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In Praise of Evelyn Abbott (from the film A Quiet Place)

In Praise of Evelyn Abbott (from the film A Quiet Place) April 26, 2018

Paramount Pictures

This piece is written as a companion to episode 14 of The Pop Culture Coram Deo Podcast and, like that episode (which you can play below, contains numerous spoilers. Read on at your own discretion.

There were several times during my in-theater viewing of A Quiet Place where I was sorely tempted to stand up and applaud Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn Abbott.

I realize this is strange praise for a horror movie but nonetheless: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an authentic, rich, and distinctly feminine portrayal of womanhood in any other film as I saw in A Quiet Place.[1]

A Prose Paean

Evelyn Abbot, how praiseworthy you are.  Let me count the ways:

Blunt’s character is distinctly feminine.  The central danger to the family is rooted, in fact, in her femininity – she is with child and one expects the arrival of a newborn child to bring with it the a expected screams of pain that are so much a part of labor for the mother but also the crying of a newborn child clearing away the mucus and amniotic fluid from its lungs.  In a world where sound equals speedy death the joy of a newborn child is a clear and imminent threat.  But Evelyn Abbot’s femininity is on display in ways not rooted in her pregnancy.  She approaches her husband for a quiet moment of dancing to the sounds of a shared earbud after evening chores are completed.  She speaks to her young son[2], a boy consumed with (justifiable) fear of the world outside the family home, about the need to develop the skills necessary to take care of his mother when she has grown old.  Perhaps most touchingly we never get any sense from Evelyn that the arrival of her child is something she dreads.[3]  When we see her weep she does so clearly not for her impending circumstances of delivery but in mourning for a lost child.  What she does do in anticipating of delivering this child is to hang a mobile for her newborn child to wonder at as it lies in its crib.  Evelyn is very much a loving mother, regardless of the difficulties of her current experience as well as those difficulties added by the presence of a newborn.

Paramount Pictures

Blunt’s character is also, in many ways, a homemaker in the best sense of the word – we see often how her presence creates a beautiful and profitable space for her family within the broader context of a dangerous world.  There are meals made with obvious care and skill (as opposed to the hardscrabble scraps and shrink-wrapped pseudo-foods that so often make up the diet of characters in post-apocalyptic films).   Particularly touching is the scene where Evelyn is shown putting her son through his educational paces.  She is instructing the boy in mathematics and the sign-language dialog of the scene focuses on that subject.  However (as my own wife pointed out to me), the text on the whiteboard behind her is taken from Shakespeare.  Math is needed for survival in a world overrun by the beasts of A Quiet Place.  Shakespeare (and, represented in him, literature) cannot be so easily justified on pragmatic ground.  And yet Evelyn is leading her child into the world of literature.  I take it that, in doing so, she is maintaining a connection with the world that existed before the arrival of the monsters as well as holding out hope for a future where there will be more time for literature and other forms of art.

Blunt’s character is also remarkably strong, brave, and fierce – as a woman.  The scenes where this point was driven home were the ones that most nearly brought me to my feet.  We see Evelyn begin labor in the immediate presence of a monster who will destroy her (and her child) as the slightest sound.  To protect her child and her own life she manages to control her expression of pain, not only from contractions but also from an unexpected accident on the stairway.  In order to make a retreat whereby she might safely deliver her child she cleverly invents a distraction that buys her an opportunity to escape the monster’s presence.  Later we see that she has delivered the child, a feat of immense strength in any world, unaided.  Much later in the film Evelyn awakes in a room quickly filling with water and, again, occupied by a destructive monster.  Between herself and the beast is her newborn child, floating in a bassinet.  Evelyn moves carefully but without hesitation toward her child (and thus toward the monster), bravely collecting the child and providing what shelter she can offer.  And at the end of the movie, when we finally see a monster killed, it dies at the hands of Evelyn (aided by her daughter).  In this moment we see the mother become a warrior.  One pressed into duty, yes, but acting as an extension of her identity as a mother and deadly competent in her expression of the protective nature of motherhood.

Paramount Pictures.

Better Than Wonderful

Regular readers may know that I have been critical of 2017’s Wonder Woman, a supposedly woman-positive movie (that, for the record, I really enjoyed and have seen multiple times), for the way the movie subverts the unique dignity, strength, and beauty of women.  From my write up:

Diana is powerful, confident, and redeeming in this movie but accomplishes that through nothing that is distinctly feminine.  In fact, the movie shows her power by co-opting images of traditional masculine strength.  The theme is anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better.

So Diana is strong – in the way we would expect Superman to be strong.  She’s schooled to be a cunning war strategist – the way we would expect, say Batman, to strategize.  She does nothing that we aren’t accustomed to seeing masculine superheroes do.  Conversely, there is virtually nothing of traditional femininity in Wonder Woman.  The closest we get is a fresh-off-the-boat-from-Themiscyra Diana cooing at a baby and moving to embrace the child but this is as much a result of her coming from an island populated only by adult women as it is any nod to domesticity or nurturing qualities.  The overall affect of the film on the subject of femininity is akin to hearing a neighbor describe how wonderful his younger son is by pointing out just how very much like his older brother the boy is.

Conversing with my wife about this film yielded an additional interesting note: the one thing that is uniquely feminine about Wonder Woman in this film is her physical form.  While Diana and the women of Themiscyra are doing lots of things that look like what we expect from men they are certainly not dressed anything like we would expect men to be dressed.  In this way, unintentionally I’m sure, Jenkins’ film reduces the distinctly feminine down to putting feminine body parts more prominently on display.

Those criticisms came to mind pretty quickly as I watched A Quiet Place and, to be honest, they feel even more justified after I finished the film.  If you’ll allow me the comparison, Superman can’t control, in order to protect his unborn child, his pain response as he experiences labor.  Batman, for all his strategic brilliance, isn’t particularly good at building a lovely home where children can thrive.  I really like Sally Jenkins’ (and Gal Gadot’s) Wonder Woman but I deeply respect, admire, and want to celebrate Evelyn Abbott.

Paramount Pictures

The Best of Real-World Application

In fact, Evelyn Abbott helps me appreciate the real-world women in my life in a way that Wonder Woman never could.  It’s cool to see Wonder Woman leap to the top of a tall building and blow up a sniper nest.  I will never see any real-life woman do that thing.  On the other hand:

Caring for their family?

Being brave in the face of dangers that would seek to harm their children?

Bringing new life into the world?

Striving to maintain joy in their children despite the hardships of life in general and the additional hardships necessarily bound up in childrearing?

Creating a rich culture in the home where the family thrives?

I see those things in the lives of most women I know virtually every day. Evelyn Abbott reminds me to celebrate those real-world virtues everywhere I encounter them.  Again, Mrs. Abbott causes me to wonder at the unique strength, dignity, and beauty of women in a way her Amazonian counterpart simply can’t.

I see lots of movies.  A great many of them I like.  A more select group I can say I love.  But very rarely does a movie make me thankful, both for its own existence and for what I see portrayed within.  I am very thankful for A Quiet Place.  Specifically, I am thankful for the way Evelyn Abbott makes me appreciate my wife, my daughters, my mother, my sister, my nieces, and the women I’m privileged to number among my friends and my church community afresh and to a greater degree.

That certainly seems worth celebrating, if not with a standing ovation in a movie theater then at least when I talk (or write) about the movie.

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[1] I know you may think I’ve not seen enough movies and that may be true.  If you have any suggestions for further watching I’d welcome them enthusiastically.

[2] I won’t spend much time here because it isn’t germane to my central point but the portrayals of the individual characters in A Quiet Place is so rich that I could – and may – easily write a couple thousand words to celebrate.  If you want more on this subject check out our podcast episode reviewing A Quiet Place.

[3] In fairness, no member of the family gives the impression the pending arrival of the baby is to be seen as a negative.


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