bars (in particular for the men, to help them avoid unnecessary altercations), and to generally try to avoid being out at night.
Though most people, regardless of status, would do well to follow this advice, to undocumented US residents, it can mean the difference between being safe or being deported.
When I was documenting the lives of three immigrant families for my Master’s creative component project, one of the families was made up of two adults, both undocumented, and their three US-citizen children. Though the husband and wife both did not have criminal records, they always drove a little under the speed limit, always stopping completely at stop signs and slowing down if the traffic light turned yellow. I remember the mother telling me, through tears, that she did not know what she would do if she was separated from her children. This constant caution is much like the actions of the Abbott family as they monitor the area surrounding their house with security cameras, communicating through signing and barely-there whispers, and moving with intention during every second of their lives.
Also, in an attempt to keep quiet and live unnoticed, the family is led to rely only on themselves, trusting no one outside of their tight-knit circle. The only way they know other people are accompanying them in their silent fight for survival is at night, when Lee lights a bonfire and a handful of neighbors follow suit, the bright flames standing out starkly against the darkness of the wooded farmland where they live. Many undocumented immigrants not only have to steer clear of police and immigration officials, they must also be extremely selective in who they share their status with, only trusting very few people outside their family, if any at all, because it is essentially trusting someone with their life. It’s this kind of weight that the members of the Abbott family know too well as they live each day looking over their shoulder in a state of perpetual hyper-awareness.
When Evelyn accidentally steps on a nail, you wince and shrink into your seat, feeling the sharpness of the nail while you swallow her frustration at being unable to utter an expletive, much less a sound of reprieve from the stabbing pain. As the heavy silence throughout the movie continues, you become a part of the environment, living through the anguish of each family member, whether it’s young son Marcus (played by Noah Jupe) when he thinks he is being chased by the creature through the family’s crops, or Lee, when he has to run and save that same son and himself from a man who attracts one of the creatures.
The oldest child and only daughter, Regan (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), has to navigate this perilous world while being deaf. As such, she accurately represents many undocumented children brought here by their parents who, for a long time, grow up not fully understanding the implications and potential dangers tied to their lack of status. But even if she can’t hear any of the movements she’s so desperately trying to keep quiet, she is fully aware that there is something out there that wants her, and so she has learned to live on guard – at attention, at the ready like the rest of her family.
The terrifying tension functions as its own character, always hovering and following the family in every space they inhabit. It’s this same, oppressive tension that immigrants carry around with them and base their decisions on every time they leave their house to go grocery shopping, to go to school, to go to the doctor, or to go anywhere at all. They are always attempting to minimize the chances of attracting unwanted attention while also trying to live as normal a life as possible, balancing both desires while walking on a tightrope that might give way under them at any moment.
By taking viewers on a journey of constant, nerve-wracking suspense where every rustle, creak, and crack determines how much longer the characters will survive, A Quiet Place acts as a 90-minute immersion experience of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of many undocumented immigrants. After the credits roll and the lights come up, however, some of us will easily shake off the blanket of fear that has settled on us, while others will go home with it wrapped around their shoulders as it always is, weighing them down without ever letting up.
header image: paramount pictures