The Irony That Conservatives Think a Horror Film is “Pro-Life” Reminds Us How Little They Value Life
Contains spoilers for A Quiet Place.
For the duration of this essay I will use the propagandic term “pro-life” in quotes. Decades of research has consistently shown that pro-choice policies both significantly decrease rates of abortion, and save the lives of the women seeking safe abortion care. So choice is, quite literally, life. Meanwhile, male conservatives are falling all over themselves in excitement that a woman in a horror movie chooses to have a baby in horrific circumstances in a world none of us would ever want to live in, and utterly failing to grasp the irony: that “pro-life” policies want to subject women to an equally horrific world, devoid of the modicum of personal choice depicted in the film, and full of the very real deaths and very real horrific circumstances that result from favoring ideological health myths over medical realities — conservative reproductive overreach where deeply personal liberty intrinsically resides.
The Washington Post has once again demonstrated how apparently easy it is to publish an incredibly simplistic opinion piece. “‘A Quiet Place’ isn’t just pro-life. It makes us understand what being pro-life truly means.”
The film does no such thing. The easiest omission of this interpretation — full of romanticized readings into the film — is how it ignores an implicit plot point central to every such story on the planet: post-apocalyptic landscapes aren’t known for their access to safe abortion, conducted in a sterile medical environment, by skilled, trained professionals. Most of humanity and by extension loads of medical professionals had been wiped out. So by definition, the Abbott family had no choice.
They did, however, assuming a looted condom didn’t break, have the choice to conceive a child in an environment where merely having it would reduce their chances of survival significantly, putting their existing children in far greater jeopardy. This only worked out well for them because it’s a Hollywood story, a universe in which the best laid plans of the good guys routinely work out well because of good intentions. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody called it a “fantasy of survivalism.” This is kind of perfect, since “pro-life” Christianity runs on similar magical denialism. If something good happens to you in American Christiandom, praise God, he was watching out for you. If something bad happens, well, the lord works in mysterious ways. This assumption that a deity is secretly in charge inspires a great deal of reckless parenting, and overall, a poor sense of personal responsibility. On the extreme end, Children of religious parents have died of basic, treatable illnesses because their parents believed faith healing would save them. On the everyday end, there is endless bad rhetoric, such as what if the baby you don’t want is the next Mozart? ignoring that Hitler, too, was once a baby, and ignoring that the next Mozart is just as likely to be any one of the 22,000 children who die every day in the world due to poverty. Yet considerable resources are wasted on the “pro-life” movement in an exercise of arrogant, masturbatory spirituality that harms both women and babies.
So if I say to you that it would have been an infinitely more realistic film if it had ended with the creatures killing the baby when it was born, Christians would dismiss that as cynicism, and would say that the child in the film lived because their deity obviously protected the child to honor the family’s choice. It’s a dizzying salad of logical fallacies, and why (despite being raised by these people) I’ve never personally heard an intelligent anti-abortion argument in my life. Because conservatives clearly cannot win with facts, discourse immediately dissolves into philosophical realms. Which is fine if you know that. The moment you treat your philosophy as The Fixed Truth For Other People, everyone rightly stops listening to you.
This brings us to the film’s faults: It’s a great movie and a masterclass in suspense. It makes you care about the Abbott family and each death is genuinely heartbreaking. But it also takes a lot of easy outs where problems seem to resolve themselves with the perfect mix of timing and luck. “The error in storytelling here is as obvious as a nail sticking up out of a staircase. Horror screenwriters, don’t make your heroes lucky, make them resourceful.”
Actually, the most glaring fault of the film is the senseless death of their four year-old at the clutches of the creatures at the beginning of the film. It’s a horrifying and sympathetic scene, yet the parents are indeed at fault for that death — just not for the reasons they think. The shared guilt surrounding the death takes up a fair portion of the heart of the story, but maddeningly, no one mentions the real reason they are to blame: Noboby in that universe would have plausibly let the four year-old walk out of the looted store last. And if by accident, they had, nobody would have let the four year-old bring up the rear of a normal hike in normal woods today — let alone in the post-apocalyptic woods where many of the world’s children have made many tasty snacks for the creatures who have so easily killed them. So let this be a lesson to parents: In any forthcoming apocalypse I give slower parents a week, tops, to figure out that if there are two parents and a few young children, one parent leads and the other goes last. This flanking strategy of “the strong at the edges and the weak in the middle” is so standard it even happens in the animal kingdom. It happens in the military. It’s a glaring plot convenience, made more obvious by the parents’ utter failure to discuss it. I kept waiting for someone to mention it, but instead the deaf girl blames herself for giving the child the toy, the father seems to blame himself generally, and the mother pointlessly regrets her inability to physically carry a heavy four year-old.
But back to the religious reliance on help from invisible friends: Consider the story of Carrie DeKlyen, a mother of 37 who chose her own death by refusing chemo treatments for brain cancer so that she could deliver her baby, whom she named Life. The mother gave birth, died, and shortly after, Life also died. The story of Carrie DeKlyen is a pro-choice story. It was her right to choose irrational idealism over her family’s right to the possibility of a living mother, or even a few more months or years of life. Had she chose abortion and chemo, Life would still have died, yes (and frankly, Life would probably have suffered less) and Carrie may or may not have lived. Choices like this are where the term “a rock and a hard place” come from. Most abortion stories are choices exactly like this, despite myth and propaganda consistently telling the populace that women get abortions recreationally or on a whim — which sounds as ridiculous to anyone educated in the basics of reproductive health as the idea that people get recreational root canals.
The idea of A Quiet Place being somehow pro-life also ignores the obvious truth that in an apocalypse where the majority of humanity had been wiped out, plenty of people would, however irrationally, be thinking about the propagation of the species. Many folks would adjust well to the new animalistic reality that life is now, first and foremost, about survival, and many folks would still choose to increase that risk. Most who did so would die of course, but on the whole it might give humanity a fighting chance, just in case 10% of such babies both lived AND enough of them lived to replace the older children who would also die because of their parents’ choice.
Just as in real life, the Abbotts were more privileged than other parents who might make the same kind of choice. They were obviously smart parents who had excelled in life prior to the apocalypse and had adapted to the change fairly well. (which makes the plot holes that much more glaring) Not all parents would have the ingenuity to build sound-dampening cribs, complete with oxygen tanks. Not all parents would have the skills to build and modify hearing aids. There is a reason it is always upper middle class, privileged, often white families who tokenize their choice to give birth to severely disabled children and fly that flag as “pro-life” while the same choice would simply not be available to less fortunate families.
Far worse than the WaPo piece, which at least had the decency to keep things vaguely (if childishly) philosophical, a blog post appeared on the conservative website Desiring God “Fighting for Life in ‘A Quiet Place’” which is chock FULL of debunked abortion myths, outright lies, and propagandic ideas that the far right clings to despite all evidence.
“…horror films taking place in abortion clinics across the U.S. and around the world — silent assassinations in sterile rooms. They wear white coats. They make death a business. They snatch children from deceived mothers, who tragically pay to have them taken away. We live in a society full of this movie’s monsters. And they seem so ordinary.”
Of course, the actual facts tell us that if you are a doctor who wants to make money, abortion is the last medical service you’d choose. Planned Parenthood not only does NOT sell baby parts but they do more to prevent abortions than the entire “pro-life” community. No one “snatches” children, a great deal of care goes into making sure the mother is in charge — that’s the whole point of choice. And the only mothers who are being deceived are the ones who are either offered unsafe, illegal, back alley services out of desperation in places where safe, legal abortion is not available, or the ones who are routinely lied to at Christian-run Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
“Against all the loud, pink, pro-choice banners around us, A Quiet Place stands for human lives worth sacrificing for.”
No, the loud, pink, pro-choice community stands for human lives worth saving, the autonomy of the right to shape your own life, and the respect we show to adult women to decide what is best for them — including choices we might disagree with, such as having a loud, screaming baby in an apocalypse where silence is the only thing that saves.
“They risked their lives for their children.”
No, they risked their existing children’s lives — to have a fourth child to replace their dead third child. Which was only kinda their choice, since safe abortion doesn’t exist in a post-apocalypse. The real horror of A Quiet Place is what else it makes you think of… You don’t think of the sacrifices of the privileged white family central to the story. You think about all the people who would have had to suffocate or set free their barking, beloved dogs. You think about the disabled children whose disability centers around noise, rather than silence, and the sad realities of whatever would have happened to them. And you think about the brave mothers who would have tried to have an abortion themselves, to save their existing children. Abortion has existed for longer than recorded history, taking the lives of millions of women when it is not done safely. The reality is, women will continue to have very good, non-selfish, even saintly reasons to seek them.
But back to the “what being pro-life truly means” in the WaPo piece:
“Merely surviving is not enough. Merely surviving is empty. Merely surviving is not what living a life to the fullest is all about. A life without family is sad; a life without family is a life without a future.”
Yes, that’s why many of us find a life of mere breeding, so incredibly empty. That’s why we value life according to the quality of our children’s lives, not the quantity of babies we give birth to. That’s why we love our girls enough to give them an education and the reigns to their own happiness. That’s why we teach real sex education, not the dark ignorance of abstinence. That’s why we honor women enough to give them so much choice, they are allowed to put themselves in danger in order to have a child if that is what they want, and we honor them enough that they are allowed to abort an undeveloped fetus if they choose to live instead. We even love them enough to consider their reason personal enough that we don’t need to know — because anyone who thinks women get abortions lightly knows nothing about them. Nature gave us built-in reasons to want to have children, so if we don’t, you best trust that we mean it.
A film is only as good as the sensitivity and intelligence of its audience. If you have the medically ignorant, mythological view of abortion that is shared by the “pro-life” cult, you get to soak in the vaguery of pretending that love conquers all. If you live in the real world, the truth is much more complex, more tender, more rewarding, and yet more horrifying. The truth we live in today is that in the 2016 election a bunch of white Christians voted for an uneducated, unqualified rage monster who may very well plunge us into a postnuclear apocalypse because those white Christians were lured by vapid myths and lies concerning abortion. Some day, you may be scrounging for food and debating whether to have a child in a fallout shelter, because your parents were dumb enough to actually believe that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.