WARNING: This article contains spoilers for A Quiet Place.
There are so many reasons to love A Quiet Place. There's the way it finally puts the internet’s favorite couple, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, on screen together. There’s the way it weaves palpable, bone-chilling tension and horror throughout its storytelling, mostly via unspoken dialogue that says more than words ever could. There’s the overarching message of female empowerment that no doubt had plenty of women fist-pumping as the credits rolled. However, the aspect of A Quiet Place that hit me hardest was that of the relationship between Krasinki’s character, Lee Abbott, and Millicent Simmonds as his daughter, Regan.
Father-daughter relationships in movies can bring out the emotional side in people, especially when those people are textbook examples of girls who idolize their dads. When it comes to watching films, a medium designed to evoke the strongest emotions out of its audience, we can’t help but emphatically relate and respond to the bond depicted onscreen.
Sometimes that bond is presented as safe and secure like in Father of the Bride, Definitely, Maybe or Pride and Prejudice. These dads show their daughters they love them with every ounce of their being, with barely a raised voice, and in the end it all works out well for them. It’s reassuring. But there are other depictions of the father-daughter bond that vigorously test it and ultimately end in the most beautiful and heart-aching way, like Interstellar or Beasts of the Southern Wild.
These latter films portray the complexities of father-daughter relationships that are so often typically focused on fathers and sons. Jessica Chastain, who played the grown-up daughter Murph to Matthew McConaughey's dad Coop in Interstellar, offered her own commentary on the theme.
“We’ve seen many Hollywood stories about a son becoming a man with his father’s help. That’s almost every journey in cinema,” she said, at the time of the film’s release. “It’s rare we see the dynamic between a father and a daughter. If you’re supposed to be protected, and you’re left behind, what kind of relationship does that create?”
Krasinski's Lee does something similar in A Quiet Place, but leaves Regan out more than he leaves her behind. His character comes across as the most caring, brave and diligent of fathers who would do anything for his wife and children. However, in the time between the tragic death of his youngest child and the events that unfold in the main bulk of the film, his relationship with his daughter has become fraught.
Regan thinks she’s being treated differently by her dad—not just because she is deaf, but because she blames herself for the death of her brother, and believes he does too. It could be one of the reasons why she shows such disdain for Lee's attempts to make her a hearing aid that works. Later, when Lee takes her brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) with him to fish, telling her to stay behind to look after her mother Evelyn (Blunt), Regan sees this as an affront. It's also her response when he refuses to let her go down into the basement of their house.
Most outgoing and spirited girls that age would probably feel the same as Regan if their father was treating them in a seemingly dismissive sort of way. Scientists, doctors, and psychologists have pointed towards the influence fathers have over their daughters for years.
“Fathers dramatically underestimate the importance of themselves in their daughters’ lives,” said pediatrician Dr. Meg Meekers, writer of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. “They withdraw much too quickly, doubt their significance and influence, and grossly misunderstand how very much their daughters need and want to have a good relationship with them.”
Lee certainly seems to underestimate how much Regan is affected by the lack of overt communication about his affection for her. He might be working tirelessly to help her to be able to hear and literally keep their family alive, but a daughter wants to know that her dad loves her—so if he’s not making it clear, it can leave her feeling inadequate and resentful.
In other father-daughter films, reconciliation comes after the father realizes the mistakes he's made along the way. However, in A Quiet Place, the bond is mended through the most tragic of circumstances. Under attack by the super-hearing aliens, Lee realizes that the only way to secure his children’s safety is to sacrifice his own life. Knowing also that Regan doesn’t believe that he loves her, he takes this moment to look at her, for the last time, and tell her the one thing she’s been yearning for from him via sign language: “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
At this point, Regan no doubt realizes that her dad’s behavior and actions over the last year really did come from a place of unconditional love. That Lee was really preparing his children for the possible eventuality that he would die and they would be forced to take care of each other. That he took Marcus fishing and not Regan because he knew she was fearless and would be okay, but his son wouldn’t and needed to get past his fears. That each hearing aid Lee had tried to make was a hope that she would be able to survive longer, by being able to hear the sounds she makes and that of others.
One recalls Beasts of the Southern Wild and the similar way in which the father Wink prepares his daughter Hushpuppy for life without him in an even more harsh way. Their circumstances in the Bathtub (an island cut off from the mainland because of a levee) are like that of the Abbott family, forced to fight for survival with limited resources, and Wink could often be brutal in the way he treated his six-year-old daughter. But by the end of the movie, it’s clear that his motivation stemmed from the knowledge of his impending death and that Hushpuppy would be on her own afterwards. When she finally realizes this, while eating fried chicken together for the last time on his deathbed, the gulf that separated them is no more and the father-daughter bond is intact.
When Wink dies, and when Lee dies, it symbolizes the power of human connection and emotion through a special familial link. A Quiet Place is a beautiful examination of the family and the father-daughter relationship, portrayed in an insightful, emotionally impactful, and resonant way. Long may this type of storytelling continue and the bond between dad and daughter endure in the cinematic landscape.